The ACLU and Insane Clown Posse Fight The Feds
ICP vs. FBI.
Published: January 14, 2014
Bruce and Utsler know that their music is controversial and explicit, but they also correctly claim that they don’t cram it down anyone’s throats. “We don’t open for other bands,” said Bruce. “You don’t have to be subjected to us on TV when you’re waiting for your Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus video. We’re not on the radio. You have to find it yourself. It’s a private club.”
That’s a compelling point. The Insane Clown Posse and its Psychopathic Records label has been an underground, grass-roots organization since its inception two decades ago.
“Juggalos have been fired, denied housing, and subjected to searches, just for wearing a shirt,” said Bruce. “They’re punishing fans for listening to us, and that’s bullshit. We’ve been around for 20 years. Some people got a hatchet tattoo 15 years ago, when they were young. They might be dentists now, raising their family. They get stopped, the cop sees the tattoo, and suddenly they get put on the gang database. It’s insane.”
Two days after that press conference, Metro Times joined the Insane Clown Posse at the Psychopathic Records office in Farmington Hills. It’s a cool place; two beautiful English bulldogs greet visitors, as does Sugar Slam, aka Michelle Rapp, celebrity Juggalette and wife of Bruce. It’s more carnival than record label.
The Josephs are particularly chatty this afternoon, perhaps even more animated than usual, because they feel that the FBI is hitting below the belt by going after their fan base.
“You know what’s crazy about this?” asks Bruce. “It seems like this shit would happen in 19-fucking-50 or something. Here we are in 2014, and this crazy shit is happening. Really? The only reason the whole world ain’t up in arms is because it’s us. Clowns. ICP. Foul music. Everybody hates us anyway.”
“This is beyond anything that’s happened before,” Utsler adds. “Not just banning the music itself, but punishing the fans of the music for listening to it.”
Bruce takes the lead in conversation, while Utsler sits back a little. Bruce explains that they thought it was funny at first when they learned that the Juggalos had been added to the FBI’s gang list back in 2011. Cool, even. Soon though, the stories of police harassment started to roll in from the Juggalos. And then the group themselves inadvertently invoked the fury of the law.
“I never told nobody this, but one time when we were shooting the movie Big Money Rustlas out in California, we were on our way back to the hotel after shooting, and we got pulled over by a cop,” says Bruce. “The cop was totally harassing us over the Juggalo thing. I just thought this was one singular cop being a dick. But he was going to town. He was checking our tattoos, totally searching the car, tripping out over the face paint. We’re like, ‘Man we’re shooting a movie up the street.’ I didn’t know that shit was everywhere. So even we’ve experienced it. Luckily our records were clean.”
So the Insane Clown Posse understands what the Juggalos have been complaining about. These guys have lived it too. There are four plaintiffs on the lawsuit, plus the ICP guys, but countless other Juggalos have suffered because of the gang listing. Bruce and Utsler receive letters every day. “When we’re on the road doing shows and we do meet-and-greets beforehand, we hear stories upon stories, all with the same theme,” says Utsler. “They’re getting fucked with because they’re Juggalos. If not by the police, then by probation officers, child services, everybody. Just messing with people for being Juggalos, and that’s nuts.”
Bruce is overwhelmed that so many people are turning out to help a band widely considered to be the most hated in America. Only last year, GQ ranked ICP the worst rappers of all time. That distinction notwithstanding, ICP has sold millions of records, yet continues to be reviled and dismissed by the mainstream media. For these guys, to have people like the ACLU and a table full of lawyers on their side is an alien concept. People have ICP’s back, and they don’t really know how to react to that.
Here’s another thing too. Launching a record label is fairly easy in this day and age, but keeping it afloat after a couple of decades and making it profitable, thriving even — that’s the tricky part. How many people do you know who run an independent label and make even a dime? The two men of ICP are savvy businessmen. They know their audience, and they know how to sell product to that audience. Bruce doesn’t try to hide the fact that this ruling has hurt the band’s business.
“This is affecting us in a lot of ways,” Bruce says. “Not only is it affecting the Juggalos, but it’s fucked up our business. Our warehouse doesn’t sell what it used to no more because people are scared to wear the shit. Hot Topics don’t carry our shit no more. We used to be in the front window of Hot Topic. When Hot Topic was carrying our shirts, we were rivaling bands like Green Day in sales. They sell millions of records and we don’t even sell 200,000 these days. But our merchandise was on par with them because Juggalos wear the shit.”
Without a doubt, the band is hurting. Attendance at last summer’s Gathering was noticeably down, forcing a change of venue this year. It would be easy to be cynical and assume that this lawsuit is solely about business interests, but that’s not the case. It would also be naive to think that it has nothing to do with business. Of course it does — Bruce and Utsler work hard to make money out of Psychopathic Records.
If the ruling goes in their favor, then ICP will probably reap financial rewards. To ignore that fact would be silly. The Juggalos who already consider them legends will put them onto an even taller pedestal because the band went to bat for its people. They might be a joke to many, but those that they care about respect the group.
“This legacy means something to us, in our world,” Bruce says, later requesting that the band be photographed in a more serious light instead of doing the usual whoop-whoop poses. “Everything that we’ve done means something to us. If all of a sudden, the FBI comes along and says, ‘This is a gang,’ that totally wipes out everything that we’re about and everything that we’ve done, and it just shits on it all. We’re proud of what we’ve done, and if we don’t fight the FBI on this, we just accept it, that just shits over everything. ‘No, you don’t have fans, you don’t have respect. You’re just a big fucking fat gang, you’re no different than the white supremacists.’ How fucked up is that? Fuck that, we have to fight that. Even if it takes all our money and wipes us out, it’s very important.”
If the lawsuit is successful and the Juggalos are removed from the gang list, what differences will that make to the lives of the fans and the group? How will their lives be improved? Bruce and Utsler believe that the people who have been afraid to wear the shirts and display a sticker in the back window of their cars will immediately start waving the flag again. They believe that the family (or “fam”) will once again represent. Right now, far too many of those fans don’t want to risk jail for a shirt, an understandable mindset.
“If you get pulled over, maybe you always carry a little satchel of weed in your pocket,” says Bruce. “A lot of Americans do. You don’t want to get pulled over, so you take the sticker from your back window. I think if we get removed from the gang list, Juggalos are going to put two or three stickers in their back window and people are gonna wear that shit to school, to work and to the mall. Wear that shit in public again. We used to see a Hatchet man in the back window every day. Today, you don’t see any stickers in the back windows, not even at the Gathering.”
Perhaps a greater concern should be the very real notion that shit sticks. Even if this lawsuit goes the way of the Juggalos, the damage may have already been done. After all, racial profiling is illegal and immoral, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
“Before this even happened, Juggalos were discriminated against all the time anyway,” Utsler says. “But not like they are now, now that it’s official and they put a stamp on it. So it’ll probably return to what it used to be. You get hassled, but at least you’re not getting your head cracked open by the police.”
“Of course, we’re worried about that shit,” Bruce adds. “That shit is gonna happen. But at least the legacy will be free. Maybe it won’t happen for long, a couple of years or whatever. It’s like the Deadheads following the Grateful Dead. Eventually cops will just know that it’s not a gang. To think it’s a gang is so fucking ridiculous. Like there’s organized moves being made, we’re going for this neighborhood, and we’re shipping guns.”
Whatever the lazy, misguided reason that the Juggalos ended up on the gang list, there’s a very real sense that the haphazard file of newspaper clippings is nothing more than a physical manifestation of fear of a socioeconomic subset, not evidence of a larger hybrid gang.
“It’s because there are Juggalos out there committing crimes,” Bruce says. “When they pulled them over, everybody’s wearing the same shit, just like a gang. They’re all Juggalos. So the cop puts two and two together and says, ‘This is a gang.’ They’re not committing crimes in the name of Juggalos, for Juggalos, or because they’re Juggalos. They just happen to have their favorite band T-shirt on, and they’re committing crimes. Dolly Parton fans commit crimes. Our fans, they’re very devoted and very proud.”
Right now, with the lawsuit pending, the band is seriously out of pocket, having paid for hundreds of lawyer hours since 2011. The ACLU is now helping out, but the band has spent a lot of money already and will spend plenty more fighting the feds. But to these guys, it’s worth it. They are, they say, prepared to go broke over it.
“This could happen to anybody; that’s why it’s important that this shit don’t happen,” Bruce says. “It’s very important that we win this case, and even more important to us is that everybody knows we’re fighting it. We don’t mind if we’re the world’s most hated band. We’ve been facing that forever. When you attack our fan base, that’s different.”
Utsler sits forward and asks, “If we just took it up the ass, who knows who it could happen to next?”
And that is a very sobering thought indeed.
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