A notorious Holocaust Denial group that has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is being allowed to advertise on the San Francisco Bay Area’s metro system.
Two ads from the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) proclaiming “History Matters!” are on display in two Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations. Since its founding in 1978 be Willis Carto, the IHR has consistently pushed anti-Semitism and Holocaust denialism — including claims that Anne Frank’s diary was a hoax and that concentration camps’ gas chambers were simply delousing showers.
BART officials took pains to say they did not endorse the message, but were powerless to stop it since it fell under the protection of free speech rights. “We cannot deny the ads,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost told the Guardian. “There is plenty of case law and court rulings that show if you deny the ad, you can be taken to court, and you’ll lose, and that’s obviously costly.”
Several other metro operators have been taken to court for precisely this reason. Last August, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to court for refusing a number of ads, including one by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
In 2015, a judge ruled that New York’s MTA could not stop an ad from being run that read “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” The ad was created by a pro-Israel organization whose president, Pamela Geller, is a well-known Islamophobe.
Nonetheless, the new posters at BART station are a worrying sign at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the United States. In February, a report from the Anti-Defamation League showed that hate crimes and discrimination against Jews had risen 57 percent from the previous year, reaching the highest number in 20 years. Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s chief executive, said that white supremacists had felt “emboldened” since the 2016 presidential election, and that “the divisive state of our national discourse” also had a role in allowing anti-Semitism to spread again.
The IHR has repeatedly tried to distort the actual version of what happened during the Holocaust, with one of their most common tropes claiming that the number of Jews who died had been exaggerated. They have also repeatedly claimed their work is merely “revisionist”, in an attempt to make them seem like more mainstream historians and not outright anti-Semites.
“I accept that millions of Jews were killed during the second world war,” Mark Weber, the IHR’s director, told the Guardian. “Whether it’s 10 million or 6 million or 2 million is an argument among historians.”
This article has been updated to clarify that Holocaust deniers frequently frame themselves as historical “revisionists” in an effort to broaden their mainstream appeal.