Radical punk band Anti-Flag headlined the Ripple Effect Tuesday at the St. Paul Capitol Grounds, where Rage Against the Machine were physically barred by police from taking the stage to perform a surprise set. Rage performed two songs on a megaphone out in the audience, and much of the crowd turned around to march on the RNC. We caught up with Anti-Flag singer-guitarist Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic backstage at the Target Center Wednesday to get their side of the story.
Q: So what happened Tuesday?
Justin Sane: The police refused to let Rage Against the Machine go onstage even though we had a permit. As guests of ours, they were included in that permit. The permit didn’t specify any bands.
Q: It’s been all over the media that Rage didn’t have a permit.
JS: That’s been inaccurately reported.
Pat Thetic: We had a hard curfew at 7:00, that’s what we were all worried about.
JS: We had invited Rage to play a number of their songs using our gear after our set. The plan was, we were going to finish our set early, and Rage were going to come up and be done by 7:00. So we finished our set, and Rage were supposed to be coming up. And as Rage got out of their vehicles, they were intercepted by police.
The police said, “Are you Rage Against the Machine?” And Tom Morello said to them, “I don’t know.” [laughs] That’s a very good answer. And then they encircled Rage Against the Machine, and told them if they went onstage they would be arrested.
PT: And they physically prevented them from going onstage.
JS: So at that point we all got together, Anti-Flag and Rage Against the Machine, and we said, well, let’s not let ourselves be intimidated into not making a statement. Instead let’s go out directly to the audience and be part of the audience. We just walked around the side of the stage.
There was absolutely no violence, no confrontation at this event at all until the police came in. The police single-handedly made this event very dangerous.
Q: Do you have friends or relatives who are Republicans?
PT: My parents are Republicans. My dad and I were just having a conversation before soundcheck, and he said, ‘We’ll discuss Sarah Palin later,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do that later.’ [laughs] We never change each other’s minds. But I definitely encourage people to spend time with Republicans, because there’s a whole propaganda world that they get and we don’t get, and we get that they don’t get.
JS: There’s a real disconnect between our realities.
Q: Did you watch Fred Thompson’s pitch for McCain? I felt hypnotized by it.
PT: These people are experts at marketing and advertising. They know the things that are going to push buttons to make people like them. They’re spending millions of dollars to get you to think these things every day.
Q: How did you come by your politics?
JS: Well I actually grew up in the most extremely opposite kind of family, where my parents were left-wing political activists, They had a vegetarian restaurant in the 1970s, before most people knew what a vegetarian was. The city we grew up in, Pittsburgh, is a labor town, and my uncle was in the steel workers union. But what excited me about political action was political music, bands like Dead Kennedys and the Clash. So I could understand the impact that political music could have on a movement. Yesterday was an incredible example of that.
Q: That said, there’s a few dozens kids breaking windows and stuff. Is there a place to draw the line with illegal protest?
PT: I’m actually a fan, [laughs] I have to say. When you’re there, you see what’s happening. You see the frustration of the kid on the sidewalk who’s just there chanting, and the cops pull him off and throw him on the ground and start pepper-spraying him in the face.
JS: At that point, when kids start breaking windows, then it makes sense. Rarely does a group of kids just show up and start knocking shit over and breaking things for no reason. It’s almost always something that’s instigated by the police. And there have been cases where undercover police are in the audience instigating things, so that’s certainly an issue.
PT: I’ll take a number of Starbucks windows to get the troops out of Iraq.