On Saturday, September 16, two groups will descend on Washington: Attendees at the “Mother of All Rallies,” a pro-Trump event which demands “protection for traditional American culture,” and a march of Juggalos — fans of the horror-rap duo Insane Clown Posse famous for their violent lyrics, rowdy music festivals, and love of face paint.
The pro-Trump rally website clarifies that “all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, age or political affiliation are invited.” But in the wake of violent protests by white supremacist and neo-Nazi Trump supporters in Charlottesville, Virginia, there’s a reasonable fear that event will bring similar chaos and destruction.
And this time, it’ll happen next to a group of Juggalos.
Their presence isn’t a random anti-Trump provocation, though. They have a policy agenda: The Juggalo March is the latest in a years-long campaign by the Insane Clown Posse and its fans to push back at the FBI after it deemed Juggalos a “gang” in the bureau’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, a report by the National Gang Intelligence Center which sought to “examine emerging gang trends and threats posed by criminal gangs to communities throughout the United states.”
“Although recognized as a gang in only four states, many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence,” the report elaborates. “Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo subsets.” Another, even more breathless FBI document described Juggalos as “a violent street gang.”
For years since, the Insane Clown Posse has been working with the ACLU of Michigan to try to remedy the situation. Their lawsuit against the FBI was dismissed by Detroit area federal District Court judge Robert Cleland in July 2014, then reinstated by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in September 2015. “The same judge dismissed it again, believe it or not, and we have another appeal pending in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals now,” one of ICP’s attorneys, Farris Haddad, tells me.
In the meantime, to illustrate the harm that the gang designation has done, the group is taking to the nation’s capital to march. In doing so, they’re calling attention to classist discrimination by law enforcement, which has harassed self-described Juggalos for seemingly no reason besides their cultural taste.
Juggalos are not a violent street gang
Juggalos are totally in the right on this one: “Juggalos” aren’t a gang, like the Aryan Brotherhood or the Bloods or the Latin Kings. A Juggalo is just a fan of the Insane Clown Posse, or perhaps a particularly fervent fan of the group. It’s a term like “Belieber” for Justin Bieber fans, or “Swiftie” for Taylor Swift fans, or “wrong” for fans of Ed Sheeran.
Even the FBI’s report conceded that “most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism,” and that only a “a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets.”
The question, then, is why the Juggalos are targeted. Part of the issue is the group’s often violent, graphic lyrics; their logo, “Hatchetman,” is, well, a dude with a hatchet. But the group is also a frequent object of mockery for lyrics and content viewed by mainstream culture as ludicrous (the “fucking magnets, how do they work?” meme was drawn from the ICP song “Miracles,” and SNL has videos parodying the annual Gathering of the Juggalos music festival).
That mockery is also deeply bound up in who Juggalos are: largely lower-class whites, particularly in the Midwest and South. “Juggalos tend to be poor and uneducated, from economically depressed small towns and broken homes,” cultural critic and self-described Juggalo Nathan Rabin writes at the AV Club. “To use an inelegant term, proper folks tend to find Juggalos gross, disturbing on a biological level.”
“I think it’s ridiculous to consider the Juggalos a gang,” Camille Dodero, who wrote one of the first major pieces in the mainstream press on Juggalo culture for the Village Voice in 2010, told Reason for their mini-documentary on the FBI case. Dodero asks whether a similarly large fan group in a more privileged societal position would be receiving the same kind of treatment:
But 2011-era FBI, or at least the gang intelligence unit, thought that referring to “Juggalo gangs” was still useful, despite the vast majority of Juggalos being peaceful. The FBI report cited specific groupings of Juggalos (“Juggalo Ryder Bitch,” “Juggalos of Statesville [NC],” “Red Hatchet Representing”) which, though a distinct minority of the overall community, are nonetheless defined by a shared Juggalo identity.
Worse, the FBI sought to link the specific groupings with other, better established gangs: “Juggalo sets such as Eastside Juggalos have been in contact with several Blood sets and some have accompanied Bloods during or have been present when crimes have been committed… Juggalos in Northeast and West Texas have been reported to affiliate in the county jails with dominant White Prison Gangs such as the Aryan Circle and the Aryan Brotherhood.” (The FBI’s 2013 gang report, tellingly, did not include Juggalos at all.)
A report from the Rocky Mountain Information Network in 2010 by Arizona Department of Public Safety sergeant Michelle Vasey reached similar conclusions to the 2011 FBI. But Vasey was careful to note (more careful than the FBI, certainly) the importance of distinguishing between small, specific groups of Juggalos who start gangs from the Juggalo movement as a whole, concluding, “We in law enforcement must be willing to take that extra step in our intelligence gathering to see if we are in fact dealing with a gang member or just a crazed fan.”
Labeling Juggalos as a gang has real, negative consequences
But none of that provides good reason to condemn Juggalos as a group, given that the vast majority are normal, law-abiding citizens. The FBI’s decision to do so has led to large-scale harassment of Juggalos, just for being fans of the Insane Clown Posse.
The original legal complaint filed by ICP’s Joseph Bruce (a.k.a. Violent J) and Joseph Utsler (a.k.a. Shaggy 2 Dope), along with four Juggalos, argued that while some Juggalos may have committed crimes, and perhaps even done so “while sporting the group’s logos or symbols,” it is wrong to tar the Juggalo community as a whole by labeling it a gang. Worse than being wrong, it’s a First Amendment violation, the complaint continued:
By classifying the entire group of Juggalos — which is overwhelmingly composed of law-abiding music fans — as some form of criminal gang, the DOJ and FBI have directly burdened Plaintiffs’ and other Juggalos’ First Amendment freedom of association. That classification burdens the Juggalos, including Plaintiffs, because they are Juggalos.
The suit also claims that the report threatened Juggalos’ freedom of expression and that the designation of Juggalos as a gang was “unconstitutionally vague” under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. (Courts have found that laws that are too vague to offer guidance to citizens as to what is and isn’t legal violate due process protections.)
That’s not all, though. The four Juggalo plaintiffs all claim to have suffered real harm as a consequence of the report’s designation of Juggalos as a gang. For example, Scott Gandy attempted to enlist in the Army and was rejected because of his Juggalo tattoo.
Brandon Bradley was detained by police on three separate occasions due to his Juggalo tattoos and merchandise. On one of those occasions, an officer “translated his answers into gang-related terms” and entered them “into a gang information database that is part of or feeds information into the gang information database” that the FBI’s gang intelligence unit administers.
Bradley’s case is especially notable for two reasons. It was an example of concrete harm that arguably came about because Juggalos were designated as a gang. And his encounter with the police was, in turn, according to the lawsuit, treated as further evidence of Juggalos’ gang tendencies.
These are the lawsuit’s examples, but there are many more like them. Psychopathic Records, ICP’s label, has compiled a list of testimonials which its legal team has “vetted, researched, and confirmed.”
“I lost custody of my daughter recently during a custody battle with the father,” a Juggalo named Deanne S. recounts on the March’s website. “The father brought my music preferences in to question at the hearings, calling the courts attention to my being a Juggalo. He told the court that Juggalos are ‘meth head cult members who are extremely violent and listen to the Insane Clown Posse together.’ … As soon as the custody hearing began, it seemed like it was all about the Juggalo issue. I ended up losing primary custody of her and now get to see my daughter three weekends per month. I don’t get to participate in any of her school activities unless the father grants permission to do so.”
A man named Jason S. claims he was barred from reenlisting in the Army because of his Juggalo tattoos. A woman recalls her daughter’s high school suspension for wearing an ICP t-shirt, with the principal and school police officer telling her, “they considered Juggalos to be gang members, and as such, they were not allowed to wear their ‘colors’ on school grounds.” A woman named Jessica B. recounts being fired from the Virginia Department of Corrections for posting Juggalo-related material to Facebook.
Those are ones that the record label could verify, and there are more verified and unverified stories of anti-Juggalo discrimination as well.
The Insane Clown Posse is fervently anti-racist
Given the demographics of Juggalos — Southern and Midwestern lower-class white people — you might think they’d have something in common with Trump’s most die-hard fans. After all, the Insane Clown Posse is a group of evangelical Christian, working-class white Michigan natives, with mostly working-class Midwestern fans. They’re exactly the demographic that Trump flipped from Obama in the 2016 election.
But this undersells the political diversity of the Juggalo community, and its commitment to combatting discrimination. As GQ’s Jack Moore notes, the song “Confederate Flag” is a fiery condemnation of white supremacy:
I SAY FUCK YOUR REBEL FLAG
Out here pretending like you ain’t offendin’
I SAY FUCK YOUR REBEL FLAG
You redneck judges with racist grudges
I SAY FUCK YOUR REBEL FLAG
If you gotta tattoo, I’m aimin’ at you
I SAY FUCK YOUR REBEL FLAG
You get punched in your faces reppin’ the racists
Another song, “Chicken Huntin’,” describes the gang murdering a bunch of racist “rednecks.” When an ICP fan named Jacob Robida attacked a gay bar in Massachusetts in 2006, the band’s manager Alex Abbiss posted to the band website, “It’s quite obvious that this guy had no clue what being a Juggalo is all about. If anyone knows anything at all about ICP, then you know that they have never, ever been down or will be down with any racist or bigotry bullshit. In my opinion, the perpetrator of this crime committed these acts not because he was a Juggalo, but because he was a neo-Nazi. He subscribed to an ideology of racism and bigotry, and was quite clearly, in my opinion, out of his mind.”
In a way, ICP and the Juggalos are the perfect group to challenge Trumpism. They’re a fiercely anti-racist movement based in working-class, mostly white communities. That gives them a legitimacy and credibility in combatting racist sentiment that more traditional political actors lack.
We’ll have to see if the Juggalo March on Washington expresses these anti-racist, anti-Trump sentiments. But given its foundation as a reaction to unfair discrimination and police mistreatment, the message will at least be dissonant with that of the Trumpists nearby.