PHOTOS/WRITING BY KURT WIMMER
Every major music group has a fan base. For Kiss, it’s Kiss Army. For Beyonce, it’s the Hive. For Justin Bieber, it’s the Beliebers. But only one has been designated a “hybrid gang” by the FBI — the Juggalos, the group that is devoted to the music of Insane Clown Posse.
— #retiredpunk (@NickKarpPhotos) September 17, 2017
In 2011, noting that some Juggalos had committed crimes, and the distinctive elements of the group — the “hatchet man” tattoo, which is the symbol of Psychopathic Records, the label of the ICP, the clown makeup, the annual meeting called the “Gathering,” and undoubtedly some of the violent content of ICP’s “horrorcore” genre — the FBI designated the Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” That put the Juggalos in the same category as the Bloods, the Crips, and MS13. And it had immediate effects. Juggalos lost jobs, lost custody of children, and endured profiling, discrimination and harrassment. In 2014, the ACLU and ICP sued the FBI to change the designation, in a case that continues to wind its way through the legal system. The lawsuit contends that defining all Juggalos as “gang” members for the actions of a few violates the First Amendment’s guarantees of free expression and free association. In the meantime, any car displaying a Juggalo logo can be detained and searched, and anyone with an ICP tattoo is at risk.
On September 16, hundreds of Juggalos and supporters marched in Washington to persuade the FBI to change its designation. The group had a second goal, which was to give those without an opinion an opportunity to have a good first impression of the group. The group shared the Mall with the so-called Mother of All Rallies, a group of Trump supporters, who drew far fewer marchers than ICP, as well as a couple of weddings.
The event began with a rally and opportunity for Juggalos who had suffered discrimination because of the gang designation to share their experiences. On the same steps where Martin Luther King delivered his epic “I Have a Dream” speech, Crystal Guerro spoke about losing custody of her children because of being labeled a gang member. Tyler Bartashnick and and Jessica Bonometti spoke of losing their jobs. Others pointed out that anyone with a distinctive Juggalo mark — such as the innocuous “hatchet man” tattoo that has been popular since the 1990s — cannot enlist in the military. Author Steve Miller, who wrote “Juggalo” about the movement, pointed out that he has reported on the Bloods and Crips and finds that applying the same “gang” designation to the Juggalos ridiculous. The members of ICP, Joseph “Violent J” Bruce (left) and Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler, colorfully emphasized the nonviolent, accepting and peaceful nature of the group, before leading the Juggalos in a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, passing by the World War II Memorial and the remnants of the lightly attended Trump rally.
The hundreds of Juggalos gathered on the Mall were clearly outraged at the gang designation, but were remarkably polite and unflappable. Juggalos even picked up trash, not only from their crowd but from curious tourists and other outlookers. Protestors in characteristic “horrorcore” attire were welcoming and chatty, happy to explain their movement to onlookers.
What was missing? Support from other musicians, other creatives who rely on the First Amendment, and even mainstream social justice groups was notably absent. Many speakers paraphrased German Nazi opponent and minister Martin Niemoller’s famous warning about the danger of silence: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. . . Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” As many speakers pointed out, if the federal government can freely designate any group as a “gang,” with all the deprivation of civil rights and liberties that this designation entails, where does it stop? The Juggalos hope not to be the test case and simply hope to be let alone, a goal that can be accomplished easily by the Department of Justice and FBI. Here’s hoping this event changed a few hearts and minds, and that this might lead to the right result.