Government vs. the Juggalos: why are we criminalizing music fandom?

AuthorDetrick, Paul

JUGGALOS SEEM intimidating. They cover their faces in black and white paint and wear clothing and jewelry stamped with a hatchet-wielding cartoon figure. The group says their universal call--"whoop-whoop!"--is an expression of love and affection, but it can sound more like a war cry.

The term Juggalos refers to the devoted followers of the Insane Clown Posse, a rap duo hailing from Detroit, Michigan, known for its horror-themed lyrics and hits like "Miracles," "Rainbows N' Stuff," and "Down With the Clown." The group's super fans spawned a full-fledged cultural identity that's on display at the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, a drug-addled three-day festival held in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, featuring carnival rides, nudity, wet T-shirt contests, wrestling matches, and a lot of Faygo, the inexpensive soda favored by the group.

They've also created a mutually supportive community. Attendees at the annual Gathering often come from backgrounds that resemble that of Insane Clown Posse's Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, who "were the outcasts in school, the scrubs, the dirty kids, the slow kids, the uneducated--the ones whose home lives were so bad that they don't make it to school," says journalist Camille Dodero, who has covered this topic for Gauiker and The Village Voice. "But they rebelled against that perception, worked really hard, and managed to reach a whole group of fans that nobody had ever spoken to or reached out to in music."

The annual Gathering is a homecoming of sorts, "to connect and meet and actually feel loved, make friends, and relate with people," according to one regular attendee. Members look out for one another at the festival and refer to themselves as one big family.

Federal law enforcement officials have a different take.The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) classified the Juggalos as a "hybrid gang" in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, accusing the group of "criminal activity" and "violence." In the years since, they've often been subject to routine stops, detainment, and interrogation by local police, who use the DOJ's assessment as guidance for how...

To continue reading

Request your trial