ICP confronts the FBI in court
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Metro Detroit rap group Insane Clown Posse has made national headlines in recent months, not for their controversial comic book horror lyrics or popular television series, but for challenging the FBI, which has labeled ICP fans a criminal gang. The case brings light to the subjective way the FBI designates gang affiliation.
In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation shocked the music world by designating fans of the metro Detroit-based rap group ICP, who call themselves Juggalos, as gang members. The FBI’s directive was sent to local and state police departments across the nation, who immediately began treating anyone identified as a Juggalo as a dangerous gang criminal.
“It is a quintessential civil liberties case challenging government abuse and supporting the right of people to express themselves without fear of police persecution,” said Michael J. Steinberg, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan legal director at a press conference in January attended by ICP, the group’s legal team and Brandon Bradley, a Juggalo from Sacramento, Calif. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Federal Justice Department and against the FBI on behalf of the Juggalos.
The fans, who number in the hundreds of thousands across the nation, often wear clothing or tattoos with logo art from the group’s record label, Psychopathic Records, and its catalogue of music. They are known for unusual and often rowdy behavior, like backyard wrestling or spraying Faygo soda on each other during shows, but amongst each other they promote peace and acceptance.
“Being a Juggalo has made a huge positive difference in my life,” said Bradley, who said he has been interrogated by police three times for the tattoos he wears. “I’m proud to wear a Juggalo tattoo because it represents the love I have toward the Juggalo family and our message to everyone, the message that everyone deserves to be accepted.”
“The FBI’s gang designation has caused real lasting harm to the lives of the Juggalos,” said Joseph Bruce, known as Violent J of ICP, at the press conference. “Parents have lost custody of their kids, they’ve been fired from jobs, they’ve been denied housing. They’ve been subjected to illegal searches and sometimes added to a gang database simply for walking down the street wearing an ICP T-shirt. That is punishing our fans for representing us.”
The FBI report officially denotes Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” citing the criminal behavior of some as well as “gang-like behavior.” The report demonstrates a vague classification stating, “because of their multiple affiliations, ethnicities, migratory nature, and nebulous structure, hybrid gangs are difficult to track, identify and target as they are transient and continuously evolving.”
Among the hundreds of gangs cited in the document are the Moorish Nation, described as “separatist” and present within the United States Army, and the Moorish Science Temple, listed in the schedule of gangs in Missouri. The Moorish Nation refers to the diaspora of African peoples settled in the Americas prior to European colonization, a birth nationality established by the Kingdom of Morocco. Noble Drew Ali is the founder of the Moorish Science Temple, which introduced the Moorish Holy Koran to America in the 1920s.
The issue of gang affiliation has most recently affected ICP’s plan for their 15th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos, which was scheduled for August in Missouri before local residents learned of the gang label. The contract has now been cancelled, leaving the Farmington Hills-based company with a short deadline to relocate.
Psychopathic Records, founded in 2002, grew to become one of the most successful independent labels in the nation within the first ten years of the company’s history, and have continued releasing new albums, films, concert tours and music videos to this day.
“We’ve been here 20 years, things have been happening in our own way in the underground for 20 years,” said Violent J. “Since this gang thing has happened, everything is changing. It’s changing the way things have been in our Juggalo universe. And I just want to say we know our music is controversial, we know that it’s explicit, whatever you want to call it, but we don’t cram our music and we don’t cram our style down anybody’s throats.”
“As any Juggalo would tell you, we’re not a gang, we’re a family,” said Joseph Utsler, also known as Shaggy 2 Dope. “We’re a diverse group of individuals united by a love of music and nothing more. We’re not a threat, a public menace, or a danger to society.”