Anti-Flag have been making music for over 20 years, and still remain “eternal optimists.” Photo My Meghan Thomson
The number two has surrounded Chris Barker his entire life. The decade in which Barker was born, “Christopher” was number two on the Department of Social Security’s “Most Common Baby names of the 1980s” list. His tenure with Pittsburgh-based punk rockers Anti-Flag is approaching two decades. After joining the legendary protest punk outfit in 1999, Barker adopted the name Chris #2, which could serve to alleviate any outside confusion between him and guitarist Chris Head.
And in terms of Anti-Flag’s priorities as a band at the forefront of the rock-activism movement, it’s the music that takes the number two spot behind what the band finds to be most important: the activist messages they convey.
With their upcoming album “American Fall” due out this November, listeners will find a sense of reflection on the year since the 2016 election. While it may seem like they just have good timing with the messages embedded in their songs, such as releasing the first single, “Racist,” shortly after the Charlottesville riot, which they viewed from overseas, Barker and his bandmates have actually witnessed these events bubbling to the surface over a long period of time.
“It was a strange feeling to be so far away from what seemed like what was going to be a pretty pivotal moment in American politics, as well as the changing the language of white supremacy in America,” said Barker. “Being the eternal optimists that we in Anti-Flag are, we are always looking for the positives that come out of situations like these, and the one strong positive that we feel came out of Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer and the outing of the Trump regime as the white supremacists they are is that language is being introduced into the public discourse now. The conversation has always been ‘you don’t understand your inherent racism,’ and now when these people look around and find that the only allies they have are these pieces of shit waving nazi flags or confederate flags, there’s not much left of a leg to stand on.”
When he isn’t wearing the hat of a punk musician, Barker is a big sports fan. He especially loves to attend hockey games when he isn’t on the road, and he enjoys the sport’s entertainment value as much as the next guy. But he isn’t afraid to call foul on the position professional sports organizations, namely the NFL, have taken on issues such as domestic violence and Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem, in order to keep their relationship with the U.S. military copacetic.
“[THE NFL] is a propaganda machine. You never hear about PTSD or those issues during the game. You only see the altruistic reason as to why some people enlist. To say football isn’t politicized is very naïve. It’s been politicized since the 70s, and it’s been politicized for the state and as a machine for the state, for the military to recruit, to spread nationalism,” said Barker. “And now we have a handful of these players sitting down during the anthem, and because there’s this pride in the anthem, people are screaming about how they should stand up, but nobody is talking about the asshole getting a beer or fighting during the anthem,” he continued. “The more you realize that sports is just a bought-and-paid-for part of the process, that’s when it becomes sketchy.”
While many of those entrenched in the fight for social justice have contended that sports are just a distraction from what is really going on in the world, Barker also feels that the protection of American sports as a veil for nationalism plays into the recent upheaval over the dismantling of confederate statues across the country.
“There’s this whole, ‘it’s our pastime, and if it doesn’t adapt, we’ll lose our history,’ thought process, and that’s a bunch of bullshit. I think that prefabricated statues erected to reinforce the Jim Crow era, which is what the racist confederate statues that stand in the Northern states are for, having been pumped up in the Jim Crow era as a reminder to put people in their places,” he continued. “So, yeah, those fucked up things need to come down. Where does it end? It ends with ending racism.”
Barker has made a career out of tackling many big political and social issues, but one issue he is having a hard time with is the Trump administration’s repeal and condemnation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, or DACA. The program helped more than 800,000 undocumented immigrant children before the Trump administration decided to end it at the beginning of September, placing a six-month delay to allow Congress to save it. Barker said he knows the importance of discussing DACA and fighting for the Dreamers’ right to remain and work in this country, but at the same time, he worries that it’s playing out as a distraction from other issues, particularly Trump’s rollbacks of corporate regulations. “I want people to not take lightly what is happening in the shadows,” he said.
“I think this repeal of DACA is just another example of the white supremacist fabric of the Trump regime, and they’re doubling down on it; [however,] I think there’s this belief that Trump is just this idiotic cat batting a ball of yarn around in the Oval Office while all of this is happening around him, and that’s not the case,” he said. “As the discussion of climate change and all of the issues it is creating come to the forefront, they’re rolling back regulations on Shell and Exxon Mobil and all these companies that have caused these issues. I know the corporate state is thriving underneath the Trump regime, and that shouldn’t be lost.”
Barker and his Anti-Flag bandmates—vocalist Justin Sane, drummer Pat Thetic and guitarist Chris Head—are committed to staying in the fight for justice and equality. To them, it’s clear that Trump’s main motivation is keeping the rich richer and the poor pitted against each other.
“People don’t have much as it is, but with the wealth gap being what it is at such a historic level, people are really focused on maintaining what they do have instead of bringing up everyone as a whole, and that fear creates a place for hatred,” said Barker.