In October 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation declared that Juggalos—devoted fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse—are members of a violent street gang.
Not surprisingly, no one in the Insane Clown Posse’s camp wanted to tell the guys in the band. That’s the kind of bad news that the crew at Psychopathic Records, the ICP’s label, were sure would make for a really bad day.
Before the FBI report, several states had already declared the Juggalos to be gang members, but that was small shit compared to the heft of the Feds’ announcement. Now, the FBI was issuing its biannual report on national gang activity and declaring that the Juggalos were right up there with the Crips and the Bloods when it came to wreaking havoc on the streets of America.
The mood of the usually spirited crew at Psychopathic Records, a sprawling compound in an industrial area north of Detroit, was subdued that autumn morning. They talked among themselves and, every once in a while, broke into whispers. Someone would look at a computer screen, then look away.
And Violent J was getting suspicious. “The FBI report” and “Juggalos are a gang” were the words he’d picked up.
“What? What is it you’re talking about?” he said. “There’s something you guys aren’t telling me.”
So someone finally had to deliver the bad news, showing the relevant section of the FBI report to J and Shaggy.
And they read with disbelief.
“Most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism,” the report stated. “However, open source reporting suggests that a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity, such as felony assaults, thefts, robberies, and drug sales.”
The report also claimed that Juggalos had infiltrated the Army and the Air Force, meaning their ranks now included “military trained members.”
“Law enforcement reporting suggests that Juggalo criminal activity has increased over the past several years and has expanded to several other states. Transient, criminal Juggalo groups pose a threat to communities due to the potential for violence, drug use/sales, and their general destructive and violent nature.”
“Cool as in Fictitious”
Initially, J and Shaggy took the report as just one more point of pride in the battle of “us versus them” that the Juggalos have long fought. “At first, I thought it was cool,” J recalls. “I didn’t realize what it meant for Juggalos. I was like, ‘Fuck ’em. We are a gang—that’s Juggalos.’ We didn’t understand the way it would play out and how much it affected our business. But most important, it takes everything we’ve done and shits on it and says, ‘This is nothing but a street gang.’”
Adds Shaggy: “I first thought, ‘That’s fuckin’ awesome, that Juggalos have this network and people think Juggalos pose a threat.’ I know they don’t, but I thought it was great that the FBI thinks Juggalos are like MS-13 [the infamous transnational drug gang]. You know: ‘Fuck, yeah—Juggalos! We’ll fuck you up!’ But I was really thinking it was cool as in fictitious, the same as our music is. We don’t roll around with dead bodies hanging out of our car, and we aren’t gang members,” Shaggy adds. “But this was real life.”
“To think that it can happen to us … I was like, ‘Are we going to go to jail?’” J continues. “If they can do that to a worldwide fan base, can they lock us up?”
In July 2012, a website called Juggalos Fight Back went online, collecting complaints from Juggalos who had been harassed by police. At the 2012 Gathering of the Juggalos, the annual festival put on by Psychopathic Records, a trailer was set up solely to take down statements from Juggalos who had been hassled by law enforcement for their connection to the culture.
The Feds have believed the Juggalos were a gang since at least the mid-2000s. A memo from 2008 out of the FBI’s Springfield, IL, office claimed that there had been 22 drug-related arrests at the 2007 Gathering. It also falsely stated that ICP merchandise includes hatchets, as in the chopping wood (or chopping heads) variety.
Over a two-year period, the FBI analyst in DC sent emails to law-enforcement agencies across the country asking 10 questions about their encounters with Juggalos. (The Feds have refused to provide that list of questions to the public.) The responses ranged from low-level jail supervisors in California to an “intelligence analyst” in Nashua, NH, who emailed a local newspaper article about a 2009 home invasion in which the cops alleged that one of the perps was into Charles Manson, White Zombie and Insane Clown Posse.
One respondent from a police department in Texas had spoken on Juggalos to attendees at the Texas Gang Investigators Association in 2006—at a seminar called “Gangs and Music”—and had met a number of officers working on “Juggalo gang crimes.” Another from Oregon posted a link from an anonymous blog called Juggalo Holocaust, which describes itself as the website of an “anti-Insane Clown Posse and Juggalo group.”
Nothing concrete was revealed in terms of a criminal conspiracy, but the respondents certainly provided a wealth of media coverage in the form of ridiculously uninformed, half-baked and dubious articles about the Juggalos, based largely on police assertions.
Despite the absence of facts on the ground, the federal gang designation touched off waves of seminars, conferences and strategy meetings aimed at stemming the Juggalos’ influence. Cops who had never heard of the Insane Clown Posse were now being told how to spot a Juggalo.
In June 2014, a team of lawyers representing the Insane Clown Posse and the other plaintiffs gathered at the Theodore Levin US Courthouse in downtown Detroit. This was the hearing that would determine if the band’s case against the Justice Department would move forward or hit a wall of endless appeals.
After the hearing, the lawyers for ICP held a press conference across the street, standing on the courthouse steps. There had been rumors of a settlement in the case, which would be an amazing legal feat for the ICP—in essence, wringing a “We fucked up” admission by the Feds that would be cause for celebration by First Amendment fans everywhere.
The case is now on appeal. More lawyers, more money.
“Whether or not we can defeat the FBI, that’s one thing,” Jay says. “But it’s important that people know we are fighting it. We cannot just stand back and say, ‘Yes, that’s correct—the Juggalos are a gang.’ It’s like being called the bad guy out of everybody at the party. It’s like a big fat finger pointing down from the gods, saying: ‘Fuck you—you know you shouldn’t be here. Your fans aren’t fans; they’re a gang, and that makes you gang leaders—or some kind of shit.’ It’s scary to me. It’s not scary during the day, when I’m with my boys and talking about fighting it. But when I’m at home, chilling with my family, it’s so big to have the government say something like that about us.”