MetroLink will pull white separatist ads

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/January 11, 2005
By Greg Jonsson

Metro plans to remove a white separatist group's advertisements from MetroLink trains today, calling the group's philosophy offensive.

The St. Louis unit of the National Alliance paid $1,500 for 50 ads on MetroLink trains. The ads read, "The Future Belongs to Us," and provide the group's Web site and phone number.

The National Alliance has been described by watch groups as the nation's largest neo-Nazi group and has a relatively large and active membership in St. Louis.

The decision to remove the ads comes just a day after Missouri was dealt a major blow in its attempts to ban the Ku Klux Klan from the Adopt-A-Highway program. A lower court said the state's attempts to block the Klan from the litter control program was a violation of free speech, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state's appeal Monday.

A reporter for KSDK (Channel 5) contacted the Metro transit agency about the train advertisements Tuesday and later a rider complained that they were offensive, Metro spokeswoman Adella Jones said.

"Metro reserves the right to refuse controversial advertisements and would indeed consider this to be controversial," Jones said. "We were completely unfamiliar with the organization and its philosophy. Its philosophy is not in step with a public agency such as ours."

Frank Weltner, the St. Louis chapter's public relations director, said National Alliance members were not white supremacists. They simply want to live and interact with people of their own race, he said.

"We want to be left alone and associate with our own people," he said. "We represent the majority and many of the aspirations of minorities. Many of them want to be left alone and associate with people who look and think like them, too. It's primal for people to want to do that."

In any case, the ads themselves are not offensive, Weltner said. Metro shouldn't be preventing people from seeing the National Alliance's ads because some might find the messages on the group's Web site and phone message offensive, he said.

"There's nothing in the Constitution that says we have the right not to be offended," Weltner said. "People have a right to communicate with the public."

Jones said the National Alliance ads were due to come down this week anyway because the group's contract is up. But Weltner said the group had a three-month contract and the ads had been up only for about a week.

He said the National Alliance planned to seek legal help from the American Civil Liberties Union. The group may have a "landmark case," he said.

Jones said Metro banned all advertisements deemed offensive and applied the standard to everyone seeking to place ads on their trains or buses. He said advertisers bought space on MetroLink trains through Obie Media of Oregon. Company officials could not be reached late Tuesday.

Some MetroLink riders were not aware of the group's philosophy Tuesday night.

"Honestly, I didn't think it was offensive because I didn't know what it was," said Patrick Finan, 34, a MetroLink rider from Dayton, Ohio.

He said the group had a right to free speech but that MetroLink should be able to decide which ads to allow.

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