Juggalos Have It Harder than You Think
In 2011 the FBI classified fans of the band ICP, or juggalos, a “hybrid-gang”, we sent Doug Lyfe to faygolovers.net to find out if anything has changed since.
“The FBI just came to talk to you,” my friend deadpanned over the phone. My heart immediately started beating faster. “Fuck,” I thought, “I always thought this day would come.” I was at my girlfriend’s house — she had already left for school and I was getting ready for work. As I sat down to collect myself, my friend told me that two FBI agents had come by my former home looking for me. When my friend asked who they were, they responded that they were with the FBI and gave him a card. He told them I wasn’t there, so they got back into their black SUV and left.
After we hung up I rushed out of the house and headed over to the home of a former member of the Black Panther Party. He had lived through the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which targeted revolutionary groups in the 1960s and 1970s. With the help of a lot of nicotine and some encouraging words, I talked to several friends and got an appointment to see an attorney. Fearing that the feds would be coming to my parents’ house next, I called them and broke the news. They were just as shocked as I was, but also not that surprised.
The next morning, my dad called — the FBI was at his house. I gave him the number to an attorney and told him to tell the feds to suck it.
Later that day, my parents told me about the visit. They had found out that feds were investigating me at the request of the Modesto Police Department. Apparently the FBI wanted to ask me about a protest that had occurred several years ago.
The demonstration they referred to that had taken place outside of the Modesto Police Headquarters in Downtown Modesto (about an hour east of the California bay area). It was a protest against police brutality in response to the cops having killed two people. Around this time, there had been several incidents of Modesto police officers killing unarmed citizens. Some officers started to anonymously leak emails revealing a culture of brutality within the department — this is how bad things were. A group I was part of at the time, Modesto Anarcho, repeatedly addressed police brutality, among many other things. According to the agents, the FBI wanted to ask me about my involvement with this group.
After about a month, I thought I was in the clear, but then one day I got a call from my lawyer saying that the FBI had contacted him. Over the next several months, my lawyer and the FBI played phone tag. They issued various threats of coming to my work to talk to me if I refused to speak with them or give them my address. They still haven’t visited me.
“This ain’t no civil war. We ain’t civilized no more!”
“The time has come for the blood to run into the streets paved with gold. We have lived in the zoo of the ghetto for so long. We must move into the suburbs and punish the rich for their ignorance. For the horror of death that is part of our life in our neighborhood and give them a taste of the same.”
—Insane Clown Posse
I grew up in a small town called Waterford, located near Modesto and about an hour east of the bay area. We didn’t have a high school, so I took the bus to the next town over. It was here where I first heard about the Insane Clown Posse from a kid named Willie. He would wear these really intense shirts. On them were pictures of dudes wearing clown makeup, looking like serial killers. The words “Twiztid” and “Insane Clown Posse” printed on them in extreme, distorted letters. Naturally, I wanted to know more.
As you may know, fans of the Insane Clown Posse are called juggalos. I was never a juggalo in high school — I was into punk rock. Punk was all about crass realism and confrontation, while metal and horror-core (the style of hip-hop that ICP plays), played up fantasy and escape. Regardless of this divide, on my school bus in a fucked-up little white trash town outside of Modesto, the weirdos and freaks sat together. I listened to Black Flag, the Unseen, Anti-Flag, and the Subhumans. The other misfit kids listened to the Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, and Slipknot. On the weekends we would get drunk and watch “Big Money Hustlas” (ICP’s comedy film) together and crack the fuck up. But they spent their best weekends going to see ICP, going crazy with Faygo, and stage diving; I preferred listening to local punk bands or stealing Noam Chomsky books from Borders. The juggalo culture seemed worlds away from mine, but I realized there was a culture and community that spoke to my friends just like punk did to me.
Love them or hate them, you have to respect the fuck out of ICP. These muthafackos built a goddamn empire from nothing. ICP did for lumpen-proletarian white kids what the anarcho-punk band Crass did for working-class youth in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80s. Off the streets of inner-city Detroit, one of the areas hardest hit by the crisis, ICP created a fan-base and a culture that was different than everything else in hip-hop at the time. After experimenting with gangsta-rap based on their experiences of growing up in poverty, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope later changed from “Inner City Posse” to the Insane Clown Posse, or ICP. Their albums were intended to be a warning to kids involved in gangs and crime about the dangers of violence, and to encourage people to walk away from it. The juggalo emerged out of a desire to create a community of misfits that found a place among each other.
They weren't popular with everyone. Spin Magazine mocked the group for being white (even though Shaggy 2 Dope is Native American). Disney pulled the group’s music off the shelves. Despite the attacks, ICP’s fan base grew larger as more bands signed to Psychopathic Records and as ICP continued to tour. By the time I was in high school, there were juggalos all over the US. ICP went on to create their own label and distribution company, even creating a backyard juggalo wrestling association. While I was listening to bands that propagated, “DIY or Die!,” ICP was living it, all the way out of poverty.
When I graduated from high school, I lost contact with my juggalo friends. They went on to join the military, get jobs, or simply moved away. As I got older, the punk scene I grew up in slowly faded. The older people went on to get jobs and have families, the venues dried up and people fell into alcoholism, drugs, moved away, or died. Looking around, the only rebellious youth subculture left in my town at the time was hip-hop.
With age, I came to appreciate hip-hop just as much as the punk-rock I had grown up with. There were a lot of similarities. Both were based on the experiences of people at the bottom, and talked about the conditions people were living in. What punk was for many working-class whites, hip-hop was for poor and ghetto youth of color in the US.
But it wasn’t until an old friend, a fellow anarchist and fan of ICP, moved in with me that I reconnected with ICP, Twiztid, Blaze ya Dead Homie, and other Psychopathic Records artists. In Modesto, juggalos soon became big news, after a small group of them beat a man in a park close to my house. The media soon portrayed them as a “violent gang.” In the wake of the attack, however, most of the juggalos I ran into in the streets disassociated themselves from the kids who had beat up the older man. They all seemed respectable enough to me.
What happened in Modesto and in other towns had widespread effects. By 2011, the FBI had classified the juggalos as a “hybrid-gang.” Having gone to a high school where one of the most popular musical groups was G.U.N. (Generations of United Nortenos — who recorded their album in Modesto), I knew gang culture in hip-hop — and ICP wasn’t it.
One day several years later I turned on my computer and read that ICP was suing the FBI over juggalos being labeled a gang. This was shortly after the FBI had started harassing me, so the news touched a nerve. After a little digging, I found that juggalos across the US had been targeted by law enforcement for wearing “Hatchet Gear,” wearing ICP shirts, having juggalo tattoos or juggalo stickers on their cars. Some people had lost custody of their kids, been refused jobs or entry into the military, and generally been fucked with by law enforcement. And the war was just beginning.