Why 'Juggalos' are marching on DC

Why 'Juggalos' are marching on DC
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They love clown makeup, Faygo soda and acting outrageous. And they’re coming to D.C. on Saturday.

They are Juggalos — the fans of the hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse (ICP). 

But music and (law-abiding) mayhem aren’t the only matters on the agenda for the “Juggalo March.” Instead, the Juggalos are coming to clear their name. 

In 2011, the FBI classified Juggalos as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang” in its National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA), and fans said their community hasn’t been the same since.

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“We’re marching on Washington to wake the world up to what’s going on,” said Jason Webber, director of public relations for Psychopathic Records, ICP’s record label.

“On paper, it sounds just plain ridiculous that a group of men and women who like a particular kind of music are being considered gang members, but it’s no laughing matter when you realize how many people’s lives are being destroyed by this gang designation.”

The march’s website includes personal tales of fans being fired from their jobs, stopped and detained by police and losing custody battles for being Juggalos, wearing band merchandise or having the band’s trademark “hatchet man” tattoo, a silhouette of a man wielding an axe.

ICP, which formed in 1991, is known for its clown makeup and expletive-laden lyrics in songs that Webber said are all part of a running story called “The Dark Carnival.”

Webber claims the story’s underlying message is about being a good person. The expletives, misogyny and violence in songs like “I Shot a Hater” are just “tongue in cheek,” Webber says.  

“Yes, it’s politically incorrect, but it’s just in good fun,” he said. 

But the NGTA report claims that Juggalos are “rapidly expanding into many U.S. communities.”

“Although recognized as a gang in only four states [Arizona, California, Pennsylvania and Utah] many Juggalo subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence,” the report said, citing reporting from the National Gang Intelligence Center.

“Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo sub-sets.”

But ICP fans say that, unlike gang members, they are bonded by music instead of crime. They say they shouldn’t be grouped together as criminals because of a few bad actors.

Scott “Scottie D” Donihoo, who runs a Juggalo fan site called “Faygo Luvers," said ICP fans are just misunderstood.

“We don’t conform to anybody’s rules or regulations,” he said. “Are we dangerous? No. Not by any means.” 

Are there Juggalos that are gang members? Probably, Donihoo admits. But he argues that there are Willie Nelson fans who are gang members, too.

The two members of ICP – Joseph Bruce, known as Violent J, and Joseph Utsler, known as Shaggy 2 Dope – have fought the designation with four fans in Michigan courts, where the band is based, since 2014. 

The case is now on its second appeal before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, following previous dismissals by a lower district court. Arguments are scheduled for Oct. 11. 

ICP and its fans argue in court briefs that the FBI has violated their First and Fifth Amendment rights. The Department of Justice, however, argues that the report has no direct legal effect on ICP fans.

The FBI said in a statement to The Hill that the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment was comprised of information shared with the National Gang Intelligence Center and the FBI from law enforcement agencies around the country.

“The 2011 report specifically noted that the Juggalos had been recognized as a gang in only four states,” the spokesperson said. 

“The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. We investigate activity, which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based on an individual’s exercise of their First Amendment rights.”

And Juggalos haven’t been listed on the biannual report, now called the National Gang Report, since 2011. The 2013 and 2015 reports on the FBI’s website make no mention of Juggalos or ICP fans. The report for 2017 has yet to be released.

Juggalos, however, say they are still being persecuted and the FBI should issue a formal retraction.

Though known for their extreme behavior, ICP told their “Juggalo Family” to “act with respect and honor throughout the march.” The event’s website includes a list of rules, including bans on drinking, drugs, vandalism and weapons.

The website also asks Juggalos not to “interfere with other events happening at the National Mall.” 

While the Juggalos gather around the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, supporters of President Trump plan to be at the other end of the Mall for a pro-Trump “Mother of All Rallies.”

The scheduling coincidence raised fears that the two groups would clash. But Webber said the two events are separate and will remain that way.

“They have their allotted space, we have ours,” he said. “They can express their First Amendment privilege and we can express ours.”

Some liberals have seen Juggalos, who traditionally come from blue-collar backgrounds, as potential political allies. The D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America has promised to hand out cold Faygo to marchers, while a group calling itself the Struggalo Circus says it will create a union between radical politics and Juggalo culture.

Still, Webber said the Juggalo March is 100 percent apolitical.

“This is not about making any kind of statement for or against the Trump administration,” he said. “This is not motivated by politics. This is motivated by civil rights.” 

Saturday’s event kicks off at 1 p.m. in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The march itself, which will go around the National World War II Memorial and up Constitution Avenue, is slated to start 4 p.m. ICP will close out the event with a free performance at 9 p.m.