Anti-Flag Peforms Anti-War Punk in the Obama/Drone/Wikileaks Era

Cory Morton

Punk bands have a tendency of burning out long before fading away. Pittsburgh's Anti-Flag has proved to be an exception to the rule. The band has been writing politically charged punk and touring relentlessly for the better part of 20 years.

"I really love the old records," says vocalist/guitarist Justin Sane, who's taking the band on tour and revisiting songs from its extensive discography. "They're a great representation of where we were at the time."

Before Anti-Flag embarks on its big anniversary tour, the band is scheduled to stop by Tempe as part of annual Flogging Molly's Green 17 tour. We spoke with Sane about politics and the band's plan to spend St. Patrick's Day partying in Tempe.

Up on the Sun: I was kind of surprised to see you guys on the bill for our St. Patrick's Day show, since Flogging Molly and Pepper both seem like party bands. How does Anti-Flag fit in on that bill?

Justin Sane: Anti-Flag is pretty well known for our live show being an energetic good time. Even though Anti-Flag isn't, "content-wise," what you'd call a "party band," I think we put on a set that's exciting and fun. In that respect, we fit in well on the bill. I'm Irish, so it just makes sense that we would play around St. Patrick's Day on that kind of festival. I'm literally an Irish citizen, so me and the Irish roots go way back. I gotta have a little bit of that in me every year.

Given your political stance, you guys have been pretty generous about playing in Arizona. Do the state's politics have anything to do with that, or is it a just place you'd hit between California and Texas, anyway?

It really has to do with the geography, to be totally honest [laughs]. But also we have a great fanbase in Arizona. The Tempe/Phoenix area -- we've always had some amazing shows there. Arizona as a state is quite conservative, [but] I think part of the reason Anti-Flag has been successful in Arizona is that our shows also work as a gathering place for people who have a different point of view. I think that's an important aspect of punk rock. Punk rock shows are meant to be a place for people with common ideas gathering together and be reminded that they're not alone in the world, especially for people who live in a crazy, conservative, frightening state [laughs].

I think that's part of what made the commercial boycott of the Sound Strike difficult. Fans weren't able to have that sense of unity at live shows because the bands weren't coming. You guys were part of that boycott.

We signed onto Sound Strike, but for me Sound Strike wasn't about literally never playing in Arizona again. What the Sound Strike was about for me was making a symbolic gesture. It was a symbolic gesture to make a statement. I guess some took it literally, like "We're not going there." That wasn't my point of view as far as how Anti-Flag wanted to approach Sound Strike.   You guys wrote some great music during the Bush administration. How has your songwriting process changed since Obama took office?

First of all, it was nice to take a bit of a breather after Bush left office and just understand that some things were going to be different. After eight years of opposition to George Bush, there's a lot of war out there, and it was nice just to kick back and relax for a little while [laughs]. That said, the Obama administration has continued a lot of Bush policies. Policies that I think are dangerous and/or backward or draconian.

Especially when you look at the drone strikes that have taken place around the world. President Obama is a big proponent of drone strikes, and I really disagree with him on that. I think the use of drones to kill people creates enemies for the United States and it means that a lot of innocent people are being killed and brings up a lot of ethical questions about who gets to decide who dies and who lives.

There's a lot of constitutional questions about the idea of killing American citizens abroad without giving them a trial. That's just one example, of course, where I butt heads with President Obama. When Obama was elected, we didn't suddenly just have a bunch of angels and puppies and kittens all over the Earth and everything was perfect. On the other hand, he's done some things for gay rights, which is great. There are some areas in which I think he's done positive things and things I can get behind. I said it from the beginning: I never endorsed President Obama, never thought he was the answer, but I felt like he was a step in the right direction, and that's still how I feel about him.

For example with Wikileaks, the Obama administration is going after Bradley Manning, when he's really just a whistle-blower. They're going after Julian Assange because it's really an information war. Those are the draconian kind of things that the Obama administration is involved in.

Wikileaks was interesting. I hoped more information would make it out to the public.

Wikileaks made the corporate media look really bad. It made the corporate media look asleep at the switch. They're releasing stories that corporate media missed or passed on because they didn't want to rock the boat too much. It showed them up. It made them look bad. I think the New York Times and the Washington Post both passed on the information that Bradley Manning leaked, especially in particular the Apache helicopter attack on a Reuters cameraman. It really showed just how horrific the cost of war was and what the cost of going into Iraq was. Ultimately, though, what Wikileaks suffers from is that the corporate media has a grudge against Wikileaks, so they don't give fair air time or an accurate point of view as to what's really taking place with Wikileaks. It's really just a gag on freedom of speech.

The press in this country should be up in arms about what's happening with Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and instead they're just passively sitting back. I think that's a blemish on the American press. Democracy Now has great coverage of what's going on with WikiLeaks. I would encourage people to check out It's the best independent news journalism around, I think.

You guys recently put out the Bacon LP, and I know you've done some work with PETA. So was the album art an ironic move on your part?

Yeah, totally, we were just having fun. It was a good laugh. I think that most people probably had a run-in with a cop at some time in their life that made them unhappy [laughs]. I know that in the life of this band, we've had a lot of issues with police officers and the whole EP and the whole seven inch is about the police and obviously the bacon reference is to that.

Anti-Flag is scheduled to perform Sunday, March 17, at Tempe Beach Park in Tempe.

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