America, the FBI considers me a criminal gang member.
But let me explain.
Sometimes I enjoy listening to the Insane Clown Posse—a hip-hop/ rock fusion group that, against all odds, has managed to cultivate a fanbase that most artists would be envious of. Known as Juggalos, we fans are drawn to the music and the imagery of the message of the group. Juggalos are prideful of our musical tastes, and we regularly fend off criticism about who we choose to listen to.
You see the thing is that Juggalos are not like your average fanboys. When we decided to become followers, it was a choice in identity, and a manifesto on our worldview. We are the downtrodden, the social outcasts— the market that is not ‘mainstream’ enough to be catered to. And as a result of all this we are all but forgotten in the pop-culture realm. And for that very reason, we are drawn to ICP.
As of 2011, the FBI has considered our close knit family a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” The report they released at the time called “National Gang Threat Assessment: Emerging Trends” cites an incident where two “suspected Juggalo associates were charged with beating and robbing an elderly homeless man,” and another incident where “a suspected Juggalo member” shot and wounded two other people.
And somehow this is indicative of the behaviors of an entire fanbase that numbers in the tens of thousands.
In defense of our dignity as a self-organized group, ICP has filed a second lawsuit (first one was in 2012) against the FBI with the American Civil Liberties Union, saying that the designation has led to “significant harm” to the group as a whole.
In addition to ICP naming shows that have been cancelled because of the designation, the complaint also includes four plaintiffs who cite discrimination from authorities because of tattoos or merchandise.
Now let me break it down the psychology of what it means to be a Juggalo, or as we are now know, “criminal gang members.”
Author Daniel Rivero (left) and friend on Halloween, 2006 with some Juggalo face paint.
In high school, everyone was full of shit. I grew up in Miami, where everyone was so thugged out, or emo-punk, or preppy for me to get along with. I was a skater, and I maintained a small group of friends who pretty much wouldn’t mix much with the rest of the population. Not that we were angry or bitter—we just didn’t care for other people outside of our circle.
And the pop-culture of the day didn’t come close to reflecting any of that sentiment. Even the punk scene turned too soft for me to get down with. Our “skate and destroy,” mentality made me disgusted by the cheesy punk ballads that were popular in the early 2000’s. And I liked hip-hop, but people took it too damn seriously. People that weren’t from the hood pretended to be from the hood, and the people from the hood tried to live up to the image so hard that they ended up being a parody of themselves.
And I just sat on the sidelines and laughed at them all.
Through ICP’s music, spoken in a code that only a long-term listener could understand, we found our place in all the mess. To become a Juggalo was to find your place of solidarity in a culture that you either don’t like, or are not welcome in. In Miami, to be a Juggalo was to be part of a tight-knit group. You would see someone wearing a ‘Hatchetman’ chain at the mall and you could say "what’s up" off the bat, and know where that person is coming from. It’s like finding someone who speaks your own language when traveling abroad.
So when these self-identifiers become part of a grand scheme to label individuals as gang members, it is very problematic.
ALL of the people who I shared this hardcore Juggalo part of my life with are still close to me. Every single one of them. Through music that offered a message that being misunderstood and self-contained is fine, we formed bonds that have already lasted the test of time.
A casual listener or observer might not pick up on it, but tolerance, respect, and social justice are all literally narratives that run album to album through ICP’s entire discography, as is a notion of solidarity among the underdogs that are the Juggalo ranks.
If the FBI wants to consider solidarity and musical tastes alone as the making of a street gang, not only do they make these same individuals feel even more alienated from society, they reinforce the need to stick together, outside of the mainstream. Talk about being counterproductive.
They have chosen to designate an entire group of fans as a criminal gang, based on the actions of few. If this were any other segment of the population, and we were speaking of other identifiers, people would be up in arms demanding justice.
But as these are carnies we are talking about, no one it seems to be taking the matter too seriously. I commend the ACLU for picking this battle, as it is time to stand up for Juggalo rights.
And to all those in Washington who have a fear of face paint and wicked clown imagery— get ready, because the nightmare in court is just about to begin.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.