This weekend’s Juggalo March on Washington, D.C., was meant to be a civil rights demonstration. But it was just a mess.
For those who don’t know, the Juggalos are fans of the Detroit-based rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, who together form Insane Clown Posse (ICP). On Saturday, they gathered in front of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, holding up signs and chanting slogans like, “Juggalo lives matter!” and “Family! Family! Family!” before marching down Constitution Avenue to protest the FBI’s 2011 classification of the Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”
According to the Juggalos with whom I spoke at the march, this classification is wrecking the lives of ICP fans everywhere. Juggalos in the armed services are being discharged for having ICP’s signature “hatchet man” tattoos, which now are considered gang signs. The FBI is using the gang classification to unjustly investigate the lives of peaceful Juggalos. Child protective services are taking children away from Juggalo parents.
While these Juggalos acknowledged that self-identified Juggalos have sometimes committed “simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism,” these aren’t the sorts of things Juggalo culture promotes. Crime is just a natural effect of being downtrodden and poor, they say. The Juggalo lifestyle is actually an escape from delinquency. As the incessant chanters kept reminding the media at the march, being a Juggalo is about Fa-Mi-Ly! And that means nobody gets left behind.
“They saved my life,” one Juggalo told me. “They’re the only family I got. I mean, if I didn’t have the Juggalos, I’d be hanging up in a closet.”
Another Juggalo dressed in a harlequin shirt and big clown shoes told me that non-ICP fans have trouble understanding the mind of the Juggalo because they have not experienced the same pain most Juggalos have endured. He described to me how, before he became a Juggalo, he was a heroin addict, and life seemed hopeless. The gruesome absurdity of ICP’s music helped him work through his addiction (which he admitted was still a struggle).
“They have their serious songs, but also their totally psychotic songs, where you just have to lose your mind,” he said. “It’s kinda like a family, you know? You gotta work through the bad stuff to get to the good.”
After three hours of hanging around the rally, I almost became a Juggalo apologist. There was free Little Caesar’s pizza. Friendly Faygo spray battles. I shared cigarettes with complete strangers and it felt right. Everywhere, Juggalos were acting like a loving family, ambling around the area in front of the Lincoln Memorial and embracing each other in “huggalos.”
But once Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope showed up and started rallying the crowd from the stage, it became clear that the Juggalo way of life—although not gang-like—is just as nonsensical as ICP’s music. Violent and Shaggy told the crowd that Juggalos were persecuted for being social outcasts (true) that Juggalos were awesome (maybe) and that ICP’s presence in front of the Lincoln Memorial made the duo the equivalent of Martin Luther King, Jr. (debatable). Violent even went so far as to invoke the Reverend’s words by shouting “I have a fucking dream, ninjas!”
But Violent’s words betrayed his aspirations. His dream was not nearly as high-minded as anything from the twentieth century civil rights movement.
“I don’t want to take the rights of anyone unless they want to hurt other people,” he told the crowd.
Cool. But that’s just how the FBI feels about the Juggalos.
I wish ICP knew how to help their fans. Most of the Juggalos I talked to are lower-class white people from Michigan, Ohio, or Indiana. They’re unemployed or fear unemployment. They’re surrounded by heroin and fentanyl. For them, ICP’s music is a form of cathartic spirituality—somewhere between a nasty high and a genuine religious experience.
Violent and Shaggy know this and so finished up their speech with an empowering teaser from ICP’s quasi-theology, The Dark Carnival, a career-long project that promises to lead ICP fans out of the decay of the Rust Belt into the hidden wonders of Shangri La, the ICP version of the afterlife.
“There’s a difference between wisdom and intelligence,” Violent said. “Intelligence tells you how to make a nuclear bomb. Wisdom tells you how not to use it. We have wisdom!”
This statement was so loud, I noticed it was echoing off of the Washington Monument. A graduate student I met later that evening told me he could hear the whole speech while he was walking near the White House over a mile away.
Maybe President Trump heard Violent J. Maybe he didn’t. Whatever the case, ICP gives a compelling voice to an unspoken number of frustrated and disenfranchised Americans—and that’s a bit worrying.