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Why Juggalos Are Marching on Washington

Some worry the march will be a battle with the alt right – but fans of Insane Clown Posse say they’re fighting for their rights, not against Trump.

Some worry the march will be a battle with the alt right – but fans of Insane Clown Posse say they're fighting for their rights, not against Trump.

When it was first announced in July 2016, the Juggalo March on Washington was considered a novelty at best. If it was mentioned in mainstream media at all, it was mostly ridiculed. Juggalos – fans of Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid and other artists who create rap-rock music that often combines carnival symbology with B-movie gore and dark comedy – have long been considered the lowest rung on the ladder of pop culture. Journalists hearing about the March made snide comments about avoiding D.C. that weekend and joked about how Juggalos didn’t understand how magnets work. But there is good reason for the march: Since the FBI labeled Juggalos a “hybrid gang” in 2011, Juggalos have seen their community shift in the eye of the law, from mocked subculture to violent criminals.

But with the September 16th march fast approaching, social media is buzzing with curiosity. This is in part due to the announcement that an alt-right gathering calling itself the “Mother Of All Rallies” will also be taking place in the same area of the National Mall. Both the media and the public are fervently asking about how Juggalos will respond, considering ICP’s attitude toward racist imagery – one of their most popular songs is called “(Fuck Your) Rebel Flag” – and the tendency to see such iconography at alt-right rallies. A viral cage-match-style flyer suggests the Mall will witness the battle of Juggalos versus Nazis, with the police as special guests. The anxieties about violence – mostly stirred up on Twitter and Facebook – have become so omnipresent that some Juggalos are starting to believe it, posting concerned messages on forums asking what the likelihood of violence is.

The vast majority of Juggalos I’ve spoken to, in person and online, have no interest in pushing politics that day, or getting into any fights. “Most Juggalos don’t talk about politics normally,” says Mr. Makanhoes, a Juggalo from Nebraska whom I contacted via Facebook. “We put all that to the side when it comes to the family gathering together for events.” Another Juggalo calling himself Doc Wicked agrees. “Politics keep people divided,” he explained via Facebook, as well. “Juggalos come from many different political backgrounds, but unlike the general population, we are able to coexist and work together in harmony.”

While there are some politically outspoken Juggalos, it seems they have agreed as a group to focus on what they came for: awareness about their gang designation and the harm that it’s caused for members of the community for the past six years. If you have the Psychopathic Records logo – a running man with a hatchet – on your car, it’s now considered a gang symbol and police have probable cause to search your vehicle. While some have suggested that the Juggalo March is tied to protesting Trump, the gang designation came about under Obama – and the Juggalo March was scheduled last year, before a Trump presidency even seemed possible.

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The gang designation has become an issue that’s brought many otherwise disparate political groups together, even if they disagree about why it’s problematic. Some libertarians recognize it sets a precedent for government overreach that impacts individual liberty. ICP’s music made clear on the album The Wraith: Shangri-La that it was inspired by a God-based spiritual mythos – so some conservatives should be horrified at how easy it is to classify a gathering to celebrate music explicitly based around Judeo-Christian values as a gang activity. The left is already seeing how the actions of a few can be utilised to criminalize the group as a whole with the proposed “antifa” domestic terrorism designation. Even the alt-right, typically more interested in trolling than in seriously discussing politics, should take note – the hatchetman being considered a gang symbol today could lead to Pepe being considered a gang symbol tomorrow. 

Opinions about the Juggalo March vary within the community, however. “I’m not crazy about the march,” said one Juggalo who posted on the forum Faygoluvers . “People will be asking why Juggalos are marching and what it is they’re marching for. Unless there’s a real good answer to that, and one that random Juggalos in the crowd that journalists pick out to interview can explain, it’s just going to be used to make us look stupid.”

Violent J, the other half of ICP, said in an interview with Billboard that the march was “a publicity stunt for Juggalos.” This statement led many in the community to feel suspicious that the motivations driving the Juggalo March might be more financial than altruistic, especially with ICP having a tour that may benefit from the attention. Additionally, some in the community have been concerned with the seeming lack of organization from Psychopathic Records, ICP’s label and the host of the event; with the march a little less than a week away, Juggalos were only just given a confirmed list of artists playing, and no information on the guest speakers at the event. The afterparty for the March was even called “Gangsta Party,” a defiant move that made some Juggalos laugh and others feel rather frustrated – the flyer has since been removed from the program packet without comment.

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Juggalos waiting to enter a Lawrence, Kansas ICP show in 2003. Credit: Lawrence Journal-World, Aaron Lindberg/AP

Those who are marching, though, feel passionately about their cause. “I have a clean record and the worst law I’ve broken is the speed limit,” says Jack “Slice” Mathis, a Juggalo living in California. “Somehow, according to the FBI, I’m in a gang – and if I ever get caught up on a small charge like speeding, I could be brought up on more serious charges.” The issue of police harassment hit even closer to home for Gir, an Oakland-based Juggalo. “Especially as a person of color, I already have a big red X on my back from the corrupt cops. Now because of the jersey that I wear, or the song on my MP3 player, or the Hatchetman on my right forearm, I’m seen as an even bigger threat? I won’t stand for that,” he said. “I’m from the birthplace of the Black Panthers, so better believe when I say the Spirit of Huey is in me to take a stand for what I believe in.”

While both the left and the right may have gotten overly excited at the idea of Juggalos joining their movements, it looks like Juggalos are staying firmly on one side – their own.