The Anti-Krishna Flyers Incident of 1990

In June of 1990, Inside Out and Shelter played at the Anthrax club in Connecticut; a bunch of ABC No Rio regulars trooped out there with personalized flyers denouncing the incursion of what they believed to be a dangerous religious movement (Hare Krishnas) into the hardcore scene.

While there had been previous instances of individual members of bands like the Cro-Mags and Cause for Alarm being involved with the Krishnas, this new wave amped up the proselytizing with what seemed like a full temple of devotees coming down to the show and bands forming with the express purpose of spreading Krishna Consciousness, Shelter being the most notable.

I’ve always been fascinated by this incident, having good friends on either side of the divide, hardcore in the '90s was evolving into a multi-faceted monster and Krisnacore was going to have a place in it, regardless of its detractors.

I wanted to find out what some of the main players involved thought about this incident 3 decades after the fact, the passion and commitment both sides felt was extremely inspiring, reflecting the hardcore/punk ethos of questioning everything and searching for the truth wherever it may lead you. 

Thank you to the following for taking the time out to answer my questions:

  • Vic DiCara (Beyond, Inside Out, 108)
  • Adam Nathanson (Life’s Blood, Born Against)
  • Paramananda Dasa/John Porcell (Youth of Today, Shelter, Judge)
  • Norman Brannon (Shelter, Texas Is the Reason, Anti-Matter)
  • Melissa York (Team Dresch, Born Against)
  • Dave Koenig (HardwareIn Memory Of...)
  • Chris Strickland (Printed Matter)
  • Charles Maggio (Rorschach, Gern Blandsten Records)

Tell me about the vibe of the crowd that was getting the flyers handed to them outside the show.

Norman Brannon: I'd say the show was kind of a big deal. This was Shelter's first show and no one had really even heard their music by that point, but Youth of Today were still basically gods at the Anthrax, so we knew it was going to pop off. The vibe was excited, mostly. I honestly didn't expect there to be any level of confrontation, but I also didn't expect Shelter to come with the entire Krishna Fest crew. I'd never seen anything like it at a show.

Melissa York: Well, I always loved going to shows at the Anthrax. The drive up to Connecticut, getting out of the city, etc. It always had the feeling of such excitement. From what I remember, that night was no different only that it might have been even more exciting? Here we were the ABC kids, the freaks of the freaks, giving it to one of our straight edge idols, Ray Cappo. I don’t remember entirely those outside the show that weren’t members of the bands, Inside Out/Shelter.

I remember seeing Ray in his Krishna hairstyle (which was shocking) and going up to him. The vibe I got from him was shocked, to be honest. He was, from what he might have thought, living his best straight edge life as a Krishna and being in a hardcore band that spoke to the youth of the day (pun intended) only to be protested for living that best life? He was totally confused.

Vic DiCara: I would say people basically had no idea what was what. Imagine you know nothing at all about something and you go somewhere where there are super passionate people on both sides, one telling you “OMG THIS IS AMAZING”, and the other telling you, “YO, CHECK IT, THAT SHIT SUUUUCKS!"

Adam Nathanson: The vibe of the crowd in the Anthrax parking lot initially was excitement that they were going to see newish bands doing a new take on underground music- Revelation straight edge Krishna. You know, Ray Cappo’s first-post Youth of Today appearance. I really dug the Shelter No Compromise 7” myself! There was a buzz about Inside Out coming to the East Coast, the next big thing from Orange County after they’d already given us No for An Answer, Unity, Uniform Choice, etc.

Show-goers’ reaction when they received our tirade flyers outside the show was at first, of course, understandably, all confusion. Just like other similar ridiculous quasi-boycotts I’d already done, like at the second Super Bowl of Hardcore at the Ritz in NYC, people thought I was giving them a flyer for another show they might also like.

In the moment, I thought my mission was as powerful as Dolores Huerta or César Chavez from the United Farm Workers in the '60s and '70s picketing the sale of grapes outside a supermarket. It took a little time for a reaction to develop because the whole approach was so odd.

The kids had to read our flyers, process them mentally, and then decide whether to engage us, and maybe allow us to ruin their good time. But I was little unhinged and all about wrecking people’s good times from about 1988 to 1991. The debates began in earnest and picked up steam over the course of like two hours as I remember it.

Paramananda Dasa/John Porcell: Things were polarized and a bit hostile. People were either pro-Shelter and defending the band or they were really against any sort of spirituality in the hardcore scene.

Charles Maggio: Well, we were going to a Shelter/Inside Out show so the crowd there was not overly receptive to our presence there. I do have a memory of there being some Krishna guys (not band members or scene members as far as I remember) getting a bit aggressive about is leaving.

Dave Koenig: The strange thing for me is this is one show I don't remember much of. People did read them, some were stunned and some were not caring. I actually think I didn't even hand out my own flyer, somebody else might have.

Chris Strickland: I can only really recall some specific things about that show. I think a lot of the crowd who were there obviously for Shelter thought maybe the flyers were just a type of trolling. They aren’t converted and there for the music. They’re seeing Krishna propaganda being tabled at the shows. Some of the Krishnas got pretty argumentative and loud.

Shelter @ the Anthrax, Norwalk, CT, 1990. (Photo: Jen Kulawas)

Any recollections on when Zack de la Rocha from Inside Out addressed the crowd regarding the flyers?

Paramananda Dasa/John Porcell: I don’t remember Zack or Vic, but I remember personally seeing that flyer and thinking how ridiculous it was to equate the Krishnas with Nazis.

Dave Koenig: Zack definitely made a comment about the most "in your face" one which was done by Chris Strickland, I believe. It had logos of "organizations" that Zack felt Krishna shouldn't have been compared to. Vic sent me a multi-page letter some weeks later stating his opinion and how wrong I was.

Vic DiCara: What Zack did and said from stage was epic. It’s in my book [Train Wrecks & Transcendence: A Collision of HC & Hare Krishna is available here].

Basically, Zack held up one of the flyers that had a Hare Krishna next to a Nazi swastika. He said something like, “I don’t know what I think about the Hare Krishnas, but I know one thing — to equate them with Nazi’s is just fucking ignorant.” And then he ripped the flyer and we started our set. Something like that.

When I wrote the book, I actually checked some VHS recordings, so whatever is in the book is more correct than this. We were also just having face to face (verbal) confrontations with people left and right, throughout the show. It was actually the mosh that won the majority of the audience, more than any slogans or answers or philosophy. Most people aren’t Brain-people, and just like whatever feels good. The bands were fucking good that night, so the protestors lost, really.

Norman Brannon: In 1996, I actually wrote a cover story on Rage Against the Machine for Alternative Press where I talk about the swastika flyer. At that point, my memory was pretty fresh. I remember Zack carrying the flyer with him on stage and doing one of those things he does where he starts talking and then ends screaming.

But the gist of his speech, and I do remember this, was that he yelled something like, "If you think that a swastika really belongs next to this Krishna symbol, you're just fucking ignorant!" And then he tore the flyer up and they played a song. I remember this because I had never heard Inside Out before that night either and just the way he carried himself made me feel like they were the most important band in the world. I went nuts while they played and I didn't know a single song.

Chris Strickland: The only real memory of bands addressing the flyers from the stage was Zack from Inside Out singling out my flyer and being mad about it. He said something like “I’d like to meet the asshole who made that flyer.” Dave K was standing next to me and held my arm up after he said that. Inside Out then played No Spiritual Surrender. I did not stay inside for bands’ full sets so I could have easily missed some comments.

Melissa York: I remember Zack saying something on stage during Inside Out’s set. From what I remember, it was how stupid we all were for protesting well-intentioned people.

Charles Maggio: When Inside Out was playing they were getting heckled by some of the people that were there with us. I think Zack may have addressed it between songs but I don’t remember what he said.

Flyer from Chris Strickland’s collection

What was the point you were trying to make with your flyer?                                                                                                             

Chris Strickland: Good question [laughs]. First, I was 16 years old. I went to catholic school up until going to a public high school so I was very inundated with religion when I was young even though I was never a believer. I did not understand the turning of hardcore/punk to organized religion at all. It always just seemed so common sense as something punks stood against, like cops and fascism.

I don’t think I had planned on making a flyer originally, although it was a planned out event from a bunch of the ABC No Rio regulars. A friend randomly drew the caricature of the hardcore Krishna while doodling and I guess it inspired me. I attempted to say that the groups represented by their symbols (KKK, Nazism, Catholicism, Krishna) represented some traits I found to be negative (conditioning, hate, separation and elitism).

The point was they all have some degree of these negative traits. Some groups obviously having very mild displays of the traits while a couple were very violently open about the belief in those traits. I still believe that to be true but I think I poorly articulated that with that flyer. Krishna sympathizers were accusing me of equating all those groups and putting them on the same level. That was not my belief or intent. So that is a design and messaging failure on my part.

Melissa York: Coming from a religiously fractured household, I didn’t want religion or the spewing of religion or anything that felt cult-like in the music I loved. That is what I was trying to say with ‘FUCK RELIGION." At the time, I was very much into Barbara Kruger’s work and appreciated using typography to get your point across. The flyer was simple and to the point. It was saying, ‘Please, someone of great influence, don’t spew your religious garbage to us kids. Let us make decisions for ourselves.’

Flyer from Melissa York’s collection

Charles Maggio: I don’t know, I was there more to engage the crowd than the bands. I just wanted my flyer to convey that organized religion had historically been frowned upon for good reason with if the punk/hardcore scene.

Dave Koenig: I was literally raised in the Catholic Church and its teachings. As time went on, I grew very resentful by the hypocrisy I saw/experienced. For me, punk rock and hardcore music was always against organized religion. I felt the influx of the Krishna movement in our music scene was extremely dangerous. I pulled quotes from some very anti-religious songs to show what the bands were saying. I was extreme in my viewpoint because I didn't want to see young kids get influenced by what I saw as harmful.

Did it lead to any spirited discussions with anyone in particular at the show?

Vic DiCara: Actually, I think I wound up sorta making friends with someone from Life’s Blood? I can’t exactly remember who and what details. But because I was a not unrealistically unsympathetic with their arguments, we were able to have a bit of a common ground and agreement and mutual respect. (After all the Krishna’s actually are a totally fucked up and anti-punk group, not discounting some of the amazing and valuable things they also have to their credit).

Adam Nathanson: Vic and I must’ve talked that night, though I don’t remember anything about the specific conversation. We’d already met when his last band, Beyond, and my previous group, Life’s Blood, did a mini-tour of shows out to Cleveland Memorial Day weekend of ’88. I think we got to the point of agreeing that there’s a deep spiritual meaning to the universe but disagreeing on whether any organized religion could play a role in hardcore punk.

In my broadsheet, I used ad hominem attacks on Ray Cappo’s personal search for meaning. He’d been documenting it by getting his letters published in fanzines like Flipside and Maximum Rocknroll over the years. I reproduced them thinking they were the height of hypocrisy, pairing them with anti-religion lyrics from the songs “Holier” and “Prayer” on Corrosion of Conformity’s Animosity LP.

In ’91 I think, Vic and I did a point-counterpoint piece in his fanzine, Enquirer, debating the ‘issue.’ I looked for a copy of it in my closet last night but couldn’t find it. Sorry, Freddy! I also remember really getting into it with Graham of Shelter the night our ‘action.’ Who knows what we said.

Flyer from Adam Nathanson’s collection

Chris Strickland: After the show there were some heated discussion outside the Anthrax. It was mostly a few Krishnas that were really mad we were there handing out anti-Krishna propaganda. I specifically one Krishna saying, “You weren’t invited here!” I think that was a younger well-known hardcore devotee that was eventually thrown out of the temple for carrying a gun.

Besides our friends Bad Trip playing the show, we argued if the Krishnas can table their pamphlets and recruit at shows then obviously we can too. Following Inside Out’s set when I saw Zack outside I approached him and said, “I’m the asshole that made that flyer.” He kept stating I cannot equate a peaceful religion with Nazis. Fair enough but he did not really want to listen to me when I explained the full intent of the flyer and that I was not equating them other than having some degree of those stated traits present in their beliefs.

The person Zack was previously talking to was still there next to him listening to us, arguing with me, and getting so riled up I wondered if I was maybe about to get beat up. I also talked to Vic inside. We had written letters back and forth a few times so we were familiar with each other.

I will say Vic was extremely calm and understanding while talking with me of the whole event. I do not think he had a major issue with us being there and passing out flyers but maybe I am remembering that wrong because he was understanding with me personally as someone he had a previous relation with through letters.

Inside Out @ the Anthrax, Norwalk, CT, 1990. (Photo: Jen Kulawas)

Melissa York: I don’t entirely remember, but when you are handing out a flyer that says, ‘FUCK RELIGION’, how can it not be ‘spirited.’ 

Flyer from Melissa York’s collection

Charles Maggio: Aside from the guy telling us to leave, none that I recall.

Dave Koenig: Not with me as I tended to ignore people I didn't like. I know a few like Tom O'Hara from Combat Stance fanzine was involved with a small group discussion with Ray Cappo. Strangely the next day, a bunch of us were in NYC and at Washington Square Park was the annual Krishna festival. We were walking through and Ray saw me. He wanted to talk but I was a dick and kept going. That was the last time I ever saw him.

Shelter @ the Anthrax, Norwalk, CT, 1990. (Photo: Jen Kulawas)

What are your thoughts on the flyers?

Adam Nathanson: At the time, I felt really proud of all the other ABC No Rio people’s flyers. I believed we were the truth-tellers of punk, trying to keep the ship on the ‘right’ course any time it veered toward the mainstream whether it was violence, aesthetics, big business, censorship, or religion. We were on the same (nutty) wavelength and I especially appreciated Chris Strickland’s flyer. Judging by original art, message, and layout, it was the best one.

A big part of my revulsion with Krishna and straight edge by then was the normal dude suburban mall clothes, floppy hair look, and the attitude that I associated with it. That 1990 slick style didn’t age well either.

In ’85, when I became vegetarian after reading the poster of the Millions of Dead Children Chicken Squawk 7” that I bought at Bleecker Bob’s, some of the only pro-veg characters I knew of were Harley Flanagan and John Joseph, and they were Krishna. So back then, I saw their interpretation as some kind of semi-compassionate street fighting way of dealing with the impending apocalypse. I was all in on the Cro-Mags’ and MDC’s takes.

In spring ’88, my second tattoo was the Antidote Thou Shalt Not Kill man/cow/axe karma image.

Norman Brannon: I think that, for me, at the time, I was still figuring my own things out. Like when that MRR article came out in 1989, that actually got more interested in Krishna consciousness than anything. I actually fucking loved that people hated it. I was 16 years old, I wasn't really that cool to begin with, and everything was changing in the hardcore scene when the '90s kicked in anyway.

By this point, I was friendly with the Krishnas, I had been to the temple in Brooklyn, I was experimenting with chanting. I wasn't really all that concerned with most of the arguments being made.

Like, OK, Ray went through a bunch of religions. Who cares? Or even the question of whether or not religion had a place in punk. Honestly, I was a confused, deeply closeted queer brown kid and I still didn't know if I really had a place in punk.

To me, the flyers were cool. Protest was cool. The scene was just changing and a lot of people were leaving it anyway. I didn't care if Hare Krishnas were punk. At that time, the devotees were giving me something that punk wasn't giving me anymore. So I followed that path, for better or for worse.

Inside Out @ the Anthrax, Norwalk, CT, 1990. (Photo: Jen Kulawas)

Chris Strickland: I thought they were great. And much needed. Everyone had a unique angle to address the then prevalent surge of Krishna devotees recruiting from the straight edge and hardcore scenes. Side note, interesting that most of us used a white background considering black backgrounds were the standard for most of us who made flyers regularly.

I am not sure but I’m assuming this was the first, if not one of the only, intentionally direct confrontations with the Krishna religion recruiting from the hardcore scene in what appeared to be a predatory way. I remember getting off the train in Grand Central for weekend shows at CBGB’s or ABC No Rio and Krishnas waiting there always zeroing in on hardcore looking kids. They would commonly try to open dialogue with suburban kids going to shows with “Do you know of Ray Cappo?” or “Do you like Youth of Today?”

Flyer from Dave Nathanson's collection

With the benefit of 30-years hindsight, what are your thoughts, either pro/con on the flyers or is it something that time has made the point moot?

Melissa York: I don’t think time has made the point moot. I still feel the same way about religion, maybe even more so, FUCK RELIGION. ‘I don’t want to hear it.’ – Minor Threat, I just don’t. However, after 30-years of insight and an overabundance of self-righteousness, I might act differently now – just don’t participate, do your own thing Ray, I just won’t support it. We still paid to go to the show [laughs]. 

Also, being in a band that has been protested by the very people you are fighting for, it’s definitely harsh to be protested by the people you love. It messes with your mind. With that insight as well, I might have gone about it differently, and maybe I would have written a letter instead, and including the flyer [laughs].

Paramananda Dasa/John Porcell: They’re at best reactionary and at worst filled with prejudice. Prejudice means to shallowly prejudge, take things out of context and try to push your agenda instead of working to understand the other side and see the truth. I mean, in one sense I get it, a lot of oppression has been inflicted in the name of “religion” throughout history, but to then make a blanket statement that all forms of spirituality are bad just isn’t fair, especially since I highly doubt any of the above band members quoted have made a serious, deep study of any spiritual tradition.

But hey, we were all kids back then trying to figure out the world, and self-righteousness crept in alongside our idealism. I’m not sure if those quoted would have the same rigid response if you asked them now as adults with years of realizations under their belts.

Chris Strickland: After 30 years and looking back at that period of east coast hardcore, I think it was an excellent idea despite one’s opinion of the specific flyers. Punk, to me, in the most rudimentary sense, is about being an outsider and questioning everything. So I think it was good to question the Krishna arrival into the scene at the time. Ray Cappo obviously had a lot of sway with kids who I cannot imagine ever finding interest in Krishna without a type of scene celebrity advocating for it.

And of course now there is even Christian hardcore as its own thing. While punks were justifiably critical and outspoken about the mainstream music industry then attempting to co-opt and commercialize the scene’s culture and music, it makes total sense that there would be outspoken critics of any organized religious attempts at recruitment. I do recall some small church groups trying to recruit hardcore kids in the suburbs around the same time as well but you didn’t see priests or nothing at shows actively trying to lure young minds towards their beliefs.

Of course I also look back at my flyer with some disappointment. Like I said earlier, the flyer was in some part a design and message failure for not being as articulate as it needed to be. Aesthetically, it pains me to see that swastika. It just represents such ugliness and violence that I do not wish to see it at all in any context, even in an anti-swastika context.

As an adult, the symbol is just not something I would choose to ever display or inflict on anyone, even if correctly and adamantly denouncing it and what it stands for. It should be left to the history books. Using such a strong symbol also allows the idea of the flyer to be seen as more hyperbolic and exaggerated which I think is a major problem with the flyer. I won’t get in to the ugly handwriting parts or anything.

Is it moot today? Maybe in the sense that hardcore has so many sub-genres now that anything is acceptable, such as Christian hardcore. But if an actively religious band started gaining traction and trying to make headway into a more traditionally non-religious punk scene then I would think questioning and starting dialogue, even if through propaganda, would be a natural and good thing. 

Shelter (Photo: Chris Toliver)

Dave Koenig: Sometimes time can change feelings and viewpoints...and many of mine have changed. I know many who were involved in the Krishna movement got out, took certain values with them. Ultimately, many realized how ridiculous it was. While I have softened my views a bit and have met many cool religious types over the years, I am an atheist. I am still pretty hardline about it. Sometimes it is funny to think what we did that night but PUNK ROCK! (as a side note: it is pretty ironic that the best places to have hardcore/punk shows are at churches...they tend to have the best facilities for a live show.)

Vic DiCara: It’s fucking awesome. If you disagree with something, speak up. Make fliers, protest. It’s so relevant right now.

No one changes unless they are forced to. Protest is required. And if you are decent, you don’t mind protest because you can easily defend against it and also learn from it.

In the Vedas there is a saying that is really valuable “Satyam Eva Jayate” which means “In the end it is really only truth that wins.” If you are really good, then you don’t shun or run from protest and argument. There is no need to.

Adam Nathanson: In hindsight, we were petty and small-minded. In 2018, I went to a GED trainer conference in Southern California for my job at the Department of Corrections and met up with my old friend Sterling Wilson, who was in the original lineup of Inside Out. To this day, he still thinks pretty deeply on all this stuff, and sometimes communicates with Vic about it. He led me in some yoga practices at sunset standing in the Pacific and it was a moving experience.

All that scene baggage has fallen away, a lot of friends for life remain, and we’ve gotten on with our lives thankfully.

Raising teenagers who are looking to make meaning out of an insane world, that song “Science of Myth” by Screeching Weasel sums up my view on religion these days. One night this week, an angry old neighbor stopped me while I was walking my dogs in the alley to tell me about how “you people on the left eat your own” referring to the protest movement. I wonder if anyone was being eaten back in 1990. If yes, who? Or is there no parallel at all?

Charles Maggio: On the off chance that what we did swayed one person that was on the fence about what they were witnessing to the side of “fuck this shit” (the side we were coming from) I would  do it again in a heartbeat. 30 years of hindsight may have revealed to me that “the scene” isn’t always going to be the most important thing in my life, but there will never be a time when it isn’t the most important thing in someone’s life and we were just trying to keep it safe and fun and organized religion free for the next person to come along and make it theirs.

Flyer from Charles Maggio’s collection

Norman Brannon: It's interesting. I think that the first night, that night at the Anthrax, that was one of the most sincere demonstrations of hardcore idealism that I've ever seen. In my view, everyone there—from Ray to Vic to the protestors—they were all so sincere about what they believed, and you could feel that. But I also have the benefit of having then joined Shelter in 1992, and having seen other attempts at protests at shows that felt so bullshit and contrived in comparison.

Like I remember a half-hearted attempt at anti-Krishna flyers in Minnesota in 1993, and just being like, "You guys don't actually give a shit, you're just trying to be cool, the flyers aren't even that clever!" That wasn't the case at the Anthrax. I felt like these people were genuinely upset by the idea of a religious movement creeping into the straightedge scene—which was already enough like a religious movement as it was. So even back then, I could respect that. I respect it more now, even.

Inside Out @ the Anthrax, Norwalk, CT, 1990. (Photo: Jen Kulawas)

Adam Nathanson: The biggest lesson I learned seems so basic now; if you have a problem with someone, talk to them face-to-face about it in good faith. Don’t start off by broadcasting your grievances to the public. It takes more courage, it’s more disciplined and principled, and it’s really worth it to take that step. 


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Tagged: inside out, shelter