by: Brad OH
What is a Juggalo?
The question has been asked and answered in many ways. To music critics, Juggalos are the tasteless followers of the ‘World’s Most Hated Band’, the Insane Clown Posse (ICP). To ICP themselves, it has been asked and answered in the form of a song which provides a litany of silly explanations, but little in the way of deeper insight.
By Juggalos themselves, the most common answer is ‘Family’.
Finally, to the FBI, the rap fans who call themselves Juggalos are classified as gang members. This became the reality in 2011, when the FBI listed Juggalos as a hybrid gang alongside the likes of the Crips in their National Gang Threat Assessment.
It is for this reason—after a frustrating series of lawsuits—that the ICP are calling upon the Juggalos to stage an official march on Washington in hopes of finally having the Juggalos removed from the Gang list.
“We have tried to use the American judicial system to achieve justice and we failed. So on Saturday, September 16, 2017, we are taking our fight to the streets. Literally,” says the official page for the march.
And so, the current Clown-in-Chief will face one of the stranger events in an already whacky first year in office: an army of face-painted Juggalos taking over the Washington monument in defense of Civil Liberties.
As garish and unbelievable as this all sounds, there can be little question this march is being held for good reason. Since the 2011 classification, Juggalos around the country and beyond have been directly impacted by the label. Incidents including loss of child custody, denied entry into the army, and prolonged border delays (this writer himself being a victim), have been reported. In more extreme cases, Juggalo related tattoos have seen minor
infractions bumped up and booked as gang crimes on account of this dangerous ruling. Veteran Juggalo chronicler Nathan Rabin says, ‘This dubious designation is yet another instance of law enforcement singling out people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder for surveillance and harassment while simultaneously ignoring or excusing the crimes of the wealthy.’
But where did this start, what is the FBI’s defence, and where does it all go from here?
Admittedly, there have been several cases of people who identify as Juggalos committing some pretty heinous acts. Further, U.S. Justice Department attorney Amy Powell has stated that ‘a new 2013 FBI report on emerging trends does not mention Juggalos, and that the 2011 report, while still online and not superseded by any other report, is dated. “It’s increasingly unlikely to be used by any state or local agency as a source for any particular action,” she said.’
Still, the idea of labelling large subsects of people as potentially dangerous in order to better identify the true dangers is an increasingly frequent and altogether disturbing trend—especially when it results in such direct impacts on innocents. We’ve seen it with the government’s attempts at preventing terrorist activities by blocking or deporting immigrants from select groups (or simply bombing them in advance), and we’ve seen it with the two-sided attacks on voters of all ilk during recent elections. It would seem, in fact, that this ‘enemy-minded’ thinking is fast becoming the go-to approach for a government which has continually failed to justify or show any positive merit from the ever-growing list of freedoms it derails. ACLU Attorney Saura Sahu has claimed that “the FBI document created interpretive rules for law enforcement agencies and branded Juggalo tattoos, symbols and merchandise as gang-related. “They’re supposed to have an
impact on state and local law enforcement and they do, and usually it’s a really good one. It’s just that this time, they went too far here…
“To call someone a gang member or gang-related is to call that person a criminal… These guys are standing up against what happened to them, but they are also standing up for millions of music fans,” Sahu concludes.
As it stands, Juggalos are still subject to potential detention, harassment, and disproportionate punishment for no reason beyond their musical predilections.
It is the shocking and rather unpredictable result then, that the idea of thousands of clowns marching on the highest office in the country is indeed no laughing matter; not for the government now pressed to justify such a ham-fisted attempt at law-enforcement, and not for the Juggalos desperate to clear their name.
So too should it be a more serious concern for the millions of others watching this unfold, resting on the fence about exactly what all of it means. Juggalos are—admittedly—an easy target, and Juggalo watching may soon become the extreme-sport version of people watching, but to sit idly by with no strong reaction as one’s own government brands a large subsection of people as criminals for their taste in music is pretty high up the list of things which could prove that in the end, you are the real clown. It is a direct affront against the notion of free-speech by a nation increasingly hell-bent on snuffing out that quintessential right.
The very fact that this march needs to happen at all naturally raises one rather disconcerting question: ‘if they get away with doing this to the Juggalos, who’s next?’
If the reader of this article can immediately think of a couple of other music fan bases or other social groups they might not mind seeing criminalized, it is not surprising. But to allow such a thing to actually happen is a precipitous slope grounded either in absolute ignorance, or real hatred.
“If you can go out and brand any musical fan base as a gang, it could have terrible effects,” says ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg.
Of course, it’s not just any musical fan base being labelled here, and not just any band. It’s the Juggalos, and the Insane Clown Posse.
When Bruce Springsteen claimed to have killed 10 innocent people on his 1982 song ‘Nebraska’, there were few people clamouring for his immediate capture. That’s because by and large, people can understand some level of artistic licence. They can follow along with the idea that not everything an artist claims in character is necessarily the full truth.
When ICP claimed in their 2002 song ‘Gang Related’- “Do you rep the Hatchetman, you’re in a gang,” there was a good deal more difficulty sifting the fiction from the fact.
What is it that separates ICP from so many other artists? Part of it, no doubt, is their scary persona and the rather gloomy corner of pop-culture to which Juggalos have been relegated. Another factor, perhaps, is that ICP was—in its nascent form—a legitimate street gang.
Starting out as the ‘Inner City Posse’, ICP’s original members—along with several inner-city Detroit friends who saw no other future on their dilapidated streets—endeavoured to be a real street gang, who rapped and wrestled on the side.
This idea fell apart after many arrests and confrontations with rival gangs, and the remaining two focussed on their rap career, changing the ICP from the ‘Inner City Posse’ to the ‘Insane Clown Posse’ we know today. This transformation involved not only greasepaint and the establishment of an extensive background mythology, but also a significant transition from young gangbangers to successful marketers and businessmen.
It took only six years for the band to go from wannabe gangsters to platinum selling artists, and the label they established, Psychopathic Records, has served to employ countless other potential gangsters in the metro Detroit
area ever since. This is to say nothing of the countless Juggalos for whom their music has often been a source of comfort and inspiration.
So, while gang-banging certainly has it’s place in the history of ICP and the Juggalos, it can also be argued that ICP and Psychopathic Records as a whole have done significantly more to improve the lives of many Detroit residents than has the government—who largely sat on their hands as the city fell in upon itself as auto-plants and steel-mills disappeared overseas, and citizens were left to a near-hopeless stretch of poverty and unemployment.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, the US Government and the FBI do not see things this way.
And so here we are. On Saturday, September 16th, 2017, there will be a strange sight indeed at the Lincoln Memorial. At around 12:00pm—or significantly earlier, if I know Juggalos—painted faces will abound and the Faygo will fly (seriously—watch out for the flying Faygo). In addition to the march, there’s a free concert, and myriad other events. If my experience with Juggalos has taught me anything, it will be an exceedingly unusual scene for Washington regulars.
Rest assured, there will be loads of soda, grease paint, strange costumes, loud chants, and possibly a few impromptu backyard wrestling matches.
So too will there be signing, laughter, familial love and general merriment. Juggalos—despite their reputation—are not so unlike the majority of people after all, save for their unself-conscious willingness to open themselves up, have fun, and be whatever they feel is most suited to them.
It’s not such a bad lesson for the rest of us…even if you prefer more ‘mainstream’ music and ‘designer sodas’.
The hope here, of course, is that this demonstration of unity will change the minds of the powers that be and elicit an official recognition that being a Juggalo does not qualify one as a gang-member, nor expose one to any of the legal penalties associated with it. With the current intellectual capacity of the
administration, this may be a high hope, but even if the Juggalos fail to sway the legal process directly, it can be hoped that a peaceful demonstration and rational explanation of this outrage may change the minds of casual observers, and even the more justice-minded members of the law-enforcement community. It is, after all, not laws which are the true arbiters of justice in a society, but rather attitudes, beliefs, and the deep-held commitments to respect and decency which each member of that society harbour.
So what is a Juggalo? Well, they’re a lot of things. If the Juggalos are boorish and silly, they are also compassionate and sincere. They are odd, unique, and quintessentially their own breed of person. And yet they’re people all the same, and equally deserving of respect, dignity, and personal autonomy as any other group. If this march is able to demonstrate that to the world at large, then it should be a good day on the carnival grounds after all.
So keep it real Juggalos, and much clown love!
The ‘Juggalo March’ on Washington takes place Sept. 16th, 2017. All details for the event can be found here.
Brad OH writes for www.BradOHInc.com, and has been Down with the Clown since 1999.