The ACLU and Insane Clown Posse Fight The Feds
ICP vs. FBI.
Published: January 14, 2014
Parsons, who had to shut his company down about a month ago and seek work as a truck driver for another firm, lost time and money because of these delays, but he’s determined not to change. “Hopefully [being removed from the gang list] will make things a little easier and take us off the radar of law enforcement, but if I’m not doing anything wrong out there, I don’t have to worry about that,” he says. “It’s more of an inconvenience for me, and for most of the others. I just wish more of the family would stand up and try to take the lead here, try to get us all back into a better light.”
Andrea Bonaventura has been listening to ICP for 10 years, and writing about them for various publications around town for much of that time. She was teased at school because of her admiration for the group, though the law hasn’t harassed her yet. The Hamtramck-based Juggalette thinks that it’s ludicrous that her people have been classified as a gang, although she can see why people on the outside looking in might get confused.
“I feel like the Juggalos are one of the more rowdy fan bases,” she says. “I feel like ICP has been really big on saying that the Juggalos are part of a big family, and that’s maybe where people are confused. Juggalos will chant things at shows like, ‘FA-MI-LY, FA-MI-LY.’ So I guess I can see why people might get confused, but they’re really not a gang. They’re just a bunch of lower-middle class kids. They get rowdy at concerts maybe more than other fans, but I definitely don’t understand why they’ve singled out ICP’s fans to do this to.”
Bonaventura’s confusion is entirely understandable, but sympathy from the pubic will likely be limited — it’s far too common and easy to paint regular, blue-collar folks with the white-trash brush. Fortunately, they have the right people standing with them.
“To paint the Juggalos as a whole is arbitrary and unconstitutional,” says Saura Sahu, an attorney with Detroit-based Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, a firm acting on behalf of the Juggalos. “These people have trouble applying for a job. We want to overturn the excessive and over-broad gang designation. They want to win the right to be left alone. Juggalos are fighting for the right to be themselves. The FBI wants to demonize the entire group, and they should have solid evidence that it’s a criminal organization before doing so.”
Speaking at the press conference, Michael Steinberg, legal director at the ACLU, said, “The ACLU has always stood up for unpopular groups, religious groups, and racial minorities. Targeting the Juggalos is similarly unconstitutional.”
Of course, he’s right. This isn’t about personal taste, or closely held opinions about the intelligence of Juggalos. This isn’t a class war, and it’s not an excuse to sling mud. Cynics might think that this is a cleverly spun publicity stunt on behalf of the clowns, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The ACLU is a proud organization with a history of helping citizens in need. Those people care not about moving ICP merch.
This is about the freedom to listen to what you want, to wear what you want, and to gather with like-minded people, without the ever-present threat of police harassment.
To be brutally frank: The Insane Clown Posse has built an empire by keying into a previously undertapped demographic — unprivileged white kids. It’s a counterculture, looked down upon, and even frowned upon, by those outside of it. Some people reading this right now will be sneering and feeling superior — they never got tattoos, they listen to Black Eyed Peas, and they have other social groups — more respectable ones — to call their own. Perhaps because of that, the Juggalos will go to extremes to display their devotion to the “family,” wearing shirts emblazoned with the logos of ICP and others artists signed to the Psychopathic label and getting inked with tattoos of those same logos.
This is why ICP felt action needed to be taken. In August 2012, at the annual Gathering festival, the band announced that is was going to be suing the FBI. The following month, attorney firm Hertz Schram filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act, asking why the Juggalos had been designated a gang. They received back as much info as the FBI was willing to give — mainly articles from local newspapers around the country (a real deep-dive investigation there) — and saw nothing to justify the “gang” tag. When contacted by Metro Times, Detroit Media Coordinator Supervisory Special Agent David Porter declined to comment.
This case certainly is unusual, if not unique. While the Grateful Dead’s legion of loyal Deadheads were allegedly subjected to police harassment, they were never officially labeled a gang. Writing in the book Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings, Deadhead David L. Pelovitz quoted Gene Haislip, who headed LSD enforcement at the Drug Enforcement Agency, as saying, “We’ve opened a vein here … we’re going to mine it until this whole thing turns around,” referring to the targeting of cars sporting Grateful Dead stickers. Fast-forward to the Juggalos, and that targeting has simply been made official.
Bruce was visibly emotional throughout the press conference, on the verge of tears even. While the band is certainly the benefactor of the cash flow siphoned from the pockets of ICP’s legions of fans, the duo has a more emotional bond than most acts with their followers.
“It’s amazing to have all of these people help us,” he said. “We’ve sold millions of records, we have platinum and gold plaques hanging on our wall, but we’re clowns so we don’t count. I could tell you that merchandise sales have been cut in half since this happened, that chain record stores have dropped our merch.”
> Email Brett Callwood