In today’s volatile political climate Anti-Flag’s message has never been more important. Written underneath a mock-up of a WWI military recruitment poster included with their 1999 album ‘A New Kind of Army’, the above statement reflects a pre-eminent ethos recurring throughout the band’s music, their incredibly informative website and their record label, A-F Records. Ultimately relevant in 2003 it’s a message the Pittsburgh four-piece have been promoting since 1994 and, after 14 US tours, something they will never tire of.
Vocalist/guitarist Justin Sane is speaking to DiS from their record label’s offices in Germany and is noticeably excited for Anti-Flag to be able to express their concerns at such a critical time. Nicknamed the ‘One People, One Struggle’ tour it gives them the opportunity to explain the fact that not everyone in the US favours the proposed war with Iraq.
“I think the message 100% is we’re totally against the war,” he declares. “We’re here to show our solidarity with the people over here who’re also against the actions that they’ve decided to take. I don’t even consider George Bush a legitimate representative of the United States.”
Clearly angered at the US’ handling of the situation arising from the Iraqi government’s un-co-operation with the UN in recent months, Justin reiterates the main goal of the band - which also underlined the ‘A-F Records Mobilize For Peace Tour' in the states just over a year ago – that war be totally outlawed along with all standing armies.
“That’s the message we’re pushing, and we push that message because war only really serves the people in power and very rarely are they hurt by war. It’s usually the masses that are hurt by war but they gain very little from it.”
Anti-Flag felt so strongly about these beliefs that they started A-F Records to support bands who uphold the same ideas and values as them. Having recently celebrated its 5th anniversary the label has become a powerful tool in promoting their beliefs and, particularly in light of the impending war with Iraq, alternative solutions to government resolutions. Considering the US is the largest producer & exporter of weaponry around the world – commonly referred to by the president as “foreign aid” – Justin feels the first step that needs to be taken is for the UN to make it illegal for any country to house a military or to manufacture or export weapons. It’s an ambitious proposal and surely raises the problem of every country being defenceless against heavily armed terrorists.
“Well, there’s a number of ways of dealing with this problem. The first way, and this is something people in the states have been talking about, is having a department of peace. Instead of spending $390 Billion on the war machine take just a fraction of that money to do amazing things; going to other countries and actually helping people. And when you start to help people and doing good things for people it really lessons the number of people that want to kill you! The US happens to be the biggest offender. It goes the same for many other countries as well, many Eastern countries. I think overall the leaders & the people in power in these countries are all huge offenders.”
Such an intelligent response is common throughout our interview and indicative of Anti-Flag’s well-thought out and altogether rational stance. Although delivered with a relaxed, laid back drawl the ideas Justin voices are enthused fervently, with a knowledgeable strong-mindedness; something he attributes to his growing up in a politically aware environment with two activist parents. “My Dad is from Ireland,” Justin explains. “So he was involved with trying to have some peace between the North of Ireland and the UK.
"What’s cool about my parents is they were always trying to find solutions to problems through a peaceful means and not supporting violence. As I got older I got into music, and bands that influenced me a lot were bands like The Clash & Billy Bragg. There are countless numbers of people but I think early on they were the types of people who really shaped the way I thought about things.”
Indeed, it’s safe to say that both Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg would be presently surprised at the effect their political protestations had on a certain young lad from the suburbs of Pittsburgh. But having gotten involved in various movements growing up and using Anti-Flag to create awareness of them, Justin may be accused of an over-eagerness to express his views, something Propagandhi addressed on their last album through fears of ‘ramming their views down listener’s throats’.
Justin, do you think that what you’re saying to people through the course of a show or an album is sometimes too much information for some people to assimilate and take in?
“Well of course it is. I mean you can only throw ideas out to people and hope that those ideas catch on and mean something to them and maybe will inspire them to do some things. I think it’s unrealistic to think that people are gonna pick up every single thing that you say and get involved with every single thing. There are just way too many causes and way too many issues for any one person to be able to handle everything. But hopefully if you throw a bunch of different things out to people one of those things will mean something and they’ll run with it.”
Ok, I have to bring it up but how would you say war with Iraq can be avoided?
“Well, I think it can be avoided very, very easily. I mean, you could keep weapons inspectors inside Iraq forever, period. It’s pretty simple. That’s one way. Even if you have to commit weapons inspectors to Iraq for the rest of eternity that would still be a better solution than thousands of people getting killed.”
But surely the Iraqi government understand that by not co-operating with the weapons inspectors and not accounting for certain weapons and chemicals, the US will declare war?
“The thing is, even if the Iraqi government couldn’t fully co-operate there’s no way that they could develop a nuclear arms programme or a biological weapons programme with weapons inspectors inside of Iraq. They just couldn’t do it because they could only keep it under wraps for so long. So in that respect I think there is one way that war could be avoided. But I think the main issue for me is the cost. Is it worth it to overthrow Saddam Hussein? It’s pretty obvious, and even the BBC has reported that British Intelligence and the CIA have filed reports that Saddam is not a threat to anyone outside of his own borders and that the only time he would probably use any of his weapons, if he has them, is if he was attacked.”
Well, although he’s not an overt threat to anybody outside of his own borders, there's a lot of evidence to suggest he has links with certain terrorist networks. With this in mind would you support the view that he inadvertently has tenuous links with Al Qaeda?
“You mean Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda? Oh absolutely not! They’re vicious enemies and anybody who knows the history of Iraq and Al Qaeda & Osama Bin Laden knows that they totally hate each other’s guts. Osama Bin Laden is Saudi Arabian, he fought in Afghanistan for years so obviously he’s a well-trained soldier and what a lot of people don’t know is that when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Osama Bin Laden wanted to lead the charge against Iraq and Saddam Hussein. They opted instead to have the US come in and one of the reasons he’s so unhappy with the US is he felt that bringing US soldiers and foreign soldiers into the Middle East, into areas that they considered sacred would be desecrating those lands. That’s why he wanted to lead the charge against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. But there’s a long, long history there. There’s been no evidence that makes me believe that there’s any links.”
The Middle East’s long, complicated history, which Justin refers to, is something he agrees the US government, not to mention the US media, are in no hurry to explain and for good reason.
“When Colin Powell goes up and gives a talk about there being ‘connections’ between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden he’s just hoping that people will buy it. But the reality is that when people know the history there it becomes very obvious – and then you read these CIA reports, written by the Central Intelligence Agency,” he laughs, “which say there aren’t any links. And at that point it’s hard to believe anything he says.”
I do get the impression that the way the media in the UK is reporting these events and the way the US media are reporting it is quite different.
“Hmm…” Justin ponders. “I would say the majority of the [US] media totes the party line. They’re not in it to report news, they’re in it for entertainment and for ratings and they take whatever entertainment the Whitehouse will give them and they push it. So that being the case the media’s very much excited about this war and they’re really pushing hard for it. There have been some editorials in the New York Times and different things against the war but overall the media that the public gets is much different than the facts. And it’s pretty obvious.
Just two nights ago when I was in the states I was reading the British press and the American press and they’re very different. It was interesting. The British press are I think much more truthful & gives a lot more information than the American press.”
An example Justin gives is the media coverage of a recent anti-war march Anti-Flag organised in Pittsburgh where it was estimated that only a fraction of the 5000 people the police reported there actually turned out.
Given Anti-Flag’s commitment to political awareness and educating young people on many issues the government would rather we didn’t know so much about, it begs the question do the US government actually know about Anti-Flag and do they view them as a real threat, especially considering how the CIA once contacted Fat Mike regarding a NOFX T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Not my President’, next to a photo of George Bush.
“We’re totally paranoid about that type of thing, because I always think they’re out to get anybody who isn’t with them. I don’t know if we’re a big enough fish at this point. We definitely haven’t been contacted by anybody but we’re always waiting for that to happen.”
When it comes down to it though, Anti-Flag are, admits Justin, “a bunch of sissies” who, despite their hardheaded approach, are just regular guys. Ok, so they’re pretty serious about their beliefs but Justin is keen to point out that they are probably the first to invite somebody who isn’t on the same lines to sit down and have a drink with them.
“It actually amazes me how tolerant the people in the band are of other people that are different to them. We’re willing to see people as people and not as the things they believe. I can see where people would think that we must be very rigid with our beliefs and that’s fine, I can accept that.”
In fact, they are so far removed from the ‘hard-assed’ persona many people have of them that the possibility of a love song is something they won’t rule out either. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good love song,” Justin Shrugs. “If there was something that came up and we decided we wanted to write a song about it then I wouldn’t shy away from doing it. Now Patt on the other hand he would. He just thinks they’re stupid.”
Anti-Flag then. A bunch of kids following their hearts and using their intelligence for greater things. Check out their website for a comprehensive run-down on what makes them tick or write to them direct at: A-F, PO Box 71266, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
You can also see them on the following UK dates:
Mar 3 - Newcastle University
Mar 4 - Sheffield Nelson Mandela Building
Mar 5 - London Mean Fiddler
Mar 6 - Norwich Waterfront