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Jello Biafra Takes on Trump, ‘Nazi Punks’ Then and Now, and His Former Band, Dead Kennedys

What’s so unfunny about disruption, hate and misunderstanding? Ask Anti-Trump activist and punk-rock avatar Jello Biafra, who says, "I always thought, Hey, what if horror lyrics were about real monsters?"

dead kennedys punk trump politics
Dod Morrison

>When San Francisco-based musician and activist Jello Biafra’s Instagram flashed photos of the singer wearing a “Trump Hates Me” T-shirt with a link to his song, “Nazi Trumps Fuck Off” on the day that the Capitol fell under siege, it was hardly the first time Biafra showed off his brand of caustic politics.

The very name of his former group, Dead Kennedys, created outrage when the band rose through the punk ranks 40 years ago, but the singer wasn’t just out for shock value. From then on up through a Green presidential candidacy in 2000 and beyond, Biafra has forever put his money where his smart mouth is —especially where the necessity of putting down neo-Nazism in America is concerned. With his famous former band, in 1981 on his Alternative Tentacles label, he released the anti-fascist anthem, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” followed by an anti-Reagan rant, “California Uber Alles.” In recent times, Biafra has updated his classics as additional adversaries rose to power.

Showing further distaste for icons of the right such as Rudy Guiliani (“he’s a cross between Count Chocula and Klaus Kinshi’s Nosferatu with that melting hair dye”), Mitt Romney and GOP activist Evan McMullin, Biafra spent the weekend dissing his former bandmates for showing their (now-removed) Twitter support of Romney and McMullin. “Thank you @SenatorRomney and @EvanMcMullin. Mitt cares about the USA,” the official DK account tweeted, to the heated chagrin of their ex-frontman.

Over the course of several hours during a quickly shifting weekend, Biafra and Variety spoke on several occasions about everything from politics to his own new album, “Tea Party Revenge Porn,” the return of his YouTube program “What Would Jello Do?,” and new recordings with Al Jourgensen, including a new Ministry album (“Morale Hygiene”) and a renewal of their Lard project.

VARIETY: Before getting to your recent Instagram posts, the Twitter feed of your former band, Dead Kennedys — which you criticized for its support of Mitt Romney and Evan McMullin — threw its social media manager under the bus for that debacle.

BIAFRA: Sorry, I was just distracted by the online Trump 2020 store. What a carny. He’s already selling stuff for 2024. Doesn’t matter if he ever runs. He’s just going to make money of those people, now. All right… [Quoting his tweet.] ‘”How dumb and clueless can you get?? Was it scab singer Skip, who recently denied DKs are a political band, just, ‘a social satire band?’” Look. Forget about throwing anyone under the bus. Forget who at Dead Kennedys praised Romney or McMullin. How about they apologize to DK supporters over the years who the band’s music and vision means so much to? Instead of taking any responsibility, they’re passing the buck. Isn’t that what Trump does?

Though you’re no longer in Dead Kennedys, you were its frontman and lyricist until the mid-’80s, and take its place in history very seriously.

I was the brains of the operation. So I don’t like when, in my name — since so many people do think I’m still in the band -— I get associated with right-wing foolery. What disturbed me the most about that post is that whatever right-wing dickhead did it also used Evan McMullin’s name as clickbait. You can’t polish that turd. His was a name bandied about as an alternative to Trump, as a write-in candidate, in 2016, by Bill Kristol. Kristol may be a Never-Trumper, and therefore one of their friends, but McMullin, Kristol and such are not our friends. Just because talking heads talk a good anti-Trump game, they’re still hardline conservatives.

McMullin fired back at your DK diss with his own tweets: “The young Seattle punk in me would have been pleased. If Jello has an issue with the Dead Kennedys, Mitt Romney and I fighting fascists and Nazi punks, that’s his problem… The truth is Mitt Romney is more punk than Jello ever was.”

“The young Seattle punk in me.” What is he, a Screwdriver fan? And Mitt being more punk than me? I can’t top that. Punk is a very high-energy, high-adrenaline, primal-scream form of music. It’s reactionary music that attracts reactionaries from all sides. Always has. So, this is what you have to endure.

Endurance or not, Trump’s actions this week, and those of his minions, is incendiary stuff.

Down to Trump lawyer Lin Wood calling for Mike Pence to be executed by firing squad. You either freak out and check for space along the Golden Gate Bridge to jump off, or, if you have a sense of humor like me and Al Jourgenson (from Ministry), you spend 12 hours a day laughing. Most of this, though isn’t funny at all, namely finding out that people I once treasured as friends — Ariel Pink, John Maus — were part of this attack on the Capitol. These are not stupid people. They should know better. It just gets a lot more heartbreaking when people you love and respect get caught up in Trump or QAnon.

The other day you Instagrammed a photo of yourself wearing a “Trump Hates Me” shirt, together with “Nazi Trumps Fuck Off,” a fresh take on your “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” Your Instagram is littered with anti-Trump references. What is your history of hate regarding Trump?

Back when I first heard his name, the ’80s, suddenly, here was this celebrity rich asshole crowing about his wealth, until someone pointed out that he wasn’t the richest man in New York. He wasn’t even Gatsby. He was just a rich guy who wanted more attention than other rich people do.

Trump put the ’80s rich into the tabloids on a regular basis.

Plus, there were all these allegations linking him to the Mafia and the Russian mob then, the basis for him getting money for his Atlantic City casinos… These are just part of the Trumpamuck crimes. It’s obvious that the Trumps, like the Bushes, were a crime family, buying into and forever wed, in holy matrimony, to the Kushners. That was a corporate merger of crime families.

When did that Trump that you’re talking about grow dangerous enough to be tagged a Nazi, in your mind?

Like Richard Nixon, Trump wanted to be president for life. Going back to the Trump store, there’s a “Mount Trumpmore” shirt with an illustration of Mount Rushmore with a much larger Trump head off to the left, shadowing George Washington’s. Seeing that the guy doesn’t have a sense of humor, I don’t think he’s laughing about this either, like a lot of us are, especially considering how dangerous the people are who take him seriously. Nazi party or not, he is a fascist who makes no secret that he is a white supremacist. Right off the bat, he came out as anti-immigrant with his “Mexicans as rapists” bit. Holy shit. I knew he was an asshole before, but I never figured he was that horrible, until then. All Corporate McNews could do, though, is howl in protest and make fun of him as some sort-of celebrity buffoon. Until the first pre-primary polls came out. That’s when he doubled his competition, including the candidates they wanted such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

Considering your distaste for Trump, and his public’s love for him, what friction did you get, on social media or live events?

Following that pre-primary poll, I did a rant-cast on YouTube, “What Would Jello Do?,” pointing out what a racist Trump was. Immediately, we got Twitter-ized, first-grade reading level comments like “Trump is punk,” and “Has Jello become a Muslim?” That’s when I thought, “Even my listeners are falling for this. Trump could win.” From then on, I had the eerie feeling that he’d be our next president. Since that time, my audiences have been strongly anti-Trump, and the ‘Nazi Trumps Fuck Off” T-shirts that we made flew out of our door. They sold more than anything we ever had available, music and otherwise. But you will always get people doing and saying the dumb stuff. Like saying Mitt Romney is more punk than me. Problem is, the guy that said that, McMullin, has his eyes on public office. Unless he gets a Fox News show first.
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Jello Biafra Mialek

Whether it’s your new album, “Tea Party Revenge Porn,” or comments you’ve given the L.A. Weekly regarding Gavin Newsom, Diane Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, you’re no fan of the left, either.

I don’t consider those people “left.” We have one party in this country. I’m far from the first person to say, forget a third party — where’s the second? I have very little faith in Biden whatsoever. If Biden thinks he can let all the Trump regime’s crimes go in the name of uniting the country, he better think again.

Especially after the attacks on the Capitol.

I’m counting on Adam Schiff’s committee to get the Mueller Report completely un-redacted, and, from there, follow the money. If they really want to stop the neo-Nazi shits that nearly torched the Capitol building, with all of Orange’s people let in as the Capitol cops parted like the Red Sea, don’t just go after the dude with the horns that everybody though was either Jamiroqui or Rob Zombie. Follow the money. For example, did you know that the clowns who raided the Michigan Capitol building, some of whom were charged with plotting to behead Governor Whitmer and behead her, but got out on bail and were spied at the D.C. raid last week, was financed, in part by the DeVos family? That’s Betsy DeVos, whose brother, Eric Prince, gave us Blackwater and reportedly has a military-type training spread in Wyoming. He’s been linked to Russian collusion, but Mueller never bothered to follow that money. So, here’s DeVos freaking out and jumping the ship before the rest of the rats on a voyage that her family more than likely paid for. You can’t make this shit up.

From Ted Cruz to AOC, everyone is throwing around the word Nazi like a softball this weekend. That’s not a word to be taken lightly. How did you come to write the “Nazi Punks” song in the first place?

My take is this: If they act like one, and behave like one, then, yeah, calling them out as such is fair game. When I wrote “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” in the first place, I wasn’t writing about actual ideological Nazis. The Nazi skinhead thing hadn’t yet erupted in England yet. The song, then, was about the early stages of slam-dancing where people would show up, without any interest in the music at all — real buff jock types — who would run off the stage, target someone, and punch them in the back of the head, or the face, and run off. They just wanted to wail on somebody.

No reason other than a show of strength.

Those people were acting like Nazis. So I wrote it, and the Dead Kennedys played it. Then, when I formed Guantanamo School of Medicine specifically to play new music, not be some old-man punk retro act… I got cajoled into playing songs such as “Holidays in Cambodia,” which was never played the same way twice. We did “California Uber Allies” with Schwarzenegger-themed lyrics. I’m not bowing to pressure to do a Newsom one; you can only do so many. Anyway, I heard from fans who actually grew up under true fascist regimes — kids from the Soviet Union, Greece or Latin America countries with military dictatorships. They wanted to hear “Nazi Punks.” They told me that song gave them courage. So we brought it back and switched it out to “Nazi Trumps.” Now that I find out that people I knew and loved were part of the Capitol siege, maybe it should be “Trump-sy Punks Fuck Off.”

“Tea Party Revenge Porn” is a clearing house for everything we’re talking about: present-day fascism, Putin, the mob, phone and internet-based obsession, fake news. When did you start its roll call and how did it wind up where it is now?

Songs such as “Satan’s Combover” and the title track were written before Trump stole the 2016 election and Hilary (Clinton), true to form, didn’t fight back. “We Created Putin” — I noticed that the lack of a Marshall Plan for the Soviet Union created another Hitler in Trump. Plus, Russian banks are the first banks that Trump has taken money from that he’s going to have to pay back, one way or another. No matter what, I didn’t want the album to be “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Look, I grew up on Alice Cooper. I always thought, “Hey, what if horror lyrics were about real monsters?”