On July 19, Anti-Flag, a famed punk outfit with deep roots in Pittsburgh, suddenly fell off the face of the earth. Fans were met with a message on the band’s Patreon page stating that Anti-Flag had split up. The band’s website and social media pages disappeared. Soon, users on Reddit made a connection between the shocking break-up and a podcast episode released the same day in which a woman alleged that a member of a successful rock band had raped her years before.
After a brief period of silence, members of Anti-Flag — including the accused, Justin Sane — finally spoke out.
On July 19, the podcast Enough, which covers abuse in the music industry, spoke with Kristina Sarhadi, a New York-based therapist and social worker. Over the course of the episode, Sarhadi recounted how, while attending a show in Brooklyn several years ago, the lead singer of a band invited her to a party, after which he lured her back to his hotel, plied her with alcohol, then locked and assaulted her in his room.
While Sarhadi never identifies her attacker, users on Reddit were quick to point out that it could be Sane, whose real name is Justin Geever. A statement later made by three other members indicates they were taking the claim seriously.
In an email sent on July 25 to Pittsburgh City Paper and several other publications, Sane called the claims of sexual assault made against him “categorically false,” adding, “I have never engaged in a sexual relationship that was not consensual, nor have I ever been approached by a woman after a sexual encounter and been told I had in any way acted without her consent or violated her in any way. Now that I have had a few days to absorb the initial shock, I am making this statement to set the record straight.”
After asserting his committment to “standing up” for victims of sexual assault, as well as “those suffering oppression and inequality, who are victimized, demeaned, and abuse[d],” he then addressed the band’s break-up, stating, “In regard to Anti-flag disbanding, as a band, the decision was made that under these circumstances it would be impossible to continue.”
At the same moment, Anti-Flag’s other members, Pat Thetic, Chris “#2” Barker, and Chris Head, emailed their own statement, which reads: “A core tenet of the band Anti-Flag is to listen to and believe all survivors of sexual violence and abuse. The recent allegations about Justin are in direct contradiction to that tenet. Therefore, we felt the only immediate option was to disband.
“We have been shocked, confused, saddened and absolutely heartbroken from the moment we heard these allegations. While we believe this is extremely serious, in the last 30 years we have never seen Justin be violent or aggressive toward women. This experience has shaken us to our core.
“We understand and apologize that this response may not have been quick enough for some people. This is new territory for all of us and it is taking time for us to process the situation.
“It was a privilege for us to be in the band Anti-Flag, as we seek to find our path forward we wish healing to all survivors.”
The break-up was announced during Anti-Flag's current European tour, and months before the band was set to tour with The Bouncing Souls. Better Artists, a music management company that represents The Bouncing Souls, tells City Paper via email, "This is a Bouncing Souls headline tour in support of their new album. It is still very much happening. That being said, [Anti-Flag] is no longer a support artist on the tour."
The news came as a shock to fans given that Anti-Flag voiced strong pro-feminist views in many of its songs, including the anthem "Feminism Is For Everybody (With A Beating Heart And A Functioning Brain)." In a 2012 interview with City Paper, Sane voiced support for then-incumbent President Barack Obama, adding that he didn't want people like then-Republican presidential candidate and Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum to be in power because he "tells rape victims to 'make the best of a bad situation.'"
Jon Nix, an Ohio-based filmmaker and punk fan, directed the 2020 documentary Beyond Barricades: The Story of Anti-Flag, described as covering the Pittsburgh band’s long-term political and musical work. Nix tells City Paper that he and others in the community are "all very shocked."
"It’s a huge disappointment," says Nix. "I feel awful for anyone he has hurt. And I’m sad for all the people in the band and crew who were dedicating their lives to music and activism. His actions have tainted and undermined all of that."
However, users on social media state that the allegations come as no surprise given the history of violence against women in the punk scene, pointing out that it resulted in the formation of female-forward music movements like riot grrrl.
Since forming in Pittsburgh 35 years ago, Anti-Flag has released 13 studio albums, signed to the major record label RCA, and toured all over the world. Despite their global fame, they retained close ties to their hometown, even headlining the local punk showcase ANTIfest and earning the title of Best Legacy Band in City Paper's 2020 readers' poll.