The ACLU and Insane Clown Posse Fight The Feds
ICP vs. FBI.
Published: January 14, 2014
Surrounded by a savvy legal team decked out in designer suits, Violent J, aka Joseph Bruce, approached a bouquet of microphones in early January and said, in full clown makeup, “People don’t take us serious.” The moment of deadpan humor aside, this was not the time for jokes.
With cameras snapping, the Insane Clown Posse and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan stood united at the press conference, the unlikeliest of couples. The media had been assembled to cover the announcement of a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU and ICP on behalf of the band’s fans — the Juggalos — against the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The lawsuit’s origins dated back to 2011, when, as part of the DOJ’s National Gang Threat Assessment, the FBI classified the Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” based on nothing more than individual instances of crime. Whatever your personal opinion of the Insane Clown Posse and its fans (and opinions are often strong when it comes to these clowns), the classification was specious at best, especially when reading into exactly what “hybrid gang” means. The same blanket could be thrown over, say, Red Wings fans, folks who like fried chicken, or Bronies. Find enough individual crimes, find a common interest among the perpetrators, and — boom — you have yourself a hybrid gang. Juggalos just happen to be an easy target.
Bruce is not a man to take shit like this lying down. Though his speech is sloppy and bordering on inarticulate mumblings, none of that matters right now. He’s an imposing figure, even with the makeup. By his side is Shaggy 2 Dope, aka Joseph Utsler, a man who also possesses a menacing stare. The two of them, decked out in blue Juggalo sweatshirts, look just about as out of place as two men could look at a buttoned-up, official event like this. And yet they pull it off, for the most part anyway, because these crazy hoodlums are standing on the side of decency and what is right — a place, they say, they are not used to occupying.
“It’s time for the FBI to come to its senses and recognize that Juggalos are not a gang but a worldwide family united by the love of music,” said Bruce.
One paragraph of the FBI’s Gang Threat Assessment document describes hybrid gangs as “fluid in size and structure, yet tend to adopt similar characteristics of larger urban gangs, including their own identifiers, rules and recruiting methods.”
While the report says that crimes committed by Juggalos are, “sporadic, disorganized, individualistic and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft and vandalism,” it also states that “Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity.”
The use of the word “subset” still suggests that a broad classification of all Juggalos as gang members is excessive. The lawsuit claims “that their constitutional rights to expression and association were violated when the U.S. government wrongly and arbitrarily classified the entire fan base as a ‘hybrid’ criminal gang.”
There’s surely more going on here than widespread, empty vilification of a music group’s fans based on taste and attire. Surely people are smart enough to know that individuals committing crimes in similar clothes does not a gang make. After all, the Juggalos are a massive group filled with decent people and those decent people are being unfairly targeted.
Brandon Bradley is a Juggalo from Sacramento, Calif. He flew in for the press conference. He’s not a crook and he’s not a thug. He tries, he says, to “live his life right.” And yet on three separate occasions, according to the complaint, Bradley has been stopped and interrogated by the police due to his personal desire to sport ICP clothing and tattoos. One instance saw Bradley pulled over for jaywalking and forced to pose for multiple photographs of his face, clothes and tattoos. He was let go without a ticket, but the punishment of undue humiliation had already been dished out. “I hate to think of the cars passing by, thinking that I’m a criminal,” he says.
He’s not the only one. Scott Gandy wanted to follow his family’s tradition and enlist in the military but, when the powers-that-be saw his “hatchet man” tattoos (the Psychopathic Records logo), he was denied the opportunity to serve his country. He paid out more than $800 to get the tattoos covered up, but his application was still denied.
Las Vegas-based truck driver Mark Parsons is originally from Detroit and he considers himself one of the original Juggalos, following ICP since the ’90s. With his shaved head and beard, he looks very much like the archetypal trucker. Parsons went so far as to name his own company Juggalo Express, decorating his rig with the hatchet man symbol. As a result, a Tennessee state trooper stopped and detained Parsons — the logo was associated with a gang, after all.
Asked whether he’d ever considered changing the name of his company to make his life easier, Parsons is defiant. “Absolutely not. It’s about the freedom to be who I am. I’m not so much taking a stand for myself as for everybody else,” he says. “Everybody needs a voice, everybody needs to be heard, so we need to do something to get the Juggalo family out of the shadows and into the light. Let them be proud of who they are and not try to hide it out of fear of retribution or harassment.”
> Email Brett Callwood