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Insane Clown Posse Sue FBI Over Juggalos' Gang Classification

"All we're trying to do is be like the Stephen King of music," says Violent J

January 8, 2014 10:30 AM ET
Insane Clown Posse
Insane Clown Posse
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Horrorcore-rap duo Insane Clown Posse, along with four fans, are suing the Department of Justice and the FBI, demanding that the agencies purge the fan name "Juggalos" from their list of gang members. "Organized crime is by no means part of the Juggalo culture," reads the complaint, filed this morning in federal court in Detroit. 

Check out photos from the 2013 Gathering of the Juggalos

The suit stems from the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center classification of Juggalos as "a loosely-organized hybrid gang," one with multiple affiliations. Lawyers for ICP and the ACLU claim that the profiling of Juggalos — based on their distinctive clown makeup and Hatchetman tattoos — lacks reasonable suspicion of gang affiliation. As a result, the "unconstitutionally vague" designation has since intimidated many from expressing themselves and denied them protection from unreasonable searches, according to the filing.

"The FBI had the impact they wanted: they scared people away from attending concerts and from affiliating together for the purpose of listening to music," Saura Sahu, an attorney assisting the ACLU of Michigan, tells Rolling Stone. He cited the decline in turnout at the latest Gathering of the Juggalos, ICP's annual five-day festival, where police last August arrested numerous people on drug-related offenses outside the event.

"We don't fit in anywhere," Insane Clown Posse's Violent J tells Rolling Stone. "And when people don't understand you, people fear you. All we're trying to do is be like the Stephen King of music. We like to tell horror stories." 

The band's legal preparation began last year, when their attorney Howard Hertz contacted the ACLU about representing the four Juggalos. The suit follows ICP's 2012 complaint alleging that the FBI had violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to disclose adequate documentation justifying its gang classification, which is currently still pending. "None of the information revealed showed any significant link between any significant percentage of the Juggalos and the kind of criminal behaviors that the Department of Justice is supposed to be targeting through these gang initiatives," Sahu says.

Yet last July, according to the complaint, a plaintiff who drives a semi-truck sporting a Hatchetman logo was stopped, searched and detained by a Tennessee state trooper. In 2012, an Army recruiter refused to enlist a different plaintiff unless he covered or removed his Hatchetman tattoo. And plaintiff Robert Hellin, an Army corporal who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea, is "in imminent danger of suffering discipline or an involuntary discharge" because of the tattoos he got years before Juggalos were deemed a gang.

"At first I thought, wow, that's a compliment that our fans are that heard-of and that renowned," Violent J says. "Then when I realized what's happening to the fans because of it, then everything turned around."

Federal law defines a criminal street gang as a group of at least five people engaging in violence or a drug-related crime. Yet while the DOJ's National Gang Threat Assessment warned that Juggalos were "rapidly expanding," three years ago, they said they "are not motivated to migrate based upon traditional needs of a gang," given their "disorganization" and "transient nature." They are active in at least 21 states, the assessment continued, though only four states recognize them as a gang. The report does not specify how many Juggalos make up the country's 1.4 million gang members. 

The defendants have until March to either respond to the complaint or request that a judge dismiss the case. "We don't know if we can beat the FBI," Violent J says. "But we're damn sure not gonna sit there and accept it."

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