Rock journalist Steve Miller has written acclaimed biographies about musicians like Iggy Pop and Johnny Ramone, but for his latest book, he turns to the "worst band in the history of the world," the Insane Clown Posse and their fans known as Juggalos. Miller'sJuggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World They Made interweaves two stories: how Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope escaped Detroit's impoverished suburbs to create a new music genre with great financial success and why the FBI has labeled the Juggalos as an organized gang. We sat down with Miller under Mike Busey's tent at the Gathering of the Juggalos to discuss police profiling, the FBI's stupidity, and ICP's musical brilliance.
Broadly: Why did you decide to write a book about ICP and Juggalos?
Steve Miller: I like ICP anyway, and it was the FBI thing that sent me over the edge. I understood what had happened with regards to the Justice Department's decision to put Juggalos on the Gang Threat Assessment list. I knew it was a raw deal, and there was a First Amendment issue. It's a combination of ICP being good—and for some reason being branded as bad—and Juggalos being misbranded, and then the FBI.
How did the cops start profiling Juggalos?
They profiled Juggalos the same way they profiled anybody else. They realize there were people that they could target. They maybe saw so and so committed a crime, so now you've got to watch these guys. Oh, you've got a Hatchet on your car? We gotta watch these guys. It's a form of profiling. It was wrong headed. They said, "These guys have a tendency to crime," and they got it wrong.
They simply assumed that Juggaloism leads to crime. The fact they saw was a guy that was a Juggalo committed a crime, maybe two, maybe three. Then they're starting to go, Juggalos must be criminals. What do Juggalos do? They hang out here. They gather at other places.
How did the FBI get involved?
The FBI sent out emails to police agencies and said can you identify these groups [that commit crimes]. Four states had Juggalos and identified them as gangs. They said, What we've seen is Juggalos, and they've been acting as a gang and committing crimes. The FBI comes out with this declaration that Juggalos are a gang. When you saw what these departments were submitting as proof, all you saw were a bunch of news clips. As I point out in the book, that leads to crime grants, which are hugely competitive and are a lot of money.
Why has ICP been branded as bad music?
I think this all the time: There's something I'm missing. I don't think they're bad. And I thought I had fairly good taste in music.
How do they fit into Detroit's musical history?
If you know Detroit, you know ICP just like anyone else you know about. They crossed over to rock more so than Kid Rock or Eminem. Their roots would be in [Detroit] rap, but they manage to rock it out pretty well. I don't think there's much comparable to what they do. When you can create your own genre, that's going to be hard to market unless there's a big corporation that really wants to single out an audience. They created a successful business that thrived despite Detroit's best efforts to kill businesses.
How did ICP manage to sign with Disney, and then other major labels, without selling out ever?
You've got a product that nobody can make money off unless you work at it, like the Psychopathic Records independent label thing. They knew how to run a business, and they've managed to do it without selling out by making something that's not marketable to the masses. You think about any other music, [like] punk rock, they figure out a way to make money off it. Grunge, or the early Seattle sound, they figure out a way to make money off it. The idea with selling out usually comes from making money.
Did ICP figure out how to make money running their independent record label, Psychopathic Records, which they started after they left the majors?
Sure. Like any small business, you can if you figure out your margins. I hate to portray it that way, because we are talking about a creative act. Anytime you have a successful indie, you have solid management and music that people want to buy.
Where do stereotypes about Juggalos come from?
Probably just fear. It's easy to do a drive by and look at something on the web, especially now. You could go through, do a web search, and pretty much find any kind of thing you want, depending on what you're looking for. There's that stereotype that they're poor, but I just saw a guy pay 6,900 bucks for [an item] at a [Juggalo] auction. You go through the auction tent, and you go, "These guys aren't poor." There's a blanket condemnation of poverty that people ascribe to the Juggalos. I definitely didn't get violence. I didn't see it. I've seen more violence at punk rock shows.
Why are people afraid of Juggalos?
People are always afraid of something that they don't understand.