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.
Read more here: The Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalo March on Washington, explained