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.
The Hammer and the Hatchet
“Why do I call myself a Juggalo, bitch?
Cause we keep that scrub life and fuck that rich shit.
And steal that new whip and platinum chain.
To give it all to a Juggalo who never had a thing.
Why do I call myself a Juggalo, punk?
Cause we roll through the hood with politicians in the trunk.”
— Twiztid, “Raw Deal (The Juggalo Song)”
I started reading everything I could about ICP, Twiztid, the FBI lawsuit and the juggalo culture in general. I wanted to know how juggalos were reacting to the lawsuit, what they were thinking, and if they were getting organized. In my quest, I interviewed four editors of the juggalo fan site Faygoluvers.net about how the subculture was reacting to the gang-labeling.
One of the first people I talked to was Rachel, a juggalette (female juggalo), columnist on Faygoluvers.net, and author and illustrator of the Dark Carnival Tarot Deck. She recounted the following story of another juggalette:
“I remember when my phone rang. She was in tears — a rarity for Magz. ‘You’ll never guess what they did to me…’ Maggie was wearing an Insane Clown Posse t-shirt when she signed in for visitation to see her brother who was locked up. Unbeknownst to her, the correctional facility considered this ‘gang apparel’. Her brother’s joker card tattoos listed him as a gang member in a database, as well. Shortly after signing in, she was handcuffed and beaten by a group of male guards. She is all of 5’3 and 150 pounds. Then they put my Maggie in a cell.”
“Gang members can’t visit other gang members. That’s an offense,” they said. They interrogated and threatened her. They took pictures of her. She explained she could lose her license to be an EMT — her livelihood, her calling, her passion — if they chose to press charges. She pled for her job. At the mercy of an officer familiar with her work as an EMT, she was released a few hours later, physically bruised but more so emotionally and psychologically. All because she was wearing an Insane Clown Posse t-shirt.
At first, many juggalos thought the whole gang-labeling was all a big joke and wouldn’t amount to much. But after a while, people started to grasp the reality of what they were up against. Faygoluvers contributor Ian wrote in email,
“The initial reaction was definitely shock, if you asked me before it happened the idea would have seemed far-fetched — it wasn't something we ever expected.”
Scottie D, the CEO of Faygoluvers, was also caught by surprise:
“At first, it didn't seem like this gang label had much of an effect on the Juggalo fanbase. But after hearing stories of people losing jobs, losing their children in custody battles, being denied acceptance into the military, et cetera, it's becoming increasingly important that this label is removed from our subculture.”
ICP were not going to leave their friends out to dry. They created a website called www.juggalosfightback.com, and made flyers and pamphlets for fans to hand out about the actual nature of the juggalo subculture. And they did something very smart: they created a forum on their website where fans could discuss how they had been harassed by law enforcement for being juggalos. The response from fans was very supportive. Faygoluvers contributor Shifty Novak commented: “I think what ICP are trying to do is great. If we do not stand up for our rights, who will?”
Many juggalos are no strangers to run-ins with the police — and not only because of suspicions against the subculture. Many juggalos come from a low-income class background, which always makes you more of a target. Scottie D commented,
“I don't think law enforcement has ever been looked too kindly upon from the Juggalos' perspective. If they were just doing their jobs instead of unfairly profiling those who look a bit different than the norm, maybe the overall outlook on them would be different. The fact that wearing a piece of HatchetGear gives them even more of a reason to pick on us doesn't help our perception of them.”
Faygoluvers contributor Ian added:
“We have always been targeted by police, because of the way we dress, the reputation of the Gathering, lots of reasons. Because of that I think it’s fair to say that not many Juggalos are fans of cops.”
As Blaze Ya Dead Homie rapped in the track “Swine Flu”,
“I’m feeling dizzy seeing red and blue,
these are the symptoms of swine flu…
I wanna live my life and be free,
but crooked pigs always fuck with me.”
This tension between law enforcement and juggalos has come to a head in the past as well. Police have broken up juggalo parties and even attacked the Gathering of the Juggalos (GOTJ) — an annual juggalo festival. The Gathering erupted in 2002 in Peoria, Illinois, when police shot pepper balls and tear gas into the crowd to stop women from baring their breasts, resulting in clashes with the crowd. But the repression of juggalos has reached a new zenith since the gang labeling.
Individual juggalos aren’t the only ones who’ve been negatively affected by the gang label. It has also impacted the very business of ICP itself. With ICP being labeled a gang, stores like Hot Topic won’t carry their shirts and many towns won’t host the Gathering of the Juggalos. Scottie D explained,
“Psychopathic has reported that the reason Spencer's and Hot Topic has stopped carrying their merchandise is because of the FBI situation. Having their merchandise in less retail stores obviously makes it harder to purchase, which is unfair to both the record label and Juggalos/Juggalettes.”
He went on to talk about how the gang labeling has affected the Gathering of the Juggalos.
“Attendance was WAY down last year and [there’s] fear of a police raid due to the Gathering being a ‘gang rally’ … After the announcement was made for the new location in Kaiser, MO, locals got up in arms and harassed the campground owners so much that they were forced to pull out of hosting it.”
Shifty Novak agrees with this assessment,
“Most of the time the first thing that pops up in an internet search is about the FBI and the gang designation.”
But most juggalos are standing tall in the face of repression. As Rachel stated,
“We are fearless. My big brother Violent J once said, ‘The colder it is on the outside; the warmer it is on the inside.’ And I think, if anything, this whole experience has just brought us closer.”
The thinning of the crowds at Juggalo events hasn't been entirely bad, Rachel goes onto explain. In some ways it has brought people together even more. “Less drugs. Less hustlin’. More compassion. More family.” Rachel credits this to the Juggalos themselves and also to the leadership of ICP as well as former ICP member ‘Jumpsteady,’ aka Rob (Violent J’s brother) coming back into the juggalo universe.
“And he has a vision for his people and cares deeply for the juggalos. And with him comes a whole slew of positive energy amid all the chaos.”
Hang the DJ, Shoot the Journalist
The FBI is not alone in throwing shade at juggalos; the media has played a similar role in years prior. According to Scottie D,
“Our subculture has always been the subject of ridicule. Before ‘Miracles,’ Blender Magazine called ICP the worst band of all time. Spin Magazine took a stab at Juggalos in comic form in the late 90s. Eminem made Juggalos targets after dissing ICP on the Marshall Mathers LP. It's something that we're all used to, and other than being asked how magnets work by non-Juggalo friends and coworkers, it hasn't really affected me. It's similar to when ICP were demonized by Disney-owned Hollywood Records, who decided to pull The Great Milenko off of store shelves just hours after its release.”
Rachel takes this critique even farther. In the age of the “hipster-douchebag bloggers,” as she refers to them, “studies” of juggalos have taken on a life of their own.
“The bloggers had their fun analyzing and dissecting the Gatherings, like they were writing for National Geographic, as if to say, ‘Gasp! They go camping and party and dress in funny costumes and listen to music! But… why? We must over-analyze this!’”
From the “American Juggalo” film to various articles in VICE and the Village Voice, juggalos have been turned into a laughingstock across media. I find it troubling that all these people are mass-consuming a mediated experience of juggalo culture and a caricature of the juggalo. In an age of alienation in which life experienced through images becomes more real that actual life, the juggalo gatherings have become a viral spectacle that you can observe without ever having listened to ICP’s music. Fans who are passionate about the subculture are portrayed as lower-class idiots worthy of mockery. The key question of why this community came together in the first place is never asked. But this is perhaps exactly what has given the juggalos their power — and in my mind, what has made them dangerous in the eyes of the State. As Ice Cube once said at the Gathering, “Man, if this shit was political … there’d be no stopping it.”
Until the Hatchet Defeats the Hammer
“From now on, all friendship is political.”
— The Call
There’s nothing new about music fans being targeted by law enforcement. From the FBI trying to find hidden sexual messages in “Louie, Louie” and harassment of hippies, to the modern-day “hip-hop cops” that listen in on rap songs, the connection between law enforcement and music is well documented. In today’s world, juggalos are now subject to random stops, frisking, and detainment. If they ever are arrested, they may have further criminal charges pressed against them via gang enhancements and end up spending more time in prison than they would without the gang label.
What is happening to juggalos is not surprising. We live in a period of massive government surveillance and repression. Throughout society, cameras record our every move, our cell phones track us, and the government records emails, phone conversations, and Facebook posts. Since 9/11, the government has given itself wider and broader powers, such as the ability to detain without trial those suspected of “terrorism” and to spy on massive amounts of people. At the same time, more African-Americans are either incarcerated, on parole, on probation, or in juvenile detention centers than were enslaved during racial slavery. Social movements that do spring up in the current period, such as the Occupy Movement, are violently attacked and broken apart with the help of the Obama Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. We live in a time of increasing state repression.
What makes the repression of juggalos different is that it’s targeting a subculture made up mostly of white people. One reason threats to the government have repeatedly been derailed in this country is because socio-economic class has always been organized by race in the US. Those that could find each other in revolt against power are often already divided by it. Thus, while we are not surprised by gang injunctions, immigrant round-ups, police raids and the murdering of people of color, many find it humorous that juggalos (“poor white kids”) are labeled a gang. It’s funny to us because it is out of the ordinary. Whites, regardless of class are often spared the labeling and repression others face within the US.
At the end of the day, it appears that ICP may in fact be victorious in their lawsuit against the FBI and their labeling of juggalos as gang. As Scottie D posted recently on Faygoluvers.net,
“This past Tuesday, February 25th, a federal judge out of Flint, MI, ruled that the FBI failed to provide all of the information that it took for them to deem Juggalos as a gang! Basically, they either fucked-up and didn’t think it was important enough to get their information to them in time, or they flat out don’t have enough evidence to prove that we’re some sort of organized violent street gang. I suspect the latter.”
The lawsuit is still on, but it seems like ICP might win in court and juggalos may soon not be considered a gang anymore. Nevertheless, government repression won’t end with this — and it won’t end with lawsuits. As long as the State holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and control, such trends will increase, especially as the economic and ecological situation continues to worsen. Rachel wrote,
“Personally, as a ‘juggalette,’ but also as a lover of freedom, expression, art, and the right to gather in all forms, I feel that it’s time to open up a larger conversation about this case both in and outside the juggalo world. Writers, bloggers, and reporters, ICP fans or not, should seize this profound moment to address some much larger questions about personal freedom, increased police presence, tolerance, and censorship in our society.”
What does the labeling of the juggalos mean for the wider society, fans of underground music, and youth in general? Does the targeting of juggalos signal the targeting of even more segments of the population? I believe so. This is why it’s important to look at what the juggalos have done and support them in their efforts, for anarcho-punks, ravers, hyphy-rappers, and death metals kids may be next. We need to heed the attacks on juggalos as a warning, but we also need to look back on all the repression that came before it. What’s happened to ICP isn’t anything new; if we can learn anything from this it’s that this is part of a system of power and control.
The juggalos — besides a few songs about the government or the cops — were never political. They weren’t 2pac, Public Enemy, or Dead Prez. But, as Rachel writes, that might change.
“Art is powerful. And historically, the ancient art of clowning has always served an anti-establishment purpose — we see this throughout time and across space, from the Heyoka of the Lakota to Bakhtin's writings on the medieval European carnival. Even in Shakespeare — only the court jesters are ever allowed to laugh at the king. To make the art of jestering illegal (as has been done here by the FBI) … it will never fly. Clowning is timeless and always anti-establishment. The thing is, the juggalos were never political. But now? Well … here we are. Right where we should be. It's in the cards.”
Perhaps “the taste” of wrath from the poor that ICP spoke of never receded. It has only been biding its time and waiting to strike.