A Brief History of Conservative and Libertarian Punk Rock


The heavy metal magazine Decibel recently announced a new inductee to the "Decibel Hall of Fame," an honor reserved exclusively for "extreme music's most important albums." That inductee was Cause for Alarm, the breakthrough 1986 album by the New York City band Agnostic Front.

It's a good choice. Although Agnostic Front is best known for playing hardcore, a caustic musical offshoot of punk rock, on Cause for Alarm the band added a massive dose of thrash metal to the mix. The resulting sound combined the best of both genres and left its mark on punks and headbangers alike. The record deserves the kudos.

Courtesy of Relativity Records

But Agnostic Front made more than just musical waves in its heyday. As Decibel notes, the band would also "outrage P.C. talk show hosts with its controversial lyrics." Foremost among those hosts was daytime kingpin Phil Donahue, an outspoken liberal who denounced the lyrical content of "Public Assistance," a song where Agnostic Front attacked the welfare state. (Sample lyric: "Uncle Sam takes half my pay so you can live for free.")

Nor was that the band's only brush with political controversy. In fact, Agnostic Front was at the center of a heated debate over whether right-of-center views should even be allowed in the '80s punk scene in the first place. For their part, Agnostic Front's members saw no crime in voicing the occasional word of support for Ronald Reagan's anti-communist foreign policy.

To say the least, that ruffled a few mohawks. For example, when Agnostic Front's first album, Victim in Pain, hit the shelves in 1984, the leading punk zine at the time, Maximum RockNRoll, attacked the "extremely hot-sounding thrash album" as the work of dangerous extremists, blaming the band for "much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene." (Agnostic Front, and the scene it "destroyed," are both still alive and kicking.)

If Maximum RockNRoll had its way, Agnostic Front would have been excommunicated from punk for political heresy. But of course that was never an option since punk was never the sole property of the left in the first place. After all, no less an icon than Johnny Ramone, guitarist and founder of the Queens, New York, outfit that arguably got the whole punk thing started, was a self-described "Nixon Republican." Yes, plenty of punks spent their time raging against "Maggie" Thatcher and "Reaganomics." But plenty others were focused on beer, skateboarding, and astro zombies. All sorts of misfits went slam dancing under the same big tent.

Finally, since we're talking about the politics of punk, allow me to leave you with my nominee for the greatest libertarian punk song. It's a number called "Legalize Drugs" by the great L.A. band Fear. What makes it libertarian? Check out the lyrics: "When you take away the profit, then you destroy the black market." It reads like an article at

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  1. The only thing punker than tastemakers declaring a scene and deciding who does and does not belong to it is for tastemakers to establish a hall of fame for aged acts that they decide are more important than others. Now all they need is an annual awards ceremony to really stick it to the establishment.

    1. Properly hyped and televised, of course. SO PUNK.

    2. Do it like the old USENET group which was moderated but had no moderator; if you couldn’t figure out how to post, you weren’t worthy of posting.

      Lock up the Hall of Fame, and only those punks who are punk enough to break in are allowed to either put up their own nomination or view the exhibits.

  2. I saw Agnostic Front at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in 1990/91. Fun show, but I knew nothing of their politics at the time and basically had none of my own other than “leave me the fuck alone”.

  3. “To say the least, that ruffled a few mohawks.”

    By ’86, there were very few mohawks about in the scene.

    Agnostic Front’s primary audience had shaved heads, anyway, and there wasn’t anything especially controversial about what we would now consider right wing views coming from sXe.

    I think the emphasis on vegetarianism changed the outside’s perception and probably the nature of the movement itself, but seeing right wing sorts of views coming from Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Uniform Choice, etc. wasn’t surprising to anybody. …except people from Phil Donahue’s generation, who so very wrongly assumed that American punk rawk hardcore was a continuation of hippie culture rather than the reaction against hippie culture that it was.

    1. What do you mean you want your hair short, and you won’t take drugs, drink, or have sex before marriage? What the hell kind of rebellion is that?

      You’re rebelling again us?! The youth can’t rebel against US! We’re the hippie generation!

    2. Ah, yes. Uniform Choice. Also, SS Decontrol, DYS, Negative FX, Gang Green. And after DYS, anything Dave Smalley was in, including ALL, and Down By Law. Smalley is a conservative Republican.

      1. Really? I haven’t listened to Dag Nasty or Down by Law in forever and a day, but I didn’t know that about Smalley.

        1. Yep. Check it out. Also, most of the guys from Descendents/ALL are conservatives.

          1. Milo still rules.

        2. Dag Nasty/The Descendents was the first show I ever went to… I was 15 with a DK t-shirt and a long blonde mullet (hey, it was the 80s!) Needless to say I was given a hard time in the slam pit – at one point hopping on one foot as I tried to find my other shoe.

      2. I went to the Olympic whenever I could, and whatever hole in the wall. And for a while, I saw just about every band that played at Fenders in your neck of the woods.

        Back then, I didn’t think anybody would ever hear of any of these bands–the way I first heard some of them was just going to Fenders. Well, that and some of the chicks I hung with.

        It’s weird seeing some of the actual shows I was at on YouTube.

  4. The Meatmen, Bad Brains, Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Shelter/Youth of Today, the Misfits, are conservative/libertarian friendly punk outfits. Those are just off the top of my head. For the West Coast there is Black Flag before Henry Rollins, Fear, Doggy Style/D.I., Agent Orange, Circle Jerks, R.K.L., Poison Idea, TSOL. The Effigies, Bhopal Stiffs, Naked Raygun, Pegboy, Big Black from Chicago.

    It is a fucking shame that MaximumRockNRoll and the whole Gilman Street scene really pushed punk in a leftist direction. Punk should be about anti-authority and pro-individual. At least it was pre-1988. That’s why Flipside was a better ‘zine.

    1. … the Misfits had politics?

      Or is it just that they’re apolitical?

      (I’m not quite so sure about Bad Brains; not that they’re typical Punk Pinkos, but there’s a thread of annoying “you owe us a living” to some of the songs.

      But I love them anyway; it’s not like the Dead Kennedys where I can’t even listen to Bedtime anymore because Jello is such a damned idiot that even East Bay Ray’s guitar can’t save it.

      Poison Idea. Good times.)

  5. Fear was awesome (Is awesome? Are they still playing? No idea) although I wouldn’t call them libertarians. Lee Ving had his far-right schtick down pretty pat – “USA”, “Bomb the Russians”, “Foreign Policy”. I say schtick because I remember reading a interview with Spit Stix once where he said Lee’s persona was a put-on, that he was an old hippie who was looking for a gimmick.

    Circle Jerks weren’t really political, but “When the Shit Hits the Fan” is fairly libertarian. Joe Escalante from the Vandals is pretty outspokenly Republican, and Guttermouth famously got tossed from the Warped Tour in the mid-oughts for mocking the anti-Bush line being pushed by NOFX…..not out of any political convictions but merely to fuck with the crowd, which is as punk rawk as you can get.

    1. I saw Fear play in … ’97ish (???). Lee Ving was looking pretty old by then.

      1. oh yeah, he looked old as hell then. Saw them a few times in like 1998-2000.

    2. I always thought Stiff Little Fingers’ Suspect Device had some really libertarian lyrics, but I doubt the band was.

      1. I think Suspect Device should be Reason’s official theme song.

        It’s about the government dividing the people of Belfast, but it sounds like they’re talking about the government playing us as Republicans and Democrats against each other.

        We also shouldn’t shortchange bands like Crass.

        “Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
        I am he and she is she but you’re the only you
        No one else has got your eyes, can see the things you see
        It’s up to you to change your life and my life’s up to me
        The problems that you suffer from are problems that you make
        The shit we have to climb through is the shit we choose to take
        If you don’t like the life you live, change it now it’s yours
        Nothing has effects if you don’t recognise the cause
        If the programme’s not the one you want, get up, turn off the set
        It’s only you that can decide what life you’re gonna get”

        1. Crass’ “White Punks on hope” is one of the greatest smack downs of the left out there.

    3. Fear was seen as basically a poseur band at the time. Thing is, though, that if you were a hardcore band back then–even a poseur band–and you went out on the road playing hole in the wall hardcore venues? After a month or so, you couldn’t be a poseur anymore. Eventually, that life is gonna make you legit.

      Oh, and I think “Back Up Against the Wall” is one of the best libertarian punk rock songs–about police brutality of course.

      You yell out…in defiance.
      You’re backed up against the wall.
      They’re up there clutching their guns, man.
      And it makes you feel real small
      Throw a bottle.
      Broken glass, when it ends with the handcuffs on your hands.

      1. Interesting. All I knew when I started listening to them about their early days (I was born in ’76) was that they were thrown off of SNL after destroying the stage and what I saw on The Decline of Western Civilization, which was Hall of Fame level crowd-baiting. Didn’t know they were ever regarded as poseurs.

        1. Well, they were sort of like poseurs.

          The Exploited had to deal with that, too.

          It was assumed they weren’t actually living the life they were singing about, but, what I’m trying to say is that, after a while, they were living that life!

          You couldn’t be a punk rock band on the road and not acquire that legitimacy over time. If you’re on the road, you’re living that life.

    4. Circle Jerks “weren’t really political”? I suppose if you eliminate “Red Tape”, “Paid Vacation”, “Coup d’Etat”, “Stars & Stripes”, “Question Authority”, “Political Stu”, “Forced Labor”, “Killing For Jesus”, or “Making The Bombs”, I suppose it’s just a bunch of fun ditties about beer and pussy.

  6. From wikipedia:

    “In the summer of 2004 Guttermouth embarked on the Vans Warped Tour, playing on the Volcom side stage. In keeping with their reputation for outrageous and offensive behavior, Adkins would often openly insult other acts from onstage, declaring that bands such as Yellowcard and My Chemical Romance cared more about their fashionable clothing and popularity than about the quality of their music. The band members also mocked what they saw as an uninformed political display of many bands on the tour by selling t-shirts and displaying banners that jokingly proclaimed support for President George W. Bush (many of the bands and media booths supported an anti-Republican stance in the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election). After several weeks on the tour Guttermouth was “politely” asked to leave, fueling rumors that other performers had petitioned to have them ejected.[5] Eventually, however, Adkins issued a statement apologizing to Warped Tour manager Kevin Lyman and admitting that the band had left the tour voluntarily, due in part to his distaste for the political atmosphere surrounding it.”

    Always was a fan. They put on some great shows back in the day when I still went to punk gigs.

    1. bands such as Yellowcard and My Chemical Romance cared more about their fashionable clothing and popularity than about the quality of their music.

      Real talk, on both counts.

  7. I swear to God, you taunt one friend on FB for posting a picture of him giving his partner the most chaste kiss in the history of the world, and you start getting articles with TBT gay bar ads in your feed.

  8. Oh, and how could I forget Screeching Weasel? “Nicaragua” is a fucking great song. For those who don’t know it…..

    I don’t give a fuck about nicaragua
    I don’t give a shit about the President
    I don’t care about suburban white kids
    Trying to show they’ve got compassion
    Politics are boring
    Politics are fucking boring
    Philosophizing propoganda spewing
    Teenage armchair revolutionaries
    What’s the problem? What’s the matter?
    You’re sitting there getting fatter
    You say that you hate capitalism
    And won’t you compromise
    But when you’re out of cigarettes
    You pompous ass your moral outrage
    Gives me a fucking headache
    Closed your mind got all the answers
    Don’t even realize you’re an asshole
    If you had any brains I guess you’d see
    You’re a narrow minded judgemental left wing nazi
    I don’t give a fuck about Nicarauga

    1. Yeah, but Ben Weasel was part of the MaximumRockNRoll/Gilman Street scene. He was a bit of a gadfly, but still “right thinking”. Suicidal Tendencies, and Life Sentence are pretty libertarian.

      1. Ehhhh….he palled around with those guys, but I don’t think he was really one of them from a political standpoint. Even if I’m wrong and he was, he might have had some second thoughts after they made him a pariah for punching that woman who spit in his face.

      2. Also, Jesus, I can’t stand Ben Weasel’s voice…

  9. As a mid-80s punk, I found the music quite liberating compared to the hair-band and new wave of the time. DK, Crass (gah!), Minor Threat, The Meatmen, early Butthole Surfers, etc were my staple. But it wasn’t so much the politics that I cared about, but the anti-establishment, contrarian, fuck it! attitude.

    Of course I came from a conservative little suburb so anything rebellious was a blast of fresh air.

    However, once I met other punks from the city, I found a lot of them to be rather cliquish little pricks who were trying to enforce what real punk was – provided it was their vision. I obviously wasn’t a “real punk” since I didn’t have a leather jacket and Doc Martens – but instead wore an army jacket with a homemade paint job on the back, homemade band t-shirts, and Converse. Ah well.

    Sometime after college I was part of the local punk scene here – doing PA work while my then girlfriend booked shows. We met quite a number of nice people, and a few real assholes who ended up destroying any hope I had for punk rock as any kind of political movement.

    And I won’t even go into the crazy skinhead scene of the 80s and 90s.

    1. One of the most hilarious moments of my 20s…..went to see Fear at the Foothill in Long Beach in like 1999 with three buddies. We got there early as hell with a case of beer because we were all young and broke, so we always drank before the show sitting there in my crummy little Honda.

      Anyway, we’re sitting there watching other people start to arrive, and a BMW 750 pulls up and disgorges these three teenage kids who look like they walked out of 1979 London – the bondage pants, the safety-pinned leather jackets, the Docs, the mohawks and spikes, everything. The four of us were in our usual Dickies and t-shirts and Chuck Taylors. Badass punk rockers getting dropped off at the show by their rich daddy. Too funny for words. It goes without saying that those kids were major league assholes at the show, too.

    2. However, once I met other punks from the city, I found a lot of them to be rather cliquish little pricks who were trying to enforce what real punk was…

      Yeah, I grew up in rural Indiana and discovered punk in 1982 (thank God for The Clash!). Me and my friends had our own style. Combat boots, Army jackets, and hand painted t-shirts were about all we could muster, too. The “real” punkers in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, and Detroit hated us.

      1. Zero Boys!

    3. Speaking of skinheads, I saw Warzone open up for Agnostic Front in 1988. Out came the Nazis.

      1. At an AF/Warzone show? In 88? Where?

        That’d be suicidal.

        By 88 the scene was so hellishly polarized that no one went anywhere without knowing what kind of show it was.

        The non-SHARP/non-straight edge set mostly went to shows in Brooklyn or Staten Island, and AF and Warzone shows were hotbeds of SHARPskins and straight edge kids

        Of course, that was the NY scene–outside it was worse.

  10. Murphy’s Law. Why doesn’t Murphy’s Law ever get any love?

    1. Maybe because they’re weed smokin’ hippies?

  11. I wonder what happened to Plastic Money. Their music was about a un-thrash as it could get.

    1. I never thought of Googling for them until now, I guess.…..dID=837193

      In the next song “Willimantic Sunset” I tried to capture the feeling that dusk in Willimantic, CT instills.

      That could only have been about one thing: the performance I saw them at, at dusk in a field in Willimantic, part of an anarchist festival in 1984.

      I never even knew they recorded.

  12. “It reads like an article at”

    Only more coherent.

  13. I knew a few cats from the anarcho-punk zine Profane Existence which had good info on the hardcore scene, cool graphix and many vicious internal debates over guns and free speech (the latter over anti-freespeechers claim that ‘free speech’ is an unworkable concept controlled by the government or law — which is a thinking I can understand but certainly don’t agree with in its remedies).

    Anyway, the Chicago hardcore band Los Crudos had words against environmentalism, saying it was detrimental to poor neighborhoods’ struggle to rise out of poverty.

  14. If you play a Sex Pistols record backwards, it quotes Michael Oakeshott: “To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

  15. All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me.

    1. “… and that fact that I preferred Pepsi was actually sufficient proof of my mental disorder.”

    2. “NO! You’re on drugs!”

  16. I vote for Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device” as the most libertarian punk song.

    The British anarcho stuff like Crass has some great anti-left and right songs too.

  17. My current favorite touring libertarian punk band is U.S. Bombs. They even played some gigs to promote Ron Paul.

  18. I could give two fucks about conservative punk rock (can’t recall a pro-Israel, respect authority and pass regulatory loopholes for large corporations punk anthem off the top of my head) but a lot of the best “libertarian” songs IMO came from otherwise liberal bands, which is hardly a surprise when you consider the areas of libertarianism that tend to overlap with the left (police abuse, civil rights, anti-authoritarianism) make way better punk songs than those that overlap with the right (small government, fiscal conservatism–well, maybe I should say things that USED TO overlap with the right).

    That being said, probably my favorite libertarian-ish punk song from an economic standpoint is the Dead Milkmen’s “Born To Love Volcanoes.” I suppose these days NPR is more of a liberal darling than PBS, but their take on PBS pledge drives (“maybe he needs my money more than a man without a home”) always gets stuck in my head when liberals freak out at some congressman attempting to de-fund public broadcasting.

    1. There’s plenty of good lines you can cherry pick from 60’s and early 70’s lefty rock when they were anti-authoritarian. The Kinks “20th Century Man” is practically a manifesto (if a bit Luddite too). Also Steppenwolfs ” Monster” album. the entire theme is freedom means leave people alone and Americas gone to shit because its forgotten that.

  19. All the far-right RAC bands bandied about the word “freedom” too. And had some borderline “freedom” messages. Of course, it just meant “not communist”. Lots of songs about their free speech was being squashed and how we had to squash the free speech of anyone they didn’t like.

    Retarded as their message was I do have fond memories of how hard it was to actually get the albums before torrents and such. Even underground record stores were afraid to carry them because over zealous dickheads would threaten to burn the place down if they did. I got Skrewdriver’s Hail the New Dawn from a shady deal in the back of Reptillian Records in Baltimore. It was “here you are, you never got this here, and I’m not getting any more”. Fuckin’ contraband. Illegal music.

  20. Agnostic Front didn’t write the lyrics on that record. They paid the guy from Type O Negative for the job. Since none of these other “punk experts” knew this, I thought I’d chime in. Agnostic Front toured incessantly after Victem in pain came out and didn’t have the time to write another record. That gig fell to Pete Steele. The lyrics were just controversial enough to warrent a thumbs up from the band an the record was made.

    1. Steele had some fairly, um, un-PC lyrics is his early days from what little I remember.

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