Not in Milford, but controversial ads along New Haven train line raise some commuter eyes

New billboard ads that have been posted at Metro-North stations along the New Haven line are raising eyebrows from residents and condemnation from officials.

The ads, which are being paid for by a group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which were created by right-wing blogs and think tanks, have been criticized as racist and anti-Islamic because of their claims that 19,250 “terrorist attacks” have been carried out by Muslims since Sept. 11, 2001. The ads post that number while saying “It's not Islamophobia, it's Islamorealism” and they have brought about quick condemnation from local residents and officials.
As of last week, there were no ads visible at the Milford train station, but the ads were up at both the Cos Cob and Riverside stations. At the downtown Greenwich station, the ad had been up but had been ripped down by someone, leaving only a tatter of the ad remaining.
Greenwich resident Sarah Littman said she saw the ad at the Cos Cob Station last week and quickly filed a letter of complaint with both the Mass Transit Authority (MTA) and the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council and wrote to all three selectmen as well as the District 8 members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) as well as her State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151).
“I was shocked and incredibly offended when I saw the ad,” Littman said, adding that she has received a lot of support from those she has written to. “One of the reasons I love living in Cos Cob is that it has such a small town, bucolic feel to it with a strong sense of community. To have this kind of dreadful hate speech blasting you in the face as soon as you drive into the parking lot was shocking to me.”
The ads are being paid for by blogger Pamela Geller, who lists her own blog on the signs along with two other web addresses and Geller has come under heavy criticism for past statements made on her blog attacking Islam, President Barack Obama and Democrats in general, but in an interview she said she is only trying to make people aware “of the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat” and claims the number of attacks cited in the ad is a “fact” taken from the website
Littman said that what the sign represents and the statements of the people behind the ads are destructive and bigoted.
“As a Jew I find it particularly outrageous,” Littman said. “If more people in Germany had stood up when there was anti-Jewish rhetoric and not just been bystanders, then perhaps my relatives might have survived. I feel very strongly whenever you see this kind of bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric. It's very important for me as a human being and particularly as a Jew to stand up against it.”
Littman is not the only person who has complained and the issue is not isolated to Greenwich. The ads are up at several Metro North stations in Connecticut, Westchester and New York City and have been denounced as bigoted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Islamic civil rights and education group.
In a press statement, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that the message of the ads was not endorsed by the agency and that it was “reviewing” its policy for taking ads. Ortiz said that all ads, including these, are reviewed by the MTA and its ad vendor CBS Outdoor “for consistency with our advertising standards.”
“The MTA sells advertising space to raise revenue to support mass transit operations,” the statement said. “The MTA's existing policy for ads carried on subways, buses and trains permits both commercial and non-commercial paid advertisements. The MTA does not decide whether to allow a proposed advertisement based upon its viewpoint and the MTA does not endorse the viewpoint in this or any other paid advertisement. The MTA is currently reviewing its policy of accepting non-commercial viewpoint advertisements.”