On Monday in Michigan’s Eastern District federal court, attorneys for the United States Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by the band Insane Clown Posse (ICP) and four of its fans, known as Juggalos.
The lawsuit was originally filed in January, three years after the FBI and Justice Department (DOJ) first added Juggalos to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report, stating that ICP fans were a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”
The plaintiffs say that classifying music fans as a gang is ridiculous and inaccurate.
ICP has sold more than 7 million albums since releasing their first album in 1992, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The group has five gold records and two platinum records, which translates into a lot of Juggalos.
The National Gang Intelligence Center's website still lists the 2011 report, which emphasizes the supposed gang threat of the Juggalos. It claims that they are “rapidly expanding into many US communities. Although recognized as a gang in only four states, many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence. Law enforcement officials in at least 21 states have identified criminal Juggalo sub-sets, according to NGIC reporting.”
The report has a photo of a female "Juggalette" wearing the signature black-and-white clown makeup continually worn by ICP and, therefore, many Juggalos. In the photo, she points what appears to be a toy gun at the camera.
The complaint against the DOJ was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Mark Parsons, Brandon Bradley, Scott Gandy, Robert Hellin, Joseph Bruce (one half of ICP, also known as Violent J), and Joseph Utsler (the other half, also known known as Shaggy 2 Dope). It claims Juggalos have experienced police harassment and serious legal repercussions since being classified as a gang.
Michigan attorney Saura Sahu, who represents the four Juggalo plaintiffs with the ACLU, told VICE News the goals of the lawsuit are straightforward.
“The Juggalos just want the Department of Justice to stop treating them as a gang and as gang members,” Sahu said. “They ask that the DOJ stop publishing and making available a report that broadly paints them as a gang, and for the DOJ to stop using their logos, sportswear, and music to identify them as gang members, which they are not.”
Sahu told VICE News that Juggalos do not fit the legal definition of a criminal street gang according to 18 US Code 521, which classifies a gang as any association of five or more people that exists primarily to commit felonies involving drugs and/or violence.
Farris Haddad, an attorney for ICP and a self-described Juggalo, told VICE News that Juggalos are just like any other music-based subculture. “I think people just don’t understand Juggalos, but if they were told that the FBI labeled goths or Deadheads a gang, people would just think that’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.
Haddad said that through a survey announced at the 2012 Gathering of the Juggalos, lawyers have fielded more than 5,000 complaints from people who said they were stopped, detained, or worse because they displayed some sort of affinity for the band. This includes pictures of Hatchetman, who is to horrorcore music as the Grateful Dead’s dancing bears are to Deadheads.
“We were shocked — it was even worse than we thought,” Haddad said. “We found Juggalos who had their child custody rights taken away, who were fired from their jobs, discharged from the military, or who lost their housing. They said it was because they had an ICP tattoo or had CDs, bumper stickers, things like that.”
A FBI spokesperson declined to comment on pending lawsuits. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to VICE News's request for comment.
VICE News obtained a copy of the government’s motion to dismiss, which mostly argues procedural aspects like “failure to demonstrate a redressable injury” and “lack of constitutional standing.”
But it also offers a slap in the face to those who might consider the Juggalo gang designation as an affront to civil liberties. The motion states that the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) was created, “Not to consider or protect interests alleged by Plaintiffs. Rather, it is plainly geared towards dissemination of information for use by law enforcement agencies. It cannot reasonably be assumed that Congress intended the Plaintiffs to have a say in the FBI’s intelligence analysis.”
In other words, the Justice Department is saying it can call whomever it wants a gang, and it’s none of your business.
Powell, the trial attorney for the Justice Department, argued at Monday’s hearing that Juggalos do not appear in the 2013 version of the gang threat assessment. However, the 2013 report didn’t show up online in VICE News searches, and it wasn’t listed on the NGIC website.
The plaintiffs filed a response at the hearing, saying the NGIC report offers no way to differentiate between a few bad seeds and “the vast majority of Juggalos… ordinary, law-abiding citizens who associate with one another to enjoy the music, to support the musicians, and to discuss and share a philosophy of tolerance and acceptance.”
The 15th annual Gathering of the Juggalos takes place this July in Ohio.
Follow Mary Emily O’Hara on Twitter: @maryemilyohara
Photo via Wikimedia Commons