"The [Juggalos] have their own language, they have their own leaders, [and] they have their own ways of talking to each other," says Paul Detrick, who covered the group's march on Washington last weekend. "They exist in this strange world of their own."
Who are the Juggalos? In a nutshell, they're fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse and have built a cultural identity around the music. They're known for wearing clown makeup, hatchet main logos, and greeting each other with "whoop, whoop!" The Juggalos are mostly working class—these are the people "work at Pizza Huts…and gas stations," says Detrick—and often refer to each other as "family."
In 2011, the FBI labeled the group a "hybrid gang" in its National Gang Threat Assessment, which has been causing problems for Juggalos with local law enforcement. Last weekend's march on Washington was a protest against the gang designation.
Detrick, a journalist at Reason, has been covering the group for years, producing a 2014 documentary on the group that was shot at the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, and more recently a profile and interview with Insane Clown Posse.
Nick Gillespie talks with Detrick about Juggalo subculture, the real life legal perils of gang misclassifications, and the meaning of the "hatchet man" logo.
Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:
Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.)
This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Paul, thanks for joining us.
Paul Detrick: Whoop whoop Nick, whoop whoop.
Gillespie: Whoop whoop, indeed. Well, tell us, as a starting point, before we get to the actual march on Washington and why it was being done and what it hoped to accomplish, let's lay out some history here. Who are the Insane Clown Posse?
Detrick: The Insane Clown Posse are a rap duo from 25 years ago. They've been around for a really long time, but they are a horrorcore rap group from Detroit. And they're sort of this underground rap group that has never really hit the mainstream, but has gained a lot of popularity in just the last few years, ever since this gang classification happened in about 2011.
Gillespie: It's Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Is that correct, are the two main guys?
Detrick: That's right. Yes, Viol-
Gillespie: And they wear clown makeup. I mean, it's somewhat reminiscent of KISS, I guess, back in the '70s up to the early '80s. But it's weird kind of clown makeup, and they do rap, and you said it's horrorcore. Can you explain to people what horrorcore is?
Detrick: Horrorcore music is something that they invented. Horrorcore music is like horror movies, but in music form. So the lyrics are very, very violent lyrics, they're always talking about murdering people. But the trick of it is that if you really listen to the lyrics, they're murdering people that are bigots, and racists, and that represent parts of society that they don't like.
And the clown makeup comes from the fact that they come from very poor backgrounds, and they've always thought that people always thought of them as a joke, so they decided to take that on and make it a part of their act. So, everybody thinks of them as a joke, "Okay, we'll wear clown makeup, we'll drink the cheapest soda out there. We're not going to drink Coca-Cola, we're not going to drink Dr. Pepper. We're going to drink Faygo and we're going to spray it on the audience."
It all worked into what their persona was. They just kept playing into that. And they targeted people just like them, that grew up in poor white neighborhoods like that they grew up in. And it's worked out for them.
Gillespie: I mean, they're kissing cousins to Eminem, as white rappers from a poor part of Detroit. And of course they had at various points, like all rap artists, whether you're born rich or poor, white or black, you're going to get into a lot a feuds. They have an ongoing feud with Eminem and a bunch of other people.
And then the Juggalos are their fans, and their symbol is the hatchet man. Why are they called Juggalos and who is the hatchet man?
Detrick: Well, they're called Juggalos because I think it was a song that came out in the '90s. It was sort of like a throw-away lyric from a song during a concert that Violent J was, I think singing at the time.
So yes, it's just a name, that's all it is. Yes. And they-
Gillespie: And the fans also dress up in … or, you know, put on makeup and kind of show they represent their loyalty to the band by showing up wearing makeup and similar clothes, right?
Detrick: Yes. That's even an understatement. They show up in full clown makeup, they wear the hatchet man on them. The hatchet man looks like a cartoon little guy with a hatchet in his hand. And yes, they show up, they have tattoos. I'd say the majority of them have these hatchet man tattoos, or have Juggalo tattoos. They'd be across their chest or on their arm or something. They're very enthusiastic.
Gillespie: What do the fans love about the band so much? Because they have a fan following that is every bit as dedicated as Deadheads for the Grateful Dead, or Phish fans, to name a couple of jam bands. What do the Juggalos love so much about the Insane Clown Posse?
Detrick: Juggalos are Insane Clown Posse. Insane Clown Posse is Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. They come from poor white backgrounds. The Juggalos, they're people that work at Pizza Hut, they work at gas stations, and they are one and the same. They are attracted to the music because ICP is targeting to them, they're speaking to them. The jokes and the lyrics are tailored to a group of people that are forgotten by society. Or you know, when, say mainstream people walk down the street, they look at them and then they turn the other way. They-
Gillespie: So the Juggalos are kind of like the forgotten men and women of America. Even Donald Trump supposedly won the presidency by appealing to white working class people that'd been forgotten. He wasn't even getting near where the Juggalos are. They're further down, they're kind of a pyramid.
Detrick: They are way further down, way further down than that. That's interesting to point out, because when we talk about Juggalos, we try to understand it in the mainstream world by giving out these terms for … I don't know, like mainstream terms for understanding it, just like well, they're like Trump voters, well, where do they exists? Are they Democrats, are they Republicans or anything?
They're not really anything. They exist in this strange world of their own, where they have their own language, they have their own leaders, they have their own ways of talking to each other. They have their-
Gillespie: You had mentioned at the beginning, you said "Whoop whoop," and whoop whoop is kind of the general-
Detrick: It's like saying hello.
Gillespie: … greeting.
Detrick: Yeah. It's like saying hello to each other, it's like saying, "hey, how are you doing?" They also say things like, "You staying fresh?" Staying fresh is like, "Hey, are you doing well?" Instead of saying friend, they'll say ninja. So they'll say, "How are you doing ninja? Oh, that's my ninja over there, that's my friend." Or they'll say like, "Wicked clown love," which is just a way of saying, "I love that guy, I love these people."
Gillespie: Is there any sense of how many Juggalos there are?
Detrick: It's funny. No, there's no sense of this, and I hope that they ask this as a census question in a few years. But there's no real sense of how many there are, but thousands of Juggalos show up every year to the Gathering of the Juggalos, whatever city's it in.
Gillespie: And that's kind of like an annual camp out, kind of a Woodstock every year for Insane Clown Posse fans.
Detrick: Exactly. Yes, exactly. But Juggalos exist everywhere. I thought it was just the Midwest for a while, but it's not. There's Juggalos in every city, in every part of America.
They are these people that exist below the surface. And they may not talk about being a Juggalo publicly, but they may have a tattoo, or they may listen to the music, or they may have been to a concert in their day. They are the people that are pumping your gas, they are the people that are a part of your life and you wouldn't even know it.
Gillespie: And sometimes I've noticed, I've seen bumper stickers on cars that have the hatchet man. I live part-time in Oxford, Ohio, which is near Cincinnati, and there was a car in Oxford, there's college there, but there was a car that was spray-painted with stencils of the hatchet man in black and green all over the car.
I was with a couple of people who had no idea what it was, and I was like, "Oh yeah, that's an Insane Clown Posse thing," which is kind of fascinating that they walk, and live, and breathe among us, but we don't know that if we don't know where to look.
Detrick: It's interesting that you bring that up, because that is what has gotten them in trouble, is having the balls to have the enthusiasm that they do to put a sticker on their car. That's gotten them pulled over by local law enforcement, local cops.
Gillespie: Let's talk about that. In 2011, the FBI, the Department of Justice puts out a national gang assessment, or their crime assessment that includes gang classifications. And in 2011 Juggalos were considered, or they were listed as a hybrid gang.
What does that mean, and how did they come to be on that? If they were music fans, we don't get mad at Jimmy Buffett's parrot hats who probably caused more monetary damage in America driving home from Jimmy Buffett concerts than Juggalos. What was it about the Juggalos that so scared law enforcement?
Detrick: Well, the FBI gets information from local police departments to put on this Gang Threat Assessment report, to report to everybody, report to law enforcement entities across the United States. Police departments started reporting these incidents with Juggalos. I'm sure everything from burglaries to being drunk in public, or just someone just put-
Detrick: Shoplifting, petty-
Gillespie: Methamphetamine drug sales-
Detrick: Yeah, I mean, drug possession. But they put two and two together and said, "Well, this looks like a gang, it smells like a gang. This must be a gang," so the FBI reported it like so.
It doesn't really mean that they're a gang. These are poor, scrubby kids. They're going to get themselves into trouble, they're going to do stuff like that, but it's not because they are fans of Insane Clown Posse, not because they're Juggalos, it's just because that's what happens with poor people sometimes.
You mentioned parrot hats, but I think of the Beyhive. Think if this happened to Beyonce's fans or something. People would be shocked. And I think people were shocked right away. In 2011 when the Gang Threat Assessment came out, they were like … Juggalos are sort of a punchline to pop culture, so when the Gang Threat Assessment came out, it was sort of like, really? Oh my gosh. It became an internet joke for a while. Then the shit hit the fan. People started getting arrested.
Gillespie: And I guess you were pointing to this that they have all of the accoutrement of gang membership. They have a secret language, they have secret signs, tattoos, a kind of dress code. People start getting arrested merely for driving while Juggalo, I guess. How did Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope take it? What was their response to this?
Detrick: Right away they thought it was pretty cool. They thought it was like, "Wow. We are so out there that we're on the FBI's Gang Threat Assessment." They didn't really see the end of that, or the ramifications of that.
It took Juggalos reporting to them that they were going through these horrible situations where they would be pulled over by the cops, or they were losing custody of their children, or losing their jobs over being a Juggalo. It's sort of interesting. When you get arrested for a crime, the sentence can be a lot harsher if there's a gang association with it, because district attorneys want to be tough on crimes.
Gillespie: Right, so there's all kind of enhancements that they can do to the sentence if you fall into this or that category of offender.
Now, the march on Washington, this has been a long time coming, but what was the aim of having a massive showing of Juggalos in Washington D.C.?
Detrick: Well, the point of it was sort of an answer to, well, ICP has been for the last few years trying to fight this in court with the American Civil Liberties Union and it hasn't worked out very well. The lawsuit has gotten thrown out of court a few times, they've appealed that and try to get back into court and it hasn't worked out.
So they were a little frustrated, so they decided that they wanted to tell everybody in Washington, tell everybody in the world that they were not okay with this Gang Threat Assessment, this gang label. So they decided, "We'll do this in the most public way possible. We'll make a publicity stunt by marching on Washington," and they did.
There's like a little bit of apprehension from people that are no Juggalos and maybe even internally from ICP about like, well, what will that look like and we don't want Juggalos being Juggalos, if you will, on the National Mall and falling into the Reflecting Pool or something. But everything pretty much was very peaceful at the march. There were even Juggalos going around picking up trash.
Gillespie: Where did they march? And then was there a concert? I mean, there were a series of talks. You did a Reason TV video of this, which is up at our YouTube channel and Facebook page, as well as at Reason.com. But what was the program?
I don't mean this in a douchey way, it's a civil rights march, right? The Juggalos were saying, "Look, we're legitimate people here and we have every right to live how we want as long as we're not hurting other people." Were there speeches? And what was being talked about from the dias?
Detrick: Well, there were speeches that were made right in front of the Lincoln Memorial, right where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. There were speeches from Juggalos, talking about situations they've had with police, people that lost their jobs over being a Juggalo.
The speech from ICP was particularly interesting, because they talked about the gang classification and how it was horrible, but then they also made jokes about sewing up a guy's butthole. I mean, it was for Juggalos and for the world to hear. It was one of the best representations of protected speech I think I've ever seen in my life.
And then they did the march part, where they marched down the Reflecting Pool, around the national monuments, or the Washington Monument, and then came back all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.
And in the midst of all of this, there were concerts going on, but late, just around 9 o'clock or so, they had a concert from ICP, where they did everything that they would do at an ICP concert, which is a lot of unexpected things, where they would spray the audience with Faygo. They took chicken feathers and threw them on the audience at one point. There are dozens of clowns up on stage throwing confetti.
If you've ever gone to an ICP concert … I'm going to assume that no one has gone to an ICP concert that listens to this podcast, but it's a spectacle, it is a big deal in a surprising way. Even Nathan Rabin, a writer who writes about Juggalos a lot, has written two books on them. He's in our video talking about how there's always some sort of unexpected event, there's always some sort of spectacle to this, there's always some sort of bigger thing that happens.
You could say that that is true with this march as well, that there was something in the air that made it not just another Juggalo event, that made it very, very significant. This is them sticking their flag in history.
Gillespie: Well, talk a bit about the … yeah. I mean, your video has been very warmly received and it's been shared by a lot of different music sites and other places online. For people who aren't Juggalos, or aren't into that particular band's music, what's the interest? What's the appeal do you think? And what's the libertarian message coming out of all of this?
Detrick: I think the appeal of ICP is that they are a rap duo that has served an answer to gangsta rap. They exist as a foil to gangsta rap, even though they're fans of gangsta rappers, they are … you know, they have very violent lyrics, but it's all posturing, it's all like a character that they're playing on stage.
There's a lot of violent lyrics, but they're also a lot of weird jokes in the lyrics that are the kind of jokes you would make if you were a twelve-year-old kid or something. It's like this very disgusting humor. But is also kind of pop-y and fun and it's not meant to-
Gillespie: Some of the horrorcore stuff reminds me of there was a subset of punk that was sometimes called the psychobilly, or shockabilly. The Cramps were probably the best known practitioners of it. But yeah, where it merged horror movies and kind of Rotting Corpse's zombies and violence with just a really kind of anarchic sense of comedy and fun. It's like Abbott and Costello meets Frankenstein.
Detrick: Yes, yes.
Gillespie: This isn't a David Fincher movie. This is Abbott and Costello meeting Frankenstein, or Dracula, or the Wolfman.
Detrick: Yes, exactly. It almost feels like a parody sometimes, of the mainstream world, but not quite. They're pretty sincere about it.
Gillespie: Yes. I avoid criticism, and obviously musical taste is to each his own, but in a weird way, for all of the kind of threat that they menace or posture as. Their lyrics tend to be almost like an afterschool special. It's like hey kids, stay in school.
I suspect that their best known song might be "Miracles," which has the incredible line in it where they're talking about there's all sorts of bad things in the world, but they see miracles every day and then at one point they say, "Magnets, how do they fucking work?" Which is kind of great. But it's guys who are like taking a deep breath and just in love with the world. That's not violent at all.
Detrick: Even better was the signs at the Juggalos march that said, "Dragnets. How do they work?"
Gillespie: Tell us what was the mood like? Because rock concerts, or concerts in general, they can get violent. From Altamont to various Central Park free concerts in the '70s and '80s led to massive public riots and things like that. Was it a mellow mood? Was it fun? Was it scary for you at all?
Detrick: The Juggalo march was not scary at all. It was like any other concert that one would go to, except that there was a sense of, I think among Juggalos, 'let's not fuck this up. Let's not fuck this up at all. We are trying to get the world on our side and show the world that we're not threatening, we're just lovable people that are just different." That's it.
There were Juggalos walking around picking up trash, there were Juggalos handing out free water and Faygo to people. It felt a little like the Gathering of the Juggalos. That's what happens there. You can ask for a beer from somebody at a Gathering of Juggalos and they'll more than gladly give it to you. You can ask for anything.
Gillespie: In a way, do you think the Gathering of the Juggalos, or the Juggalos march, it's almost more of a radical … is it more of a radical experiment in kind of self organization, and even something like Burning Man?
Detrick: Yeah. I mean, it was something maybe like Burning Man now. Maybe Burning Man 10 years ago or so was different. But yeah, Burning Man now is all upper middle class white girls with thorn crowns and their flower crowns and drinking rosé.
But yeah, it's sort of an experiment in this very … I guess you could put the libertarian label on it, but it also exists outside of that. It is its own thing, but it doesn't have a mainstream label at all.
I'm likening Juggalos and Juggalo culture to gay culture, in that they … at different times were demonized by society, by government, but-
Gillespie: I'm sorry, you liken it to what kind of culture?
Detrick: To gay culture. There's a whole language to Juggalo culture, there's a whole language to gay culture that exists on its own. And it happens because these groups of people turned inward and supported each other, and created societies that worked for them. You could even say drag queens are just like Juggalos. They create their own terrible music just like ICP, that is an answer to the mainstream culture.
Gillespie: Right. It's not explicitly libertarian or dogmatically libertarian in the sense that ICP isn't calling for the abolition of the Post Office, or privatizing sidewalks or anything, but you can see how they use whatever tools, whatever resources are around them, to create a world that they want to live in. And that's a pretty good definition of a libertarian impulse in a subculture. And they find meaning and community through that.
What do they do next? What happens next for the ICP and for Juggalos?
Detrick: Well, next is they're going back to court. On October 11th they are going to the Sixth District for oral arguments, trying to sue the FBI again. They are trying to at least go to the court system one more time to try to fix this. But it is a really hard thing to make that happen.
You have to try to get a judge to understand Juggalos and understand their cause. That's a hard thing to do, because they don't exist in the Juggalo world, although, I don't know, maybe there is a judge out there that would understand what-
Gillespie: That would be pretty wild, wouldn't it? If they show up and the judge is wearing Juggalo makeup.
Detrick: Yeah. If the judge is wearing Juggalo makeup.
Gillespie: You can see them giving the thumbs up to each other, "I got a good feeling about this."
Detrick: I just hope that they see one of Reason TV's videos or something and have their hearts changed or something nice happens because of this.
Gillespie: Well, the videos you've done, and you did one a couple of years ago with Alex Manning recording from the Gathering of the Juggalos. And it was after the gang assessment had been published. But yes, it was fascinating because those show a real voluntary society at work and it's kind of beautiful and kind of moving. And I think that comes through in the march video as well.
So the next big court date is October 11th.
Detrick: Yes. That's the next big court date. They'll have another Gathering of the Juggalos next summer sometime. Who knows where it will be? They tend to get kicked out of a lot of states, a lot of concert venues, so you might not even know until a few weeks before where it's going to be. But yes, it will happen. That's for sure.
Gillespie: All right. Well, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much. We've been talking with Paul Detrick, Reason TV video producer. He's been covering the Juggalos march on Washington fans of the Insane Clown Posse who were protesting being assessed as a gang by the FBI. Paul, thanks so much for talking and for the work that you've done.
Detrick: Thank you, Nick.