Tampa billboard carried, briefly, a supremacist message

The Associated Press/December 18, 2001

Tampa, Fla. -- The advertising company thought the client wanted to display a tribute to the victims of the World Trade Center attack.

Instead, the billboard at a busy Tampa intersection contained a different message.

"WTC, R.I.P. Stop immigration," it read, and gave the Web site address to the National Alliance, a white supremacy group.

By Monday, after being contacted by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, the advertising company which owns the billboard had stripped it bare.

"I would never have allowed that board to go up had I known it said that," said Jim Maskas, general manager for Lamar Advertising in Lakeland.

The message and its removal has embarrassed Lamar, incensed the director of a Tampa Bay-area human rights organization and left the leader of the National Alliance wondering about any legal recourse against the ad agency.

"To exploit that tragedy, it's just reprehensible," said H. Roy Kaplan, executive director for the National Conference for Community and Justice.

William Pierce, who founded the National Alliance in 1974, said his group was merely trying to raise awareness of its contention that the immigration laws in the United States need to be changed.

"If we had any sort of control over people that come into this country, I doubt very much the attacks on Sept. 11 would have taken place," Pierce, 68, said from his home in Hillsboro, W.Va.

Pierce is a former physics professor at Oregon State University who wrote the controversial "Turner Diaries," thought to be the inspiration for such figures as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Robert Jay Mathews, leader of the Order, a violent 1980s white supremacist group.

Pierce said his organization will be examining the situation to see if it could enforce the contract with the ad agency.

Maskas didn't know the details of the contract but he said Lamar had the right to reject any copy it found objectionable.

"We don't condone that (message)," he said. "We thought it was a tribute to the World Trade Center. We have the right to refuse copy we don't feel is appropriate."

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