Government vs. the Juggalos

Why are we criminalizing music fandom?


Juggalos seem intimidating. They cover their faces in black and white paint and wear clothing and jewelry stamped with a hatchet-wielding cartoon figure. The group says their universal call-"whoop-whoop!"-is an expression of love and affection, but it can sound more like a war cry.

The term Juggalos refers to the devoted followers of the Insane Clown Posse, a rap duo hailing from Detroit, Michigan, known for its horror-themed lyrics and hits like "Miracles," "Rainbows N' Stuff," and "Down With the Clown." The group's super fans spawned a full-fledged cultural identity that's on display at the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, a drug-addled three-day festival held in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, featuring carnival rides, nudity, wet T-shirt contests, wrestling matches, and a lot of Faygo, the inexpensive soda favored by the group.

They've also created a mutually supportive community. Attendees at the annual Gathering often come from backgrounds that resemble that of Insane Clown Posse's Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, who "were the outcasts in school, the scrubs, the dirty kids, the slow kids, the uneducated-the ones whose home lives were so bad that they don't make it to school," says journalist Camille Dodero, who has covered this topic for Gawker and The Village Voice. "But they rebelled against that perception, worked really hard, and managed to reach a whole group of fans that nobody had ever spoken to or reached out to in music."

The annual Gathering is a homecoming of sorts, "to connect and meet and actually feel loved, make friends, and relate with people," according to one regular attendee. Members look out for one another at the festival and refer to themselves as one big family.

Federal law enforcement officials have a different take. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) classified the Juggalos as a "hybrid gang" in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, accusing the group of "criminal activity" and "violence." In the years since, they've often been subject to routine stops, detainment, and interrogation by local police, who use the DOJ's assessment as guidance for how to understand the group.

Now the Juggalos are fighting back. In January 2014, the Insane Clown Posse along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan sued the federal government over its classification. "Branding hundreds of thousands of music fans as gang members based on the acts of a few individuals defies logic and violates our most cherished constitutional rights," said Legal Director Michael J. Sternberg.

"They became Juggalos because they were persecuted, and now they're being persecuted for bonding together," says Dodero. "These are a group of people that no one else in America has ever cared about, and then this one band gave them a sense of identity."

Dodero says Juggalos are more likely to commit crimes than average citizens, but that has more to do with their backgrounds than with their membership in the group. "Somebody caught on to the fact that those kids who have that hatchet man on their shirts sometimes steal things," she says. "That's part of who Insane Clown Posse has been reaching-people with really bad upbringings."

"We'll rough each other up a little bit and put each other back in line, but we're not going to harm anyone unless someone does harm to us," says a Juggalo woman who spoke with Reason TV at the 2013 Gathering while smearing black paint over her right eye.

The ACLU lawsuit is expected to get its day in court next year. "There are a lot of people who don't want you to live your life how you want to live it," says another member of the group. "And they want to try and stop you from having fun, being yourself, and being free."

NEXT: Ralph Nader Q&A: How Progressives and Libertarians Are Taking on Crony Capitalism and Corrupt Dems and Reps.

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  1. Sweet, another installment in Reason’s ongoing series, “Why Juggalos Think Gay Marriage Is Winning and Anchorman 2 Is the Most Important Movie of the Year.”

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  2. We were driving back to Illinois this week and passed a dozen Faygo trucks on the highway. Is there festival imminent?

  3. ICP: proof that the term “white privilege” is a load of horseshit.

  4. let me get this straight Uncle Sam. it’s the Juggalos that are a gang of violent criminal clowns.

    1. Remember when the Juggalos invaded Iraq?

  5. Fucking threat assessments– how do they work?

    1. Most Poignant Witticism of the Thread Award

    2. Rarely do i laugh as loud as i did there. Well done good sir. Now the office wants to know whats so funny.

      They didn’t get it.

  6. You can’t argue with results. The FBI cleaned out the Deadhead gangs (at least I haven’t heard much about those outlaws much anymore so I’m assuming the FBI has shut them down) and now they’re taking on the Jugs. Next up, the Parrotheads, the KISS Army, and the Beliebers.

    1. Now that last one…

  7. The Guardian hops on the “Self-publishing is fascist” train.

    I’m confused. Aren’t progs supposed to be against big business?

    I guess their anti-business biases go out the window when the business is overwhelmingly run by leftists.

    1. “I’m confused. Aren’t progs supposed to be against big business?”

      Only if it makes money; see Air America and Current TV.

    2. What’s wrong with this picture….?

      Emerging from a former life that included theatre, investment banking and publishing, Alan Skinner is now a full-time scribbler and meddler who has self-published his last three novels.

      1. Nothing, as far as I can see.

      2. Haha, I noticed that as well. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that has enough force to blow you off your chair. Fantastic.

    3. I’m confused. Aren’t progs supposed to be against big business?

      Only if it offends their sensibilities. Besides, having the gall to thumb your nose at the academy’s kultur stewards is like shitting in church.

    4. Best line: “The individualism of the self-publishing authorpreneurs, is disturbingly close to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, in which the greatest goal is individual fulfilment.”

      Sounds good to me. If I take the time to write a fucking book it sure isn’t line anyone else’s pockets or raise some stranger’s self-esteem.

      But I’m selfish that way.

    5. you know who didn’t self publish?

      1. +1

    6. central message seems to be – no one can do anything on their own. Even self-publishing needs to happen through “collectives” according to Mr. Skinner.

      He also clearly displays his incomplete/inaccurate view of Rand’s objectivism, and is a moron. He says the best way to “democratize” something is to be sure that groups (some would call thesee corporations) are in charge and directing this “power to the people” movement. He seems to think that an individual could never create something good that people want to read. Takes a committee.

      What a f’ing coward.

    7. That has to be some of the stupidest logic I’ve ever read. I wish I could get my 5 minutes back.

  8. I had the misfortune to be involved in a gathering (in a technical capacity) a few years back, and I can tell you first hand what these face-painted morons are really like.

    They’re losers. Just that simple. The losers in high school too much of losers to join with any group. These people are the bottom of the barrel.

    Their festival was days of losers drinking beer and soda, smoking, bullshitting, and listening to music. Trailer trash in clown paint. As the weekend wore on, it only got worse. Hotter, drunker. And a total sausage fest, to no one’s surprise I’m sure.

    All in all, no worse than any other subculture. I’m sure phish concerts and other such are the same. The earth could open up and swallow these people and not a tear would be shed. But labeling them a gang is like labeling a swarm of locusts a gang. They’re both just mindless collectives, full of individual members that are worth next to nothing.

      1. I put down the ICP thing to a massive inside joke nobody ever explained to me. I’m still not certain I’m wrong. Also, MLP fandom. I’m pretty sure they’re both humongous hipster myths.

        1. I think you need to huff paint continiusly for several years in order to appreciate them. It’s like young eminim was hit in the head repeatedly with a shovel and then started rapping in a baby voice.

      2. Lol, did you see that Mary Stack commented on that post and linked to this story? What a pathetic existence. I pity her.

    1. And a total sausage fest, to no one’s surprise I’m sure.

      This is why there are no female Juggalos.

    2. I saw a family van with something like those family stickers in the rear window, you know?

      …except the family members were all different sizes of hatchet man and hatchet girls. Looking through the front window, they looked as normal as can be.

      Most of these juggalos seem to be better behaved that we were back in the day. I was at this show:

      …except for what they did to whatshername Tequila? But, seriously, what was she thinking?

      Anyway, if I’d seen them back in the day, I’d have thought they were a punk rock band. They’d have fit right in. The FBI used to claim punks were all gangs too. They did the same thing with skinheads, etc…

      Oh we got trouble!
      Right here in the River City!
      With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for [juggalo?/insert whatever].

      Anytime the mainstream hears about something the underclass is doing for the first time, it always freaks them out. You’re only supposed to be rebellious in certain preapproved ways.

    3. You should speak at a juggalo gathering and voice your defense of them in this manner.

    4. My sister has a hatchetman tattooed on her shin. And she refers to herself as a Juggalo sometimes.

      And guess what, asshole? My sister is a sweet and wonderful person.

      Let me make this as clear as possible: Judge people by who they are as individuals. Meet them, get to know them, and then hate them if they deserve it.

      And go FUCK YOURSELF. Seriously.

    5. Yeah, I think the author oversells the value of the camaraderie here. However, since no criminal act is required in order to become a Juggalo, there is no valid reason to treat them like a gang, even if you accept the premise we ought to treat gangs a certain way.

    6. They’re losers. Just that simple. The losers in high school too much of losers to join with any group. These people are the bottom of the barrel.

      What puzzles me most is that they have self-identified with music that is a transparent and phony schtick, made by a couple of guys who are either profoundly stupid or bitterly cynical.

      I’m sure phish concerts and other such are the same.

      Mostly people too high to realize they’re listening to people dick around on guitar for two hours.

      1. I think that is the point.

        They know that they’re immature and stupid, yet they don’t give a fuck.

        Basically, people think that of them anyway, so why not own it?

        1. This is the sennse I have of them, as well.

  9. Aren’t progs supposed to be against big business?

    Given the choice between intellectual anarchy and large centralized organizations, your lefty will opt for the security blanket of control.

    Democracy only works when the Peepul make appropriate choices.

  10. I see what needs to be done here. We have ban Faygo.

    1. I would think a soft drink pronounced in such a way would be a staple in Sam Francisco.

    2. I keep mixing up Faygo & Fanta.

  11. This Grampa Simpson quote sums up statist attitudes to most every group:

    “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me.”

  12. Something the video got wrong is that Faygo is associated with ‘cheapness’. That may be true, but for those of us in the general Detroit area it’s also the iconic Detroit soda–made here and recognized as an inherent part of the culture. The low price is incidental. And, if you want high-priced iconic Detroit stuff, there’s always this:

    Incidentally, they sell Faygo in their store.

    1. Faygo Red Pop is the strawberry soda against which all others must be judged. Their root beer is quite good, too.

  13. Damn your Reason, you have made me sympathetic for Juggalos. Unforgivable.

  14. Purely anecdotal, I know, but I used to run a costume shop in the Detroit area where several Juggalos often bought their makeup, and I can honestly say that they were some of the nicest, most courteous customers we had.

  15. Juggalos need to be a tribe in the next fallout game. So that I may slaughter them.

  16. This goes out to just a few people who routinely post on the Juggalo threads here. All you Juggalo haters out there who call yourself libertarians need to take a step back for one fucking minute. These people are expressing themselves and doing what they enjoy without hurting anyone else.

    A lot of them didn’t grow up in nice, happy, two-parent households. A good number of them grew up dirt-poor, mostly alone while the one parent who cared to have them around worked two low-wage jobs to keep them in sheets. Not a few of them got beaten on a regular basis by their parents and bullies. I knew several of these kids in high school. I saw their bruises. I saw their tiny, nasty apartments where they lived a very lonely, miserable childhood.

    Yeah, they were losers. So what? Not good enough for you? Too bad. But what should really pique your spidey sense is that they’re being targeted by the government for no good reason. You’re looking down on them because their habits, lifestyle, and music don’t fit your idea of sophistication. Well guess what, that puts you in the same boat as the tyrannical jackholes of .GOV

    I’d rather be a Juggalo than a member of the most dangerous, fucked-up gang on the planet that’s targeting them.

  17. Clowns are a threat but not government-run plane-loads of the 3rd world pouring in daily. Insanity.

  18. I grew up getting beat with the cheapest of things … i had to get a job to even get a bike. we had to hunt to have meat in the house. ya’ll just do not know or understand. in school i stood up for people getting bullied. and as for us being dumb.. i taught myself to build and program computers with no schooling. and people call us ignorant.

  19. Some people with arms commit crimes. Maybe the government should classify people with arms as a gang. Fits their logic, anyway.

    1. Quit giving them ideas.

  20. While I think the government classification is BS, I also think the claim that no one cares about these people is BS also. Many of them have friends and family that love and care for them.
    They are not all from terrible families. I support my Jugglette even if I think the music sucks, they dress and act like fools, and some are criminals.

  21. If I admit that I have seen them in concert multiple times, should I expect a flash bang grenade to the baby crib?
    Anyhow, I’m glad the FBI is all over this since they have some free time after solving the case of the anthrax mailer. Errr, wait. Never mind. Hmm. Maybe it was a Juggalo!

  22. …and threw a flash bang into a baby crib…

  23. It’s a group of mindless followers of someone who dress the same, commit acts of violence and basically joined because they’re losers… vs the Juggalos.

  24. white paint and wear clothing and jewelry stamped with a hatchet-wielding cartoon figure.

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