Nation

Bad news for Juggalos: the FBI’s gang label could be here to stay

Juggalos took to the streets of Washington, D.C., earlier this year to protest their identification as a gang by the FBI.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Juggalos took to the streets of Washington, D.C., earlier this year to protest their identification as a gang by the FBI.

WASHINGTON — Tucked in the FBI’s 2011 gang-intelligence report, between ominous write-ups on cross-border human trafficking and organized crime in the Caribbean, was a short section warning about the growing menace of the Juggalos.

The facepaint-wearing, Faygo-drinking followers of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse were a ‘‘loosely-organized hybrid gang,’’ the FBI said. Though their crimes were ‘‘sporadic’’ and ‘‘individualistic,’’ the report claimed, their ‘‘gang-like criminal activity’’ seemed to be on the rise. Law enforcement should be wary, the FBI said.

On Monday, Insane Clown Posse, better known as ICP, and a group of self-proclaimed Juggalos, who derive their name from an ICP song called ‘‘the Juggla,’’ experienced what could be a fatal setback in a years-long legal battle to shake the FBI’s designation.

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The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the FBI’s decision to call the Juggalos a gang wasn’t a ‘‘final agency action’’ — government jargon for an official, legally binding rule — and therefore couldn’t be challenged in court.

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The ruling threw out a lawsuit brought by ICP frontmen Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope in 2014 alleging that the FBI’s findings trampled their constitutional rights and caused a venue to cancel one of their concerts at the request of law enforcement.

They were joined in the case by two Juggalos who claimed that the gang designation had gotten them in trouble with police, and two others who said it jeopardized their military careers. All the plaintiffs said they had never knowingly been involved in a criminal gang.

The appeals court found that the Juggalos failed to show that the FBI’s label had resulted in legal consequences. The FBI report was just an annual gang-activity report presented to Congress, the three-judge panel wrote, and did not contain any marching orders for other law enforcement agencies.

‘‘The various reputational and personal harms suffered by Appellants in the present case may be the practical consequences of the Juggalo gang designation,’’ the court wrote, ‘‘but they are not a direct or appreciable legal consequence of the Juggalo gang designation.’’

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The court added that ‘‘no government officials are required to consider or abide by the gang designation.’’

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Juggalos planned to appeal the ruling. If they do, it’s possible — albeit unlikely — that the case will wind up before the US Supreme Court. Otherwise, the gang designation could be permanent.

The label has long been a sore spot for ICP and the country’s legions of Juggalos, known for wearing black-and-white clown makeup and sporting tattoos and clothing featuring the band’s insignia of a man running with a hatchet in his hand. They’re not gang members, they say, just fans of the group’s music and ideas.

Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, whose real names are Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, say they resent that the nation’s top law enforcement agency has decided to include their followers on a list alongside MS-13 and other violent street gangs.

‘‘This is no different than an AC/DC tattoo or a Prince tattoo,’’ Violent J told Time in a videotaped interview earlier this year, holding up a necklace featuring the ‘‘hatchetman’’ insignia. ‘‘You could have that tattoo and you could be entered into a gang database and if you’re sentenced for a crime you’re sentenced as a gang member.’’

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In September, Juggalos gathered on the National Mall to protest the gang label.

‘‘It’s like labeling Deadheads a gang,’’ Amie Puterbaugh, a Juggalo from Ohio, said at the protest. ‘‘It’s like labeling Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters a gang. If we don’t stand up for our First Amendment rights, who is next?’’

According to the FBI, some Juggalos have been involved in assaults, robberies, and drug dealing, though the 2011 report noted that only four US states recognized Juggalos as a gang. The agency said ‘‘many criminal Juggalo sub-sets’’ were made up of mostly transient or homeless people who ‘‘pose a threat to communities.’’

There have also been a handful of salacious Juggalo-involved incidents that have made national headlines, including a case earlier this year in which a Wisconsin Juggalo was sentenced to prison for hacking off a woman’s finger with a machete and drinking her blood to honor the band and a dead comrade.

In their lawsuit, ICP and the Juggalos say they associate with each other to listen to ICP’s music and talk about the group’s ideas, not to engage in criminal enterprises. The gang designation violated their due process and free association rights under the Constitution, prompted law enforcement agencies to single them out using their tattoos, clothing, and insignia, and that as a result they had been discouraged from publicly identifying as Juggalos.

They had also suffered individual harms, the plaintiffs alleged. One Juggalo who runs a trucking business in Utah called Juggalo Express, which uses the group’s ‘‘hatchetman’’ logo, said he was detained while he was on the road because a state trooper suspected him of being in a gang. Another, an Army corporal, said he worried about being disciplined or discharged from the military because he has visible Juggalo tattoos.

‘‘Among the supporters of almost any group — whether it be a band, sports team, university, political organization or religion — there will be some people who violate the law,’’ the lawsuit read. ‘‘Inevitably, some will do so while sporting the group’s logos or symbols. However, it is wrong to designate the entire group of supporters as a criminal gang based on the acts of a few. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.’’