Share story

A group criticized for running purportedly anti-Islamic ads around the country has sued King County over its refusal to allow it to run a poster of wanted terrorists on the sides of Metro buses — an ad almost identical to ones pulled down earlier this summer for being insensitive to area Muslims.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and its firebrand executive director, Pamela Geller, alleged in the federal civil-rights lawsuit that the county violated the First Amendment last month when it refused to run the posters, even though it had allowed the local FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to post the ads in June.

The FBI posters were part of the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program and bore the title, “The Faces of Global Terrorism.” It showed pictures of 16 wanted international terrorists — all with Islamic or Middle Eastern names — and the promise of a reward up to $25 million for information that stops a terrorist.

The posters were pulled down voluntarily by the JTTF after area lslamic leaders complained that they stereotyped Muslims as terrorists.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, wrote a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller expressing concern over the ads, which he said would “only serve to exacerbate the disturbing trend of hate crimes against Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim-Americans.”

Just days after those ads came down, AFDI submitted a proposed advertisement that was almost identical. It had the same string of photographs and the same title, “Faces of Global Terrorism.”

“AFDI wants you to stop a terrorist,” the ad reads. “The FBI is offering up to $25 million reward if you help capture one of these Jihadis.”

The county declined to take the ad — despite its similarity to the poster it accepted from the FBI in June — claiming it was “false or misleading,” “demeaning or disparaging” and disruptive to the transit system.

Metro Transit spokesman Jeff Spitzer would not discuss why one ad was accepted and the other rejected, citing the pending litigation.

AFDI and Geller are responsible for similar controversies in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where the group has posted anti-Islamic transit ads and billboards in the face of pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli ads or incidents. Geller was one of the primary figures in the controversy over plans to construct a mosque near the World Trade Center 9/11 site.

Geller and her partner, Robert Spencer, are also founders of the group, Stop the Islamization of America.

In June, Geller and Spencer, both conservative bloggers, were banned from entering the United Kingdom to address a rally of the right-wing English Defence League in London’s Woolwich suburb, where a British soldier was hacked to death by two Muslim extremists in May.

British Home Secretary Theresa May determined they would not be admitted because their presence would “not be conducive to the public good.”

Mike Carter: or 206-464-3706