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September 14, 2017

Mocked and targeted, local Juggalos say weekend March on D.C. is a defense of civil liberties for all

'It could definitely get worse if we don’t make noise and bring the freaks right to their front door.'

Being a hardcore fan of horrorcore rappers Insane Clown Posse comes with a requirement: the realization, and acceptance, that people will laugh at you, either to your face or behind your back.

That’s just the nature of life for face-painted Juggalos who have found themselves as butts of jokes on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Saturday Night Live,” and the subjects of curious inspection in stories by journalistic outsiders looking in.

Another fact of life for Juggalos these days is knowing that, since 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has labeled them a “loosely-organized hybrid gang” in its National Gang Threat Assessment.

“Transient, criminal Juggalo groups pose a threat to communities due to the potential for violence, drug use/sales, and their general destructive and violent nature,” read the report that cited Pennsylvania as one of several states reporting “the most Juggalo gang-related criminal activity.”

To hear local Juggalos tell it, that label is not only unfair and inaccurate. It’s manifested itself in life-altering ways.

They share stories of people losing custody of their children, getting pulled over for "driving while Juggalo" (courtesy of band-related stickers on their vehicles) and being held with actual gang members when jailed for even minor offenses, all because of the type of music they choose to listen.

On Saturday, ICP’s Joseph "Violent J" Bruce and Joseph "Shaggy 2 Dope" Utsler will lead the “Juggalo March on Washington."

It’s an event being explicitly held – as they explained on the Howard Stern Show recently (NSFW) – to protest a gang classification the band continues a legal fight to have reversed. Here's a NSFW infomercial for the event:

Most stories about a march expected to draw thousands to the nation’s capital on Saturday focused on the convergence of Juggalos on the National Mall in Washington, which they will share with those attending a pro-Donald Trump “Mother of All Rallies” event (and a wedding party).

Specifically, some stories examine potential conflict between those supporting a law-and-order administration and those who feel as if they’ve been unfairly branded as a criminal threat.

PhillyVoice reached out to several local Juggalos who are D.C.-bound this weekend to discuss their motivations for marching, how they have been treated for being an ICP fan and what it means to have been branded a gang member when they say they’re anything but.

What follows is an in-their-own-words report on life as a Juggalo in the Delaware Valley:

Rachel Paul, 31, painter/writer, Jugalette feminist movement founder, Philadelphia:

Courtesy/Rachel Paul

Rachel Paul, an artist in Philadelphia, founded a Juggalette feminist movement called Lette's Respect.

For the first time in American history, a group of music lovers have been labeled criminals for the art they enjoy. The only other time that I can think of this happening is when Soviet Russia made The Beatles illegal.

Obviously, Insane Clown Posse aren’t The Beatles. They use violent slapstick humor to poke fun at societal norms, government officials, the rich. It’s a class connection to music, the lower class rising up. It reminds me of medieval carnival season.

ICP has run an independent record label for 30 years. That’s what people don’t realize, how prolific they are as artists. And now, that’s being criminalized.

When Juggalos were put on the gang database in 2011, we laughed it off for the most part.

Now, I have a personal friend who enjoys ICP and that was brought up in the courtroom in an attempt to take her daughters away. People are losing jobs, getting kicked out of the military. Anybody battling in the courts might hear about that “gang affiliation.”

In a Philly jail, one friend went to visit someone and she had an ICP backpack on. They put her in a cell, told her you can’t visit other gang members. That was in 2013. She was just floored by the way she got treated just for visitation.

It speaks to levels of freedom that hinge upon the type of art you like. This is America. We should be free to listen to whatever kind of music we want.

Saturday is also about the police state and the overextension of law.

(The mockery of Juggalos could come from the fact that) America hates the poor. I’m not saying all Juggalos are poor, but they get looked at as if they come from trailer parks. Well, we love you anyway. We celebrate that aspect of ourselves even if others see us as uneducated and unworthy.

Dehumanizing the Juggalos started in 2009, 2010, when the mainstream media started talking about, and looking down, on Juggalos.

Journalists – well, glorified bloggers – came to the Gathering (a Juggalos annual event) and one of them started doing a spelling bee, trying to say that Juggalos are dumb. Well, I worked for a major publishing company at the time. I was thinking, 'Seriously? You're trying to prove I can't spell?' That’s just one example of Juggalos being dehumanized in media.

We are all people, all human beings, and we deserve respect.

It’s atrocious, being labeled a gang member. We’re not a gang. There’s no organized criminal activity. We’re people from all different walks of life.

We’re marching for our First Amendment rights, for freedom of speech and this issue predates (Donald) Trump. Saturday is going to raise awareness and consciousness. This is not only about the Juggalo struggle; this is important everywhere, not even limited to America.

It doesn’t matter who you are: You don’t deserve to get profiled by police.

We might raise some eyebrows, but we’re not criminals. We have rights. We have a voice. All I want with the lawsuit is a statement from the FBI saying the Juggalos are not a gang, they don’t deserve this treatment.

It could happen to anybody. Beliebers. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters.

We’re not marching against Trump. We’re marching against the injustice we’ve saved for six long years as a family, community and musical subculture that deserves respect.

It’s a slippery slope. With the Trump administration doing what they’re doing to block people’s rights, it could definitely get worse if we don’t make noise and bring the freaks right to their front door.

Richard and Stephanie Miller, 38 and early 50s, married couple, New Castle, Del.:

Courtesy/Richard and Stephanie Miller

Richard and Stephanie Miller will head down to Washington D.C. from New Castle, Del. for Saturday's 'March of the Juggalos.'

Richard: I grew up in Oxford (Chester County), Pa. I started listening to ICP back in 1995, 1996 when I was in high school. I clicked with the same type people who listened to the same type of music. We were all outcasts who did not really fit in.

There’s a family feeling to it, always looking out for each other. Everybody gets along. We’re against racism.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be classified as a gang. People are getting pulled over just because they have a Hatchet Man sticker on their car. If they get arrested, they get put in the gang ward. They get held for longer times. I don’t have that sticker on my car, but others that people who know ICP will understand. Juggalos will recognize it, but cops won’t pull me over.

I always took (the mockery of Juggalos) as the scrubs getting picked on. When you get older, you start seeing it more.

I’m going to the march to march for the younger people. My daughter is 18. She and her boyfriend are into ICP. They shouldn’t have to face a stigma because of that. You come in wanting to be part of something and then get slapped with a label that can affect your life.

We like to clown around and have a good time. The outside world doesn’t catch the real meaning of the songs. The way I take it is it’s a message to step back and take a good look at what’s going on in the world.

Sure, they have some gory themes, but if you go album to album, there’s a storyline and they’re preaching that you should treat others how you want to be treated.

My wife and I are going down to D.C. A buddy’s riding down with us.

In Philly, Juggalos call themselves the “Philly Scrubs” and have some parties where they all get together. A lot of Delaware Juggalos are really close with the Philly fans.

Courtesy /Richard and Stephanie Miller

Fans of the Insane Clown Posse hold several barbecues a year in Delaware.

Here, three or four times a year, we have a Juggalo BBQ. There’s one the weekend after the march. You’ll see 30, 40, 50 of us at the local park. Kids running around. It’s a family gathering.

Back in the day, there were KISS fans, Deadheads. But with ICP, it follows you around. They’re having trouble booking venues for shows. In Oklahoma, we got a lot of resistance (when organizing this year’s Gathering of the Juggalos). By the time we left, they were begging us to come back. We just want to go have a good time and have a reunion.

Stephanie: I’m late to this. I’ve been listening to ICP for about eight years now. I got into it because of (Richard). I knew he listened to different music. He never pushed it on me, on the kids. But he kept leaving a tape in the minivan and I started listening to it. I got hooked.

When people find out (I’m a Juggalo), they’ll hesitate. They’re not sure how to react. I have no problem telling them. I’m not negatively affected by it, but I can see how it affects people.

Just being out and about, they’ll look at you oddly. We have a “Hatchet Man” flag out front.

They know (the attire or merchandise) stands for something, but they’re not exactly sure what is stands for. The press takes the dirty laundry and runs with it, which is why we’re in the crosshairs.

We’re not worried about marching on Saturday. I’m a medical marijuana card holder. I worry about what will happen if I get pulled over. I have (an ICP-inspired) butterfly tattoo. If they know what that is, they’re liable to lock me up and put me in with gang members. Not that I can’t handle myself in jail, but how do they know I’ll be able to hold my own with gang members?

It’s my duty as member of the family to march for those who have had bad experiences. It shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t lose jobs because of the music they listen to.

The press needs to see that we do a lot of good. Juggalos are very giving people. They’d give you the shirt off their back.

That’s what Juggalos do: We don’t care. If a stranger needs help, we’re going to help them.

Dan Cooler, 29, 215 Ninjas entertainment page, Northeast Philadelphia:

Courtesy /Dan Cooler

Dan Cooler will be reporting live from Saturday's 'March of the Juggalos' in Washington, D.C.

I’ll be going live from the march on my Juggalo entertainment page 215 Ninjas.

I first heard ICP when I was maybe eight years old. There was no appeal. It was ‘Hey Danny, you’ll like this.’ Rapping clowns? I didn’t know how to take it.

I never listened until a friend (in our teens) showed me a couple songs. I kept downloading songs from that point on. Horror rap? I like horror movies and the shock value, but it was funny to me. I found some homies at school and we went to a show in 2003 at the TLA.

The whole gang thing, this march is trying to prove we’re not a gang. You don’t get much pushback in Philly because (police) deal with so many kinds of real criminals. But go outside of the city – Bensalem, anywhere – you go out there with stickers, you’ll get pulled over.

I’ve heard stories of that happening to people who were just driving to visit their friends. The Hatchet Man tag will get you in trouble. So, this march is pretty much a way to say, ‘F*** you. We’re not a gang.'

These days, a lot more people are down (with ICP). More people are friends with Juggalos. Back in Philly in the 2000s, they just didn’t understand. They thought ICP sucked.

A lot of Juggalos do f***ed-up s*** but they go against ICP. There are a lot of good people.

The “Philly Scrubs” get together and go to shows. All my homies – there’s 30, 40 of us in Philly – it’s like family, man. We buy gifts for each other on our birthdays. When we need help, everybody’s there. I have family that I don’t talk to as much as the Juggalo family.

Tyler Hammond, 26, full-time student/glass artist, South Jersey:

Courtesy/Tyler Hammond

Tyler Hammond at an ICP event last year in Ohio.

I have always been a Juggalo, I just didn't know it. Nobody inducts you or invites you into our Juggalo family. We have no interest in convincing people to become a Juggalo. But when you find the family and the carnival and you experience the selfless love that Juggalos possess you'll be met with open arms and a 'Whoop Whoop.'

I have had Juggalos feed me, let me stay at their house, even this year at the gathering in Oklahoma, a Juggalo from New York (whom I have never met prior) gave me the shirt off his back.

It is so surreal to have a stranger put your well-being before their own. We have core beliefs to help everyone in need, not just Juggalos.

Being a Juggalo means I have unlimited love and support from my family. No matter how I choose to live my life, I will not be judged or ridiculed.

Being a Juggalo has made it very easy for me to reach out to help people in need directly. Because of this, being a Juggalo has made me a better person. Being a Juggalo means everything to me, it truly is freedom.

The Juggalo family has always been there for me at the drop of a dime and has never asked anything from me but to keep passing on good karma and loving and respecting my neighbor no matter what they believe in, their skin color, or sexual preferences.

So, when my family needs me, the only question I have is when and where.

The FBI has labeled all of us as gang members resulting in families being ripped apart, people being denied to serve their country because of their 'gang affiliation,' people getting fired from their jobs. All this based is solely on their music preference.

I personally have not been affected by the gang status but I am marching for all of my family that has. We are all in this together. 

The media has twisted this event out of recognition. I have seen stories claiming 'Juggalos vs. alt right.'

Let me make this clear to anyone still unsure of what we are doing: We are marching for one reason, to protest our FBI gang status.

I am not concerned one bit with any other rallies happening that day. As far as I understand, there will be an event for people who support their president and also a BLM rally.

I would hope any group that feels passionate about their beliefs should have their voice heard. We are all on the same field of play. 

People fear what they don't understand, speaking generally not directly, and we are all just regular people.

The word Juggalo is attached to so many false notions but it keeps our fam real and true.

There is tenfold more violence at a country concert than our shows. I haven't heard of one fight at our get-togethers. I suspect that’s why we have a gang status, because our group is so large and so full of love yet we aren’t "registered" or tracked.

When communities or people help each other without government programs or charities or anything, they feel cut out. They don’t know who we are and they don’t understand, so they lump us into this tiny box that none of us fit into.

Matthew Clohosey, 29, line cook, Trenton and Morristown, N.J.:

Courtesy/Matthew Clohesy

Matthew Clohesy thinks Juggalos are getting a bum rap by musical haters and law enforcement agencies.

I never really had a place where I felt like I fit in. I never had a scene, interest, group of people. I didn’t fit into one niche.

I had a darker sense of entertainment and was still a good guy. Family members couldn’t understand why I went to church and then listened to Slayer on the way home.

Friends in high school turned me onto Psychopath Records and I started getting more interested in ICP. I went to my first show in 2008 and have been to at least 25 since then.

I was not only impressed with the show and live performance, but there are all kinds of people there. I never felt as comfortable in a group of people as I did there.

I would paint my face, but as time went on, I got tired of having to spend an hour washing it off when I got home.

As far as the march is concerned, I’ve always had an interest in politics. World and current issues.

Music is not a crime. Some people think we’re this crazy, lawless band of people because of the imagery in the songs.

Have you ever been to a football game? People are drunk, belligerent, pissing in the parking lot, and it’s societally acceptable. I mean, Giants fans will paint their faces and nobody says anything about it. That’s all we do.

The problem is people not taking the time to really understand it. If I get into the concepts of ICP’s first six albums, it’s the telling of good versus evil. The whole theme of it is a dream that Violent J had. He doesn’t claim to be Christian, but he had a dream of spirits doing good and bad.

I’ve had people that I thought I knew look at me differently (because of Juggalo status). They didn’t treat me the same. I’ve been made fun of, to my face, by people I thought I knew.

It’s not fun, man. At the end of the day, it’s my source of entertainment. You know I’m a good person at hear. We work, live the same way everyday, but they look at me like I’m a reject because of the music I like?

There’s speculation around (the marches converging and problems arising). The narrative from our end is to go into this and take care of our business, and nobody else’s.

The way things have been going in this country, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for something to happen. But, I can tell you that it will not be from our end. We’re not treating this like a party. We’re gathering with respect and honor.

I’m driving down with my girlfriend and then two friends. My biggest reason for going is that it’s unfair for someone to be targeted in an area where they really enforce this (Juggalos as a gang mentality). The Hatchet Man sticker shouldn’t be grounds for an illegal search based on the music you like.

We’re different because we like a certain kind of entertainment, but we’re good people and we should be treated that way.