Interview: Anti-Flag

interview by james wright

Everyone wants you to live in fear. The government wants you to be afraid. If you’re afraid you’ll seek security in their arms. After all isn’t that why we have government? To protect us? Protect us from the threat of terrorism? Protect us from the threat of Iraq dropping bombs on us? Protect us from more attacks?

That’s what the government wants you to believe. They want you to be afraid of terrorists, Iraq and even that black guy living on the corner who keeps to himself. Why? Because if you’re afraid, then you’re more likely to trust them and you’re less likely to be afraid of big corporations. Because if you’re afraid, you’re less likely to see the sad state our environment is in. You’re less likely to see that everyday you’re personal freedom is being eroded.

In desperate times we must rely on those with open eyes to guide us. No one has taken on the role of leader more than Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag. With a new record entitled “The Terror State” and the band’s own non-profit political activist group, the Underground Action Alliance, Anti-Flag have taken their call to arms straight to the people.

The rumblings of the Anti-Flag revolution began back in 1988 in Pittsburgh, PA. After numerous failed attempts to solidify a serious line-up the band settled on a line-up and began playing shows everywhere. “Our thinking was that people wouldn’t so easily be able to treat our band as entertainment, but instead it would be a vehicle that would force them to think,” explains frontman Justin Sane. After releasing numerous records independently the band created their own label, A-F Records, as a vehicle to deliver their politically charged messages. Shortly thereafter the band was asked by Fat Mike (NOFX) to release their latest offering on Fat Wreck Chords. Now the band is poised and ready to move in for the kill.

With a US election on the way in November, I had the chance to ask Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane about the importance of being informed when your government is lying to you.

Why is this the “Terror State”?
Justin Sane: The idea of naming the record that was to be ambiguous and encourage people to think about what is terror? Is it the Osama Bin Laden? Is it the United States? Is it George Bush? What is a terrorist? That’s what we want people to think about. Is a terrorist any group or organization that creates terror in someone’s life or is it a particular country? We hope to encourage people to think about these things and let people come to their own conclusions.

Are you hoping that there is a conscious revolution in America?
That’s exactly it. We’re trying to generate a dialogue and encourage people to think beyond what’s right in front of them.

Do you think Americans have become complacent?
It’s interesting because I think most people in North America who are of middle class have become complacent in a lot of ways. I just went to a copy shop over here and asked the guy there, “What’s exciting about Canadian politics right now?” and his reply was, “I just found out who our Prime Minister was about 2-weeks ago. I don’t know anything about politics and I don’t care.” I just thought it was funny but also really tragic. It’s become that way for a lot of Americans as well. They think if it doesn’t affect them directly, they don’t need to care. Unfortunately, when trade agreements such as NAFTA are passed, they might not affect you at that moment but 10 years down the road as jobs disappear from your area, it does affect you. The sad part about it is, by then, it’s too late. I think there is a certain degree of complacency but I think it’s less now that 9/11 happened. Unfortunately it took something that horrific to wake people up and make them ask questions about what their government is doing in foreign countries. What foreign policies is our country passing in other countries that make people want to fly planes into our buildings? I think before this war, you saw the biggest anti-war movement in the US since Vietnam because people realized that our government has been going around imposing our views on other people. So in a way, I think there’s a lot less complacency then there was before 9/11 but there’s still a lot of people that need to be woken up.

Why do you think some Americans sit there and don’t respond when things like the Patriot Act take place?
think it’s passed like every other bill the Bush administration has passed before it; it’s passed with fear. Scare the people enough that they’re willing to give up personal freedoms, so they feel safe. Unfortunately, there’s no way any government or military is going to be able to protect the people 100%. If terrorism is going to happen then there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Giving up personal liberties is not going to change that. Backing something like the Patriot Act, where you’re giving up personal freedoms, is very dangerous. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “He who gives up liberty for protection, deserves neither protection nor liberty.” I think he’s right; it’s just a foolish thing to do. I think there is a lot of opposition to the Patriot Act and progressives realize that this is regressive. There are over 150 cities in the US, that have voted not to uphold the Patriot act and there’s more on the way. So in other words, people are awake and they realize that this is dangerous.

With lower wages, higher costs of living and no universal health care system, it seems as though cards are horribly stacked against blue-collar working class citizens in America. What can these people do when it seems like they might be doomed from the start?
Well I can see that but it’s still very wrong. It doesn’t take a lot to influence policy and working around Pittsburgh area at a grassroots level with groups that are against the Patriot Act, there have been people that have been going to council meetings influencing policy to vote against the act. It doesn’t take a lot. When people decide that they are going to make a change it can be very empowering. That’s what we’re trying to encourage as a band because it doesn’t take that many people to do. So few people are voting right now that if the people who vote started writing letters and go to demonstrations the politicians would listen because not many people vote!

One of the things about the recent Canadian Provincial recent election was that people voted the liberals into power. Not because they wanted a liberal government but because they disliked the conservatives who were in power.
That’s the attitude of progressives in the US right now. After four years of Bush in power, they’re ready for anything other than Bush and they’re so scared of him being re-elected. If he gets re-elected then Bush has a clean slate to do whatever he wants. I think voting for the democrats right now is a must. I don’t think that is the right answer but you have to take little steps. First we get rid of Bush then move on from there.

The gap between the rich and the poor is quite large in America. Do you think that they will ever close the gaps in social classes in the United States?
I think we have to look between borders and look at class. It’s interesting because we just had the Martin Luther King holiday and one of the things that he recognized, that a lot of other civil rights atavists don’t, is you have to go beyond skin color and into class. When Martin Luther King was assassinated he was marching with striking garbage workers and at that point it wasn’t about black or white; he was marching with workers. I think people in America need to drop these blinders of nationalism and start recognizing that trade agreements such as NAFTA hurt us all. There are provisions in NAFTA that erode local government. I think what workers need to realize is that if they want to make progress for one country, then you have to make progress for all countries. I encourage people to look for organizations that are dealing with these issues and are working to rid their country of NAFTA or improve it. We can’t improve things in the US if we don’ improve things in Mexico. If there is no environmental protection or worker protection in Mexico then Canadian and American companies can move business there and exploit those workers. That also means that jobs here disappear when that happens and workers are being exploited. It also means that there is no money here for social services like health care and you no longer have those things. I think we have to look beyond borders and realize that it’s an issue of the super rich versus everyone else.

Do you think Michael Moore is helping to open people’s eyes to what’s really going on with Corporate America?
I hope so. We need a thousand more people like Michael Moore! If he enlightens one person then that’s a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, one man is not enough by himself and other people have to pick up the ball as well.

Is that what you’re trying to accomplish in Anti-Flag?
Of coarse. I think the main thing we’re focusing on right now is this upcoming election and then after that we’ll probably focus on NAFTA. Because Canada and the US are such strong economic forces in the world, it’s up to people in those countries to work together along with our brothers and sisters in South America to show that NAFTA only protects super huge corporations. There are no social protections, no labor protections and no environmental protections and if we’re going to try and raise up the rest of the world, we need to first try and raise up ourselves.

Do you think people are ignorant to the environmental crisis we’re in with regards to Global Warming?
For sure. What’s funny is we have some of the world’s greatest scientists acknowledging that there is global warming but we still have people saying, “It doesn’t affect me so I don’t care.” I hope there’s enough humanity left in us as human beings that people will start to care about these kinds of things. These things may not affect you right now but they certainly may affect your children or the people you care about. I do think that we all come from the earth, we all eat food that’s harvested from the earth, drink the earth’s water and when you destroy or harm Mother Earth, it’s only going to catch up with you.

Why do you think it’s important for people reading this to get out and vote this coming November?
It all comes back to the basic issue here and that’s that people don’t think it directly affects them, but it does. Secondly, I think it’s the responsibility of the people to use their right to vote to make a difference. We should want to make a difference for people in the world because someday you might find yourself in a dire situation where you’re living in poverty. When that day comes and the tables are reversed you will find yourself at the mercy of someone like yourself; someone that just doesn’t care. Those are the types of things I try to remind myself of everyday. Also, it’s such a simple thing to do; registering to vote is easy. But in the end I’m not even going to tell people how to use their vote just as long as they vote for the person they think will have a positive impact for this country. I wouldn’t vote for Bush because I honestly don’t think he cares about anyone except huge corporations, but if someone disagrees with me at least they care enough to be involved. I’d rather see that than nothing.

I think it’s amazing that Bush is in bed with everyone from the executives at Enron to Osama Bin Laden, yet the American people have yet to revolt against him!
Well one of the reasons we do what we do is because the media in America isn’t reporting these things. You have to understand who controls the media in America and that it’s all controlled by big business. Colin Powell’s son is a big executive at CNN, so of coarse CNN isn’t going to be overly critical of the Bush administration. It’s not that there’s a conspiracy or anything to the point where they get all the reporters in one room and say, “Ok, we’re not going to report anything bad about the Bush administration.” The thing is they hire people that think like them and have the correct ideology, so they’ll report things the way the want them reported. I think the mass media in the US doesn’t really reflect what’s going on in the world today. We traveled overseas and it’s interesting to see what made the news over there because their coverage of the war was very, very different. Reading their news you started to see things that never made the news here. One of the former United Nations weapons inspectors has given a report to British parliament about whether or not there were lies perpetrated by the Blair/Bush administrations. What came out was that both Bush and Blair had blatantly lied about the threat of Iraq and they used that to invade. That news is all over the front pages of the British news but here there’s nothing about it. I don’t think people here in the US are stupid or don’t care but they can only make judgments on what they receive and that’s a huge problem that we try to address in Anti-Flag. We want to show people that there is a different side to things. Yes you might have to do a little work to see that, whether it’s reading a British newspaper online or [Justin’s personal favorite]. Those are the types of things that inspire Anti-Flag to do what we do and make me believe that we can make a difference. I try to encourage people to do something and take part in the process of democracy. Whether that’s just simply going out and voting or telling somebody why George Bush is horrible, either way it doesn’t take a lot to make a difference.

I was watching CNN the other day and they said the Democrats held 34% of the vote while Bush had 56%. Do you think the margin between the two candidates is really that large?
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. Right now there’s such a long time from now until the election that it’s really hard to tell. I think we do need to do as much as we can to encourage people to vote against Bush. Right now, Bush stands a great chance of getting re-elected, and we need to change that. In my eyes, George Bush is a war criminal. He lied to us about the threat of Iraq, he lied about weapons of mass destruction and he took CIA information and distorted it while silencing those that in the CIA that didn’t go along with him. George Bush has never owned up to the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction. The only thing they ever said was, “We thought there were weapons of mass destruction; Sorry. But hey, at least we got Saddam Hussein because he was a terrible person.” There have been 500 American soldiers killed in Iraq and if I heard that and I was a mother, brother, sister or brother of one of those soldiers, I’d be very angry. Why is George Bush not taking responsibility for his mistake? He’s the leader of our country and should be held responsible. Congress should be holding meetings to impeach Bush right now but unfortunately they’re in bed with Bush. They supported him going into this war and they hold the same corporate interests as him, so they’d never do that.

Did you start the Underground Action Alliance to bring these issues to a head?
Well the idea behind that was just to provide people with information on how to be an activist. We meet a lot of young people and we get a lot of them that say, “How do I get involved?” So we set up this website [] to let them know how to get involved. A lot of people find that it’s pretty easy to get involved and that it can actually be a lot of fun. When you go to a protest march with all your friends, you get to make a lot of noise and play drums; it can be party. It can be a great time and at the same time you’re bringing attention to an issue that people might not necessarily wanna look at and hopefully they get the facts about something they didn’t know about. All these things are really important and can be really exciting.