Pittsburgh punk rocker for Anti-Flag has a song for Trump

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Justin Sane and the Pittsburgh band Anti-Flag rocked Reno on Valentine’s Day.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

The president is trumpeting up the wrong path when it comes to Pittsburgh.

Just ask Anti-Flag, a long-standing, outspoken punk rock band with its activist roots firmly planted in The ‘Burgh, or even the City of Bridges’ mayor.

“Donald Trump claims to champion Pittsburgh over Paris,” Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted Friday. “He knows nothing of Pittsburgh.” Employing the president’s favored form of communication, Peduto also took to Twitter after Trump announced Thursday that the United States would withdraw from the world’s climate-change accord: “As mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, economy & future.”

Anti-Flag waves high when it comes to Trump. In its debut album, the band wrote a song about the man, when he was a mere real estate tycoon in 1996, “Your Daddy was a Rich Man.”

“We came across an article about Donald Trump and we thought, ‘Wow, what a jerk,’ said guitarist-singer Justin Sane, who was inspired to write music with a message by groups such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols.

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Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane and Chris “2” Barker.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

In honor of the 20th anniversary of its release, Anti-Flag played in its entirety “Die for the Government” during a grueling seven-week winter tour, which included a Feb. 14 appearance in Reno. It served as a Valentine’s Day massacre of the new president.

“This song is apropos for the times even though we wrote it 20 years ago,” Sane told the sold-out crowd in the Cargo Concert Hall. “It’s about a millionaire real estate salesman mistreating women and ripping people off. He started with a loan of only a few million dollars, which is not that much money when you are born with a spoon in your … mouth. His father was a piece of (expletive deleted) and he’s a piece of (expletive deleted), too.”

A couple of weeks later, Sane spoke with Tahoe Onstage about the new president and his campaign stop in the Steel City. The interview fell on Day 41 of Trump’s reign. The tour had started before the election. Anti-Flag’s symbol is an upside down United States flag, which indicates the nation is in distress. Anti-Flag has always protested its perceived government misdeeds.

“I thought it was going to be business as usual and we would go from Obama and Hillary,” he said. “We railed against Obama. He actually deported more people than any president in history. He spent more money on the military budget than they did in the Bush years. He had a drone program. He had a kill list. We had a lot of issues with Obama. It wasn’t like we just stood up there and said, ‘Oh great Obama’s in office. Everything’s cool.’ That’s not our M.O.”

When Trump was elected, the tone of the tour changed.

“What I found very quickly was that there were people coming out to the shows who were just horrified by the outcome of the election and they really were looking for a community of people where they would feel they weren’t alone.”

When the Reno show began, Sane addressed the audience.

“We’re here to make Reno great again, believe me,” he promised. Later, he said, “We are here to take care of one another, and when someone falls down, we pick each other up. That’s what punk rock is all about. Protest today, protest tomorrow and protest any way you can. Let those who are being persecuted know that they are not alone.”

On Day 41, Sane elaborated: “If people aren’t out there demonstrating, his behavior will be normalized.”

Last week, Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries in the world to do so. Even North Korea is still on board.

The president said it was his obligation to “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

But the City of Champions already has been making a storied comeback.

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Par Thetick and Anti-Flag are concerned about the climate.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

“Pittsburgh has really rebounded,” Sane said. “When I was a kid, Pittsburgh was really bad. All the steel mills were closing, people were leaving in droves. It really became a dead city. Even when other cities started to rebound it took to Pittsburgh another 20 years.

“So now there’s been a lot of a lot of change here. The economy really centers round the universities. There’s some tech companies that have come in. Google’s here now. Uber’s here now. There’s a ton of work in the hospitals in Pittsburgh. It’s become a leader in medicine.”

“It’s interesting because when Trump was campaigning here he said that we’re going to bring the steel mills back. He had a very friendly audience and basically it was just like the whole place was just dead silent when he said that. I don’t think he got booed but people were like, ‘What the hell’s this guy talking about?’

“That was the thing that people in town talked about all week. It was like what planet is this guy living on? A, we don’t want the steel mills back because it was dirty and really hard work and it’s bad for the environment. And B, that’s just not even a realistic thing. We’ve moved on from that.”

Anti-Flag is destined to be a hot summer concert ticket. It will perform from June 24 to July 24 on the Vans Warped Tour all across the United States. Sane and his bandmates will have plenty to discuss.

“Donald Trump is such an unmitigated disaster for so many people around the world,” he said. “There’s the obvious things like the on the surface like the bigotry, homophobia, sexism and transphobia. … But one of his executive orders makes it legal now for U.S. corporations to buy conflict minerals. There are going to be areas of the world where the amount of carnage done to human beings as a result of that will be astronomical.

“There are so many places in the world where his actions are going to hurt countless numbers of people and it’s just not the kind of things that we’re going to hear about in the media. That’s a message that we’re going to try to carry forward.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Tahoe Onstage

Fans reach out to Justin Sane after the Feb. 14 concert in Reno.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Tahoe Onstage

Songs from Anti-Flag’s “Die For the Goverment” were played during a seven-week winter tour.

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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