Rusty is having serious second thoughts about going through with this.
A large man with wire-frame glasses and a goatee — clad in an Insane Clown Posse shirt, naturally — he's traveled more than 2,000 miles from what he refers to as “a little podunk town that’s 30 minutes from the Colorado border” to be in Washington, D.C., today. Still, he’s not without reservations.
“The only reason I’m here is my buddy paid for my ticket, you know what I mean? It was non-refundable,” Rusty explains. “Because I would have told him, ‘Never mind, I ain’t gonna go deal with all that. It’s not gonna turn out how you guys want it.’”
That friend’s reply to the oversized Rusty was, he recalls, simple: “You’re my riot shield.”
It is the afternoon of Saturday, September 16, and Rusty is riding in an Uber to the Lincoln Memorial along with a man named Mike, who is also quite large and also clad in ICP gear. They are only two of the thousands of Insane Clown Posse fans — more commonly known as “juggalos” — set to descend on our nation’s capital today for the “Juggalo March on Washington.”
Rusty’s apprehension stems from the fact that there is a nationalist pro-Trump event billing itself as the “Mother of All Rallies” also scheduled today at the National Mall. Anti-fascism activists already have that event in their sights and are making plans to counter-protest.
In the wake of the violence and chaos surrounding the recent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, anxiety has been running high in the juggalo community in the weeks leading up to the big day.
Photo by Anjeliqa Pratt
The pro-Trump "Mother of All Rallies" was scheduled for the same day as the Juggalo March,.
They are, after all, the only group out of the bunch that the FBI officially considers dangerous. In its 2011 threat assessment report
, the law enforcement agency branded juggalos as a "loosely organized hybrid gang," claiming they "exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence." The members of Insane Clown Posse took issue with the label and joined forces with the ACLU, filing suit against the FBI in an effort to get it removed. A Michigan court threw the case out in July 2014, saying the band and its fans could not prove harm had been done by the classification. In September 2015, that finding was overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals. A new court date has not yet been set.
It's true that Insane Clown Posse's music is vulgar, even violent. Since ICP got its start in the early '90s, the duo has peddled shock-rap with horror themes — your average ICP song tends to clock a pretty substantial body count. Even the group's biggest mainstream single to date, 1997's "Halls of Illusions," sees one man's throat ripped out, one man's throat cut
out and a third man with a broken bottle shoved through his ear before the song is over. But all that blood was spilled as punishment for each victim's sins — one a bigot, one a wife beater, one a child abuser. ICP songs often see evildoers getting their comeuppance. The members of the group have referred to these stories as "parables," and their 2002 release The Wraith: Shangri-La
even includes a song called "The Unveiling," which explicitly states that the band's secret message since the beginning has always been to follow God.
It's also true, though, that some juggalos have committed acts of real-life violence. One fan of the group was sentenced earlier this year to three and a half years in prison
after he chopped off a woman's pinky finger with a machete. He then sliced his own arm, and hers, and the two of them drank their own blood out of a shot glass as a tribute to a juggalo who had died. (The pinky was put in the freezer, to be consumed later.) Then there were the two Maryland men who attempted to carve and burn a juggalo-related tattoo
off of their housemate's arm in 2014, saying he hadn't "earned" it yet.
Those outlandish acts of violence are outliers, the group argues. The March on Washington aims to show the world that juggalos aren't the criminal gang-bangers that the FBI claims them to be.
But Rusty is afraid the whole thing is going to backfire.
"I think it's gonna go south," he says. "It's gonna set that gang label in stone. That's just my opinion. Because then obviously we can't come to a peaceful protest without something breaking out.
"If it doesn’t I'll be surprised," he continues. "Especially with as drunk as I’ve seen a few people this morning, and acting a fool already. It was at 8 o'clock this morning, already drunk, and they’re like, 'You want a beer? You want some edibles?' I’m like, 'Oh god, no dude, wrong thing to do.'"
The towering statue of Abraham Lincoln
perched on the east side of the National Mall has seen many historic sights over the years, but the large group of face-painted, self-professed "wicked clowns" gathered before Honest Abe today would surely give him pause. After all, their assembly is quite a thing to behold.
KRS-One's "Sound of Da Police" plays from a stage facing the reflecting pool at the bottom of the stairs at Lincoln's feet. Thousands of juggalos fill the space, carrying signs with slogans such as "Clown Lives Matter," "Faygo Not Fascism" (a nod to the group's carbonated beverage of choice) and "Grab America by the Posse" (featuring a photo of Donald Trump altered so that he appears to be wearing juggalo face paint). Some entire juggalo families are in attendance; some infants are even painted up like clowns as well.
A young girl, no older than ten, is here with her wicked clown parents. Her sign, which she made herself, is punctuated with hearts surrounding a simple message: "Juggalos should be treated better. Don't judge a book by its cover."
Close to 2:30 p.m., Kevin Gill, host of a juggalo-affiliated internet radio show and master of ceremonies for today's events, takes the stage. He is wearing Psychopathic Records' "hatchetman" logo — according to the FBI, a gang symbol — on his hat, shirt and two separate necklaces.
"Juggalos and juggalettes, welcome to the most important day in juggalo history," he begins. "There's been a lot of monumental events and gatherings and moments and all that shit, but none of it can hold a candle to what we are all doing right now. Can I get a 'whoop whoop' that you can hear in the White House?"
The crowd responds thunderously with a hearty "whoop whoop" — a common greeting among juggalos.
"Today, as you know, is the Juggalo March," he continues. "We've got incredible speakers from in and around the juggalo world that are gonna drop knowledge. They're gonna share their testimonials about their experiences, what has happened to them. And that's why we are here today: to change this bullshit classification, to end profiling of juggalos and to give us back our fucking civil rights and our first amendment rights. Whoop whoop!"
Turn the page as the juggalos make their case they've been harmed by the FBI's designation
One by one the organizers bring out people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the FBI's ruling. A woman from South Carolina, Ashley Vasquez, says she was nearly kicked out of the military thanks to her ICP tattoos. Crystal Guerrero lost custody of her two children because she attended one ICP concert — she now sees them only six hours a week, during supervised visits. Married to a police officer, she isn't even able to appear with her husband in public if he is in uniform, due to department policy. Jessica Bonometti was fired from her job as a Virginia probation officer for simply showing her appreciation for Insane Clown Posse on Facebook, despite having worked four years without one negative review.
Their stories are just the tip of the iceberg. The gang classification has resulted in countless juggalos running afoul of the system. The mere presence of a hatchetman logo on one's car is reason enough for police to stop and search. Even if nothing illegal is found, that same logo is enough to get an ICP fan officially branded as a gang member. Sentences for minor crimes see stiffer penalties due to gang enhancement laws. Many juggalos, who frequently come from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, simply don't have the resources to fight back.
Seated on the lawn watching the proceedings are three young men who stand out in a crowd of standouts. Wearing black denim vests and boots and sporting a flag with an anarchy "A" on it, they look more likely to be fans of anarcho-punk groups such as Crass or Discharge than the horrorcore rap artists on Psychopathic's roster.
And yet right there next to that "A" is a hatchetman.
Photo by Daniel Hill
Wombat, Travis and Max
The men introduce themselves as Wombat, Travis and Max, and explain that they are indeed punk fans, anarchists — and juggalos. They've train-hopped their way here today; last night they were in Richmond, Virginia, for a Dead Boys show. They have their own thoughts as to why juggalos at large have faced such trouble with our nation's top law enforcement agency.
"Basically the problem that the government has with them is that it's a movement of the lower class being together," Travis says.
"Yeah it's mad poor people coming together and supporting each other," Wombat agrees.
"If you can do it to a juggalo — everyone can laugh at juggalos, be like, 'OK, whatever, they’re just juggalos, who gives a shit,'" Travis continues. "But it is a solidarity movement within low-class mainly whites, but also all sorts of people.
"And it’s cool. The message is tight, the music is pretty tight, and they all love each other."
Close to 5 p.m., Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope
Photo by Daniel Shular
Violent J addresses the crowd.
— the members of ICP — take to the stage to address their assembled fans in the same place that Martin Luther King Jr. once gave his famous "I have a dream" speech.
The remarks that follow are decidedly less eloquent than King's.
"If you can bend your backbones like Shaggy can, you should be up in one of them fucking port-a-potties right now blowing yourself," Violent J says, his booming voice echoing across the National Mall. "That's how proud you should be. If it's too nasty up in there, you should be up in one of these governmentally landscaped fine maple trees — blowing yourself. Or playing the national anthem on your skin flute. Something. Just recognize how fucking dope you are right now because you’re here!"
The assembled crowd appreciates the vulgarity. J, a skilled carnival barker with the face of a wicked clown, has them eating out of his hand as he explains that they are on the front lines of a battle for free speech in America.
"I don't know what's going on. I don't know where this is supposed to end with the feds," J continues. "I don't know if they see juggalos as some sort of sheep or testing grounds — if they get away with this, what's next? Who's next in line?"
He makes a good point. If juggalos can be singled out and registered as a criminal organization for nothing more than the music that they listen to, then for what other sinister reasons might this power be wielded?
ICP and its cohorts focus mostly on the musical side of things, saying that if they're a gang, then "the Grateful Dead are the triple OGs of this shit." They wonder when the feds will come after Jimmy Buffet's Parrotheads, or "Justin bitch-boy Bieber's little Beliebers." One juggalo holds a sign saying "Your Music Could Be Next."
But the trouble goes beyond that. With Republicans now firmly in power, there's already been widespread talk from the right side of the aisle about Black Lives Matter and Antifa being terrorist organizations. What happens when the power to criminalize an entire group of people is wielded for political reasons?
"I'm not gay but I would fucking march for the right for two gay people to marry each other if they wanted," J continues. "I would fucking actually march for a redneck’s right for his neck to be red. I don't wanna take nobody’s rights away!"
He goes on to say that he believes everyone has a right to an opinion, and that it would be wrong to try to silence people based on what they believe. Of course, he says it in his own trademark way.
"As you know, taking away somebody’s opinion is no different than sewing their butthole shut," J says. "Do you wanna sew a man's butthole shut? I mean, I might want to watch what happens, in fast forward, but I don't wanna do the actual sewing.
"The point is, fuck discrimination, right?"
Photo by Daniel Shular
Shaggy 2 Dope speaks to his assembled fans.
The tone here is different than the wild free-for-all affair that constitutes the group's annual Gathering of the Juggalos. There, the juggalos slice off their own nipples
, slap each other in the faces while holding turds
, bare-knuckle box each other
, get lap dances from strangers
and draw dicks all over their bodies
. Here the tone is far from reverent, but the juggalos know they are being watched, and they are acutely aware that their behavior today will be used to judge the group as a whole.
J encourages everyone to be on their best behavior.
"Don't fuck up, because they're watching," he says. "They're watching us right now. There's a fed watching you right now with your face on close-up on his monitor. He’s got your face blown up full-screen on his monitor, and he’s got the screen-in screen-technology with a close up of your ass. That's right, and he’s up in a fucking one-man satellite right up there."
J points to the sky as he speaks and then tells the crowd that the man who is watching them is ready to "rain shit all over our fresh parade" if anyone steps out of line.
Shaggy takes the microphone next. He initially has some trouble with the Teleprompter the duo is using. He jokingly says that he's inbred and can't read, playing off of stereotypes sometimes lobbed at juggalos. But when he finds his bearings, he too comes out firing.
"There's many Americans who don't fucking wanna see any more played-out, 196 fucking 4, old guard, old money, old wrinkly redneck whiskey-throat bigot bitch-boy richie dickhead douchery discrimination and this played-out bullshit in our country anymore," he says. "The good people, the hard-working people, the heart-having, free-thinking, moral-minded people are demanding better treatment for each other.
"We juggalos believe in all lives, all nationalities, all religions, all sexual preferences, all networks, all ages, sizes, education and any other thing that separates us from each other," he continues. "Whether you're talking about a woman’s fuzzy neddin" — juggalo slang for vagina — "hair, from little peach fuzz to Duck Dynasty
length beards, it don't matter. Whether you're talking about the size of a man's butthole, from pinky toe ring size to Big Pun's briefs — R.I.P. — if a ninja" — juggalo slang for friend — "has a soul, then a ninja matters immensely. Everybody living should mean the world to us."
After a rousing half-hour speech that mentions buttholes a few more times, the march itself begins. The thousands of juggalos in attendance line up in an orderly fashion and press forward, signs aloft. They chant about how "juggalos will never die," "fuck hate," "fuck the FBI" and on and on.
At one point, punk icon Ian MacKaye, of Dischord Records and Fugazi and Minor Threat fame, is seen sitting on his bicycle off to the side of the march, taking it all in.
The route passes near the spot where that so-called "Mother of All Rallies" is taking place; the attendance there is wholly lackluster. Apparently, full-tilt book-licking nationalism is played out — or at least taking a breather — and the group is uninterested in the wicked clowns in the street. Juggalos probably have them outnumbered four to one anyway. Rusty's concern was all for naught.
After a lap around the National Mall that takes about an hour, the marchers return to the stage at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial for the concert portion of the day's events.
As night falls, ICP takes the stage for its performance. The crowd raps along with one of its favorite acts, characteristically throwing Faygo everywhere and even crowd-surfing a shopping cart to the front of the stage. The scene is jubilant and peaceful — the March of the Juggalos has gone off without incident.
To any observer, especially any observer who's watched any number of rallies or events in America in recent months — from Charlottesville to Berkeley and all points between — it's as clear as can be that this group of people is not a criminal organization, but rather a group of mischievous misfits banded together by a love of a particularly wild form of music. As usual, the government has aimed all its ire at a group that's nowhere close to the real threat, but is among the least able to fight back. This group is staunchly apolitical — neither aligned with the pious right, the pious left or the godless intellectuals — and far more concerned with matters of off-brand soda than matters of governance. They'd never be here in the first place if they hadn't been singled out.
The fact of the matter is, juggalos are no more a threat than the KISS Army of yesteryear. The members of the media on the scene know it, the fans themselves know it, and Rusty knew it all along.
Hell, even that towering statue of Lincoln knows it. Hopefully he'll tell the FBI.