Exclusive: Anti-Flag frontman Justin Sane responds to claims they inspired Arizona shooting

January 14 2011, 10:46 PM EST By Tim Karan

Last week, 22-year-old Jared Loughner opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon on a crowd of people at a political event in Tucson, Arizona. In the wake of the tragedy, media outlets desperately searched for answers to questions about Loughner’s background and motives. During the process, a former classmate of the suspect was quoted as saying that Loughner had at one time listened to Pittsburgh-based political punk band ANTI-FLAG. More than a decade after Marilyn Manson was blamed for the 1999 Columbine massacre, Anti-Flag found themselves in a similar situation. In this exclusive interview with frontman JUSTIN SANE (second from left), he points out that this type of heinous act of violence is the exact opposite of what his band stand for.

Were you aware of the news when the incident happened?
Yeah, I saw it on the evening news. It was very moving and very chilling. I’m not ashamed to admit I actually teared up watching the news report. It was pretty bad.

When did you first hear your name being pulled into the story?
My sister called me that night. I was driving home around 11 p.m., and she informed me that a former classmate of the shooter had reportedly said something about Anti-Flag. Obviously, it was a real surprise because Anti-Flag are this band that for over a decade have been committed to non-violence and progressive change for justice, quality and peace. Certainly we have lobbied for health care—including mental health care—for all people. So to hear about someone who commits an act like this being associated with your band’s name, it comes as a real shock. That classmate apparently hadn’t seen the shooter since 2007, and that’s a long time ago. It’s four years. A lot can change in a person’s head and ideas in that amount of time—especially around that age. Maybe at one point, he "got" Anti-Flag and maybe the band brought something positive to his life. I highly doubt he was still listening to Anti-Flag, and if he was, he obviously missed the message. That said, he was obviously mentally disturbed, and that’s the one thing that strikes me more than anything.

Do you think this is a symptom of a larger problem?
Definitely. It seems like there’s a much bigger question that hasn’t been addressed yet. To a certain degree, that’s because it’s not time. The victims haven’t even been buried. We understand how painful this time is. [Bassist Chris Barker’s] sister was murdered [in 2007]. We put out a full release that year called A Benefit For Victims Of Violent Crime and donated all the proceeds to an organization that helps people deal with the loss of a loved one as the result of a violent act. One thing we’re well aware of is that people just need some time to grieve and mourn. There should be a level of respect for the grieving families before everyone delves into the hard-hitting issues like, “Why is this happening?” and “Where are we headed?”

Do you think blaming bands or movies on incidents like this is a cop-out?
First of all, there’s a 24-hour media machine. They need something to talk about. They’re gonna grab at every little fact or idea or rumor that they can and examine it because they need content. Secondly, in our society, we tend to focus on the minutia of the issue instead of the greater issue. Whether it’s Anti-Flag or John Lennon or Marilyn Manson [blamed for inspiring violent acts], that debate draws attention from the much bigger question: Why do we live in a culture that is so steeped in violence? When you look at our national policies—whether you think Iraq was a necessary war or not—America invaded Iraq. Millions of people around the world protested that invasion. They were trying to say to the United States, “You need to find a new way to deal with your problems.” Killing people and mass violence as a national policy is only going to lead to violence in your own society. I think when we look at the way our country goes about resolving its conflicts, it’s hardly ever peace-driven. That’s the statement that Anti-Flag have been making ever since we were a band. We have to find a way without violence because if we don’t, then what example are the young people of our country going to have? What are we going to be bringing back upon ourselves? To me, it’s not about these smaller factors of a band or one statement that someone said. It’s really about the hard work of looking at our country and the motivations of people in power like the military or Congress.

Do you think America is capable of that change?
To survive as a world, we have to. I do believe it’s possible. I’ve seen impossible things happen before, and I know that the U.S. is full of so many caring and brilliant and inspiring people. I think that’s the upside. That’s what energizes you to keep going when you’re in a band like Anti-Flag who are shedding light on problems. It feels like there’s so much negativity in the world, but then you travel around the country and meet these amazing kids and work with politicians that do positive things, and you realize we have a chance. But it’s gonna take a lot of hard work.

It seems like people who would blame Anti-Flag for something like this clearly haven’t taken the time to look into what the band actually stand for.
Yeah, when your whole stance when you started your band was to promote anti-violence, it’s a little surprising to hear your name dropped like this. I guess I have a frustration with the greater media in general. When Anti-Flag are raising money to build wells in Africa or working with Amnesty International or Greenpeace and you try to get someone to cover it, you’re totally ignored. That’s frustrating at a time like this. It takes something so sensational and horrific for people to notice. I think that’s a problem with the 24-hour news cycle. There’s just not an emphasis on the good that people are doing. That said, this event warrants discussion and the coverage it’s been getting. It’s a horrible thing that’s taken place, and I think a lot of people’s hearts go out to the victims and their families. People want to understand what’s going on and what happened. Hopefully, we can come away from this terrible event a better nation and a better people because we learn something from it. If we don’t, that would make this event that much more tragic. alt