1981, in the midst of the self-destructive throes of punk rock culture, a
new sobriety movement began in the Washington, DC, punk-rock scene. :
The legendary punk band, Minor Threat, led by Ian McKay, started a
new mindset, which McKay labeled Straight Edge. The movement, given its name by a song written by McKay, which he
titled The Straight Edge, was part of his plan to end the “live
fast, die young” mentality of many young punkers. Instead, McKay embodied a lifestyle that was against drugs,
alcohol, and tobacco, and also avoided issues like racism, sexism, and
the beginning, the subculture was mostly made up of adolescents.Youth within the
subculture were growing up experimenting with
new identities and seeking their place in society.
For many, the Straight Edge image and philosophy became part of
their identity. However,
because Straight Edge primarily existed within youth peer culture, it was
destined to go through many changes within the next two decades as
subsequent groups of youth became part of the scene, identified with it
for a time, and then moved on to other identities and other groups.
movement quickly spread from the East Coast, gaining attention on a
national level.Many young
people identified with the movement, and it appeared that, in time,
Straight Edge could be something socially acceptable to both parents and
teenagers. The Straight Edge subculture maintained the high energy and
volatility of the punk scene, without the drunken and drugged brawls that
had, up until that time, characterized the punk culture.The message became, “It’s
okay to be straight.In fact, it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do.”
symbolize the movement, many Straight Edgers in the 1980s used the thick
black X that had been written on the hands of underage concertgoers at
all-ages punk venues in the northeast to notify bartenders that the X’ed
person was under 21. Members
of the new subculture who had begun to take pride in their stance against
drugs and alcohol quickly embraced the X as a symbol. The
Hardline Manifesto In
the mid- to late-1980s, the hardcore Straight Edge scene reached a high
point, particularly on the East Coast.
Bands on the scene included Gorilla Biscuits, Bold, Wide Awake, and
Youth of Today. These bands,
which greatly contributed to the popularity of the Straight Edge movement,
also contributed to the intolerance of outsiders that exists within the
present-day Straight Edge movement. During this time, the Straight Edge concert scene
took on an “us versus them” mentality, with Straight Edge punkers
feeling they represented a positive youth crew that existed in opposition
to drinkers, smokers, and drug users.
As time passed, more and more identity-seeking radicals
emerged in the underground scene. Around
1986, the vegetarian and vegan (abstaining from all animal-derived
products) ideology surfaced in the ever-growing Straight Edge movement.
In the summer of 1987, five young men
from Memphis, Tennessee, formed a hardcore band. Since all five came from Straight Edge backgrounds, they
shared common beliefs. However,
front man Sean “Hardline” Penn
had a radically different view of the basic Straight Edge opposition to
drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. The
group named their band Vegan Reich because all the members were avid
animal-liberation activists. They
used the band to promote their agenda of militant veganism and radical
environmentalism. Coming into
a scene dominated by pseudo-pacifists, where vegetarianism was rare and
veganism almost unheard of, Vegan Reich caused immediate controversy by
their name alone.
However, it wasn’t until 1989 that Vegan Reich became more than just another punk band. Having succeeded
in helping build the radical animal-rights movement, the group began to see
the limitations and inconsistencies of a single-issue approach and set out to
formulate a new movement that would encompass not only animal-liberation and environmental
issues, but would also include class-war politics and social ethics. The group continued to support
the drug-free lifestyle for the mental clarity and physical endurance necessary to create effective
revolutionaries. Thus, the Hardline movement was spawned, a separate but related movement to
the Straight Edge movement. In 1997, on the Straight Edge FAQ, Andy Dempz wrote “Hardline is a very specific
political eco-defense movement that believes they have the one truth of natural living, including abstinence from
drugs, veganism, and pro-life beliefs. They also claim to believe in direct action, but it remains to be seen
if they’ll do anything.”  His words echoed
a large percentage of older Straight Edgers who
did not entirely
approve of the Hardline influence on the movement.
Influenced in large part by the resurgent Straight Edge philosophy, the
band released their album Hardline in 1990.This album detailed the new ideology and declared war against all
animal exploiters, earth rapers, and apathetic drug users—all set against
rage-filled, hardcore punk.
Just as the band Skrewdriver has utilized hardcore punk to recruit youth
skinhead beliefs, Vegan Reich utilized the music as a message to draw punk
youth into eco-animal activism. Almost
overnight, Vegan Straight Edgers became more and more common around the
U.S. Under the Hardline label,
which distinguished itself with an X created by crossing two machine guns,
the bands Vegan Reich, Raid, and Statement produce militant songs promoting
the Hardline philosophy, using energetic hardcore punk as the sales pitch.
The music was popular with Straight Edgers, a percentage of whom
eagerly embraced the Hardline beliefs.
The Hardline movement began to become more and more a part of
the Straight Edge scene within a few years.
As with most youth subcultures, membership in the entire subculture
often turns over every four to five years.
Many new members who joined the movement in the early 1990s were far
more connected to the more militant Hardline movement than to the original
Straight Edge subculture. Younger
adolescents who were exposed to the movement during the 1990s did not
understand that the Hardline philosophy was not part of the original
Straight Edge movement. Within
a decade, the melding of these two subcultures produced violent results.
Violence and separatism invaded the Straight Edge scene, with
Straight Edgers frequently forcing their beliefs on non-Straight Edgers.
Fights, and even stabbings, became more common at Straight Edge
concerts around the U.S. And,
in the music, uncontrolled anger became an important aspect of the lyrics.
1995, even Ian McKay publicly disavowed the intolerance that had become
prevalent within the Straight Edge movement.
In an interview with Thicker, (a hardcore punk fanzine), he
stated: “The whole straight
edge thing for me was never about this kind of puritan lifestyle where I
was supposed to be leading the masses towards a better tomorrow.”
was the melding of the Hardline and Straight Edge scenes, however, that
created the opportunity for the dramatic growth of the Animal Liberation
Front (ALF) animal liberationists were able to tap into the youth and
energy of the Straight Edge scene. While
the Hardline label no longer exists, the Hardline message is still promoted
today by bands like Earth Crisis.
The songs of Earth Crisis, like those of its predecessors, Vegan Reich
and other Hardline acts, heavily promote animal liberation and militant
veganism. This philosophy has
spread and become popular in the Straight Edge concert scene during the
1990s. Concert venues
increasingly are used to promote militant veganism, and underground
animal-rights publications like Dressed in Black and Direct
Action are frequently displayed and distributed at Straight Edge
concerts. Earth Crisis has
taken a leading role as a “spokesband” for environmental and youth
the recording label for Earth Crisis, proudly reported on their Web
the last four years Earth Crisis have received national media coverage on
CNN (Earth Matters), TBS, FOX (America’s Most Wanted), CBS (48 Hours),
MTV (Music News) and ABC (World News Tonight).
Earth Crisis’ message of human, animal and environmental
liberation has caused shockwaves that resonate beyond the music industry…Charismatic
vocalist Karl Buechner has spoken in front of the U.S. Congress about teens
and substance abuse. How many
singers in hard rock have done that? “...This
is not just a record - it is the soundtrack to the freedom and liberation
from the inhibiting elements of the world.”
Straight Edge and the Animal Liberation Front
founders of the Hardline movement, members of Vegan Reich were active
proponents of direct action (terrorism, vandalism, and so forth) targeted
against “animal abusers,” businesses that profit from the sales of
animal-related products. One
Hardline member writes: “Raid
was a spokesband for Hardline in the early days of its formation as a
public mouth piece for revolution. Vegan
Reich was as well. Today,
the singer from Vegan Reich (and founder of Hardline) is in the band
the 1990s, Vegan Reich disintegrated.
However, bands like Earth Crisis, Snapcase, and Hatebreed stepped
into these vacant shoes. Their
song lyrics directly advocate similar causes that parallel the Hardline
Manifesto. Within the Straight Edge movement, peer pressure on youth
increased. Kids who were
alcohol-, tobacco-, and drug-free Straight Edgers were told by Vegan
Straight Edgers that they should begin abstaining from animal products.
After all, the logic went, animals from factory farms were pumped
full of steroids, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
No Straight Edger who ate meat could truly call him/herself
drug-free. Additionally, the
Militant Vegan, or Hardline Straight Edgers stressed that Vegan Straight
Edgers needed to bring awareness to the plight of animals throughout the
world. As long as animals
anywhere were suffering torture (or as long as the environment was being
trashed by “Capitalist Interests”), members of this movement had a
responsibility to become activists. For
that reason, members of the Straight Edge movement became a fertile
recruiting ground for Hardliners and other Militant Vegan groups.
In some areas of the U.S., Hardliners became involved with the
Animal Liberation Front and anarchist causes.
Straight Edge Terminology
The pre-eminent Straight Edge band during the late 1990s and into
Emo-Core: A musical genre
associated with the Straight Edge scene and distinguished by its message
from hardcore punk (though in the same musical style).
Stretching holes in the earlobes with items such as plastic straws,
film containers, and plastic PVC pipes.
This practice is commonplace in the Straight Edge scene.
Nickname for another musical style, old-fashioned punk, which is
sometimes associated with the Straight Edge scene.
Most Straight Edge bands are hardcore, not all hardcore bands are
individual who is personally committed to following the Hardline
Manifesto, including militant veganism and direct action.
Hardliners typically use 3 Xs to identify themselves.
Very aggressive Straight Edgers, those who frequently provoke
confrontations with outsiders.
A skateboarder. In many communities conflicts between skateboarders and
Straight Edgers are common, as skaters are perceived by many Straight
Edgers to be drug users.
Band stickers, featuring bands like Earth Crisis, Snapcase,
Integrity, Minor Threat, etc., are commonplace within the Straight Edge
To have some or all of the beliefs of Straight Edge, but not be
intensely involved in the movement.
Common abbreviation for Straight Edge.
These tattoos are frequently worn by Hardliners to show their kinship with
the tribal peoples of the world. It
should be noted that many other people who have no connection with this
movement wear these types of tattoos, as well.
Represents a symbol of the Straight Edge movement and may be found
written or printed on shirts, belts, wallets, pants, tattoos, etc.
To write blatant Xs across one’s hands as a sign of Straight Edge
beliefs. This is commonly
done in connection with the concert scene or in other public locations
(i.e., at school).
Symbol of the Hardline Movement.
Signs for Parents and Adults
The young person begins to associate with a new group of friends
and cuts ties with old friends. Exclusively
associates with other Straight Edgers.
|Tattooing/wearing Straight Edge (written out as sXe) or
Hardline (XXX) identifiers on clothing, books, backpacks, skateboards,
etc. Straight Edgers
often use Old English-style letters to spell out common slogans such
as “Drug Free” or “Poison Free.”|
|Gauging (stretching wide holes in the ear lobes).|
|Abrupt changes in behavior such as a refusal to take
medications (such as Tylenol or physician-prescribed medicines) with
an interest in veganism or vegetarianism.|
|Avid fan of bands, such as Earth Crisis or similar
bands, advocating illegal direct actions for environmentalist or
|Many youth will wear t-shirts that read “Poison
Free,” “100% Pure,|
Drug Free,” or “Alcohol Free.”
|The young person may begin to collect ALF/animal-rights
publications, fliers, posters, stickers, and videos of lab releases or
other criminal acts on behalf of animal rights.|
The key for parents is not to overreact, but to keep lines of
communication open with their children.
Straight Edge is not a negative group in every area of the country,
though there are some Straight Edge groups that could accurately be
classified as gangs due to their aggressive criminal behavior.
The majority of Straight Edgers are unlikely to commit crimes as a
result of their involvement, and the majority of Straight Edgers would not
qualify as a gang or a criminal threat group.
However, both the Hardline Movement and Animal Liberation Front
espouse the idea of committing crimes on behalf of their causes.
There are a number of young people around the country who are
serving long prison terms for felony crimes (including bombings) committed
on behalf of the animal rights movement.
Parents should seek professional intervention with children who
become involved in militant animal-rights activities.
It seems that many young activists who undertake criminal
actions on behalf of animal rights do so because they are frustrated by
their inability to bring about change through more legitimate means.
A parent who gets involved in helping their child become
politically involved; e.g., writing letters, putting together petitions,
and meeting with elected officials on areas of interest, may have better
success in both building a close relationship with their child and helping
their child avoid turning to criminal means as a method of expressing
their passion. Teenagers
often want to find a cause about which they can be passionate; parents
should, if possible, take time to help their children become involved in
constructive human or animal-rights initiatives.
Parents should have conversations with youth about their
involvement in Straight Edge and their beliefs. If youth choose to be vegetarians or vegans, parents should
not force them to eat meat, but instead, work out a detailed plan in
regard to how the young person can get proper nutrition with this type of
diet. The parents can also
insist that the young person learn how to cook their own meals.
Conversations between parents and children about drugs and
alcohol should be common dialogues from the time kids are in grammar
school. Children will be far
more resistant to groups like Straight Edge if they are able to find, from
an early age, a peer group that supports the family’s core beliefs.
Involvement in sports, church, recreation, arts, and drama programs
can provide youths a positive outlet and peer culture to support a choice
to live drug-free. Many youth
who are Straight Edge are proud of their beliefs and usually are open to
discussion. Parents should
take time to discuss this group with their middle school or high
school-aged children. Some
questions for parents to ask include the following:
you Straight Edge?|
you have Straight Edge in your school?|
is Straight Edge?|
A time has come for an
ideology and for a movement that is both physically and morally
strong enough to do battle against the forces of evil that are
destroying the earth (and all life upon it)…
That ideology, that movement,
is Hardline. A belief
system and a way of life that lives by one ethos—that all innocent
life is sacred, and must have the right to live out its natural
state of existence in peace, without interference…Any action that
does interfere with such rights shall not be considered a
“right” in itself, and therefore shall not be tolerated.
Those who hurt or destroy life around them, or create a
situation in which that life, or the quality of it, is threatened
shall from then on no longer be considered innocent life, and in
turn, will no longer have rights.
Adherents to the Hardline will
abide by these principles in daily life.
They shall live at one with the laws of nature, and shall not
forsake them for the desire of pleasure—from deviant sexual acts
and/or abortion to drug use of any kind (and all other cases where
one harms all life around them under the pretext that they are just
harming themselves). And, in following with the belief that one shall not infringe
on an innocent’s life, no animal product shall be consumed (be it
flesh, milk or egg). Along
with this purity of everday life, the true Hardliner must strive to
liberate the rest of the world from its chains, saving lives in some
cases, and in others, dealing out justice to those guilty of
from the Hardline Manifesto written by Vegan Reich in 1990 and
included on albums published on the Hardline Label.