Posted by Guest on September 28, 2017 in Blog

By Sarah Seniuk

Juggalos were a relatively unknown group of music fans until their march in DC on September 16 but now they are one of the most visual faces of the fight for first amendment rights. Juggalos are fans of the horror-core rap duo Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope who comprise Insane Clown Posse (ICP). Fans are known for their clown-style face paint and love of Faygo soda, but after the FBI’s 2011 “Gang Threat Assessment” report, Juggalos are now known for being gang members.

That 2011 report listed Juggalos as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang” in four states, with 17 other states reporting criminal acts by Juggalos. The report itself admitted that “most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism”, and yet Juggalos were branded a gang alongside some of the most notorious groups such as the Bloods and Crips. The FBI report admitted that their gang designation in part stemmed from Juggalos communicating over social media as a way to connect these individualized crimes. Further, “Juggalos’ disorganization and lack of structure within their groups, coupled with their transient nature, makes it difficult to classify them and identify their members and migration patterns”. The FBI then, is targeting those who already represent some of the most vulnerable within our population. Some Juggalos are starting to feel the burden of that association, with reports of job loss, increased police harassment, and employment denials, including with the military.

In 2012, J and Shaggy approached Detroit, Michigan based lawyer Farris Haddad, an Insane Clown Posse fan and Arab American, to see if there was anything they could do to remove Juggalos from the FBI list. In 2014, Haddad teamed up the Michigan branch of the ACLU asking for Juggalos to be removed from the gang designation list because of the resulting harassment. The gang label allows for law enforcement to profile individuals for being fans of ICP.

The case of ICP alone is shocking, that criminal acts of unassociated individuals in different states across the country can be deemed ‘gang activity’ because they share a taste in music. But it becomes even more shocking as the Department of Homeland Security works to broaden their definition of gangs with the introduction of HR 3697. Under this new bill, a criminal gang would be “an ongoing group, club, organization, or association of five or more persons”, who have committed a series of crimes, including conspiracy to commit a crime, within a five year period. The potential for DHS to have this kind of sweeping definition for gangs and gang activity would empower law enforcement agencies across the US, at both federal and state levels, to profile Americans and those residing in the US on an unprecedented scale.     

When Juggalos are asked to describe themselves, and their experiences, a common theme is feelings of exclusion and judgement, and the discovery of family when they began listening to ICP and became Juggalos. Family is discussed both by individual fans, and J and Shaggy - inclusion, acceptance, and caring are promoted among themselves. J and Shaggy have worked to make their music and events as inclusive as possible. One fan refuted the gang designation by saying “when I listen to the music it tells me to be a better person, to live a better life, to treat people fairly… and there’s no gang that preaches that”.

On October 11th, their case will enter its second round of appeals in front of the Sixth Circuit. What happens with the case of the Juggalos, even before the enactment of HR 3697, will be an indicator for the future of profiling, and the state of first amendment protections.

Sarah Seniuk is a 2017 fall intern at the Arab American Institute.