Illustration by Luca Depardon

The Radical Politics Behind the Juggalo March on Washington

This generally apolitical music community has received support from both the far left and the far right ahead of their historic march—but what are they really fighting for?

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Sep 14 2017, 6:36pm

Illustration by Luca Depardon

It's almost time for fans of "the most hated band in the world," Insane Clown Posse, to arrive in Washington, D.C. for their scheduled march to protest being designated a "hybrid gang" by the FBI back in 2011. These fans, called Juggalos, are coming from all over the United States to stand up for their right to listen to their favorite music without being criminalized by the FBI or local law enforcement. No one can fully anticipate what the upcoming Juggalo March on Washington is going to look like, but most agree that it will be something to see.

ICP organizing a political rally feels, perhaps, somewhat counterintuitive—if you ask a Juggalo about politics, many of them will be apolitical, especially when hanging out with other Juggalos. That unspoken agreement to leave politics aside is one of the ways they maintain a warm family atmosphere when they get together, whether it's at a concert or at the annual festival Gathering of the Juggalos. Still, the impact of the gang designation on the fans led ICP to action, first by working with the ACLU to fight the label in 2014, and then, in July 2016, to announce a march on D.C. a year later. "We may be the outsiders, the misfits, the weirdos, and the underdogs of the mainstream world, but as a result we have created our own world—one built on a rock-solid foundation of community, creativity, joy, and love," says the official website. "This is our chance to make a difference. A real difference."

The focus on the gang designation and willingness to open their arms to people across the political spectrum seems to be successful at attracting Juggalos who otherwise don't really engage with politics. "I'm not with any political group as both have their good and bad views," said Emily, a Juggalo from Baltimore. "But I'm marching because no one who is a Juggalo should feel their future is limited due to the music they listen to. The purpose of the March rings true to my beliefs— everyone has the freedom of speech, the freedom to be who they want to be. And I'll be damned if someone takes that right from not only my fellow Americans, but my fellow Juggalos."

She added, "I'm bringing first aid supplies in case someone gets hurt—I hope this will be peaceful, but you never know."

The call for support is also being heeded by those who see the FBI's label as indicative of a troubling trend. "Juggalos represent a countercultural element within society that has been denied a more traditional culture and community, so they have established their own as a matter of survival," noted Max, who became interested in the March due in part to having many Juggalo friends. Max plans to attend the March because he stands firmly against the gang designation that has put his friends at risk for increased state harassment. "There's a reason they call themselves both a circus and a family. In many cases, Juggalos come from backgrounds where their lives lack stability, due to poverty, addiction, domestic violence, and the way this instability affects their lives. Through the music, they are given a message of hope, love and acceptance that fundamentally resonates with my political beliefs as well as my humanist philosophical outlook."

It's not just individuals with Juggalo friends who are stepping up in support of ICP's call to protest being called a gang. One of the first groups to reach out, asking how they could best support Juggalos marching on DC, was the largest socialist organization in the country—the Democratic Socialists of America. The local branch plans to provide a "recharge station" for marchers, with free cold drinks and snacks. "DC DSA is supporting the Juggalo march to show solidarity with those targeted by law enforcement," said a representative from the DC branch. "No one should lose their job, custody of their kids, or any other right because of their taste in music. We are an organization that believes in the abolition of prisons and the end to the police state, and we support the Juggalos' efforts to fight for their rights." The DC DSA also drafted an official statement in support of the Juggalo March, noting, "DC DSA is committed to addressing state repression wherever it occurs, and this means offering solidarity and support to groups on the front lines. We do not seek to co-opt the Juggalo March, but rather offer support to those fighting injustice."

Also supporting the March are the Industrial Workers of the World, specifically the General Defense Committee and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. The member-run union for all workers may seem on the surface an odd ally for the Juggalos, at least until you consider how many fans of ICP are underemployed and working class. In an official announcement released in early September, the IWW explained why they were taking a public stand, stating, "Most Juggalos identify as apolitical. Some lean left, others right. We still believe that the March on Washington to protest the gang designation is an issue we should support. Repression targeting a working-class subculture, and setting a dangerous precedent of casting wide nets, has to be challenged. An injury to one is an injury to all."

Another group showing up to support the Juggalos March on DC is Redneck Revolt, a pro-worker, anti-racist organization that focuses on working class liberation from the oppressive systems which dominate their lives. Much like the Juggalos, political ideology is less important to the group than their ability to agree on organizing principles and working together. "Redneck Revolt stands in solidarity with this community march, as it aligns with our belief in the right to community self-determination and self-defense," their statement says. "We see resistance in the streets as one tactic that working class folks can use in their fight for liberation from state repression—especially in the face of a self-interested government of, by, and for the upper class." Redneck Revolt closes their statement with, "in solidarity, whoop whoop"—"whoop whoop" being the rallying cry of the ICP fandom.

It's not just groups on the left side of the spectrum offering a hand to Juggalos, either. Reason.TV, a libertarian website that leans more right than left, did a video focused on ICP's gang designation and how it affects concerns about free speech. Facebook nano-celebrity Pissed Off American, one of the organizers of the alt-right Mother of All Rallies, reached out to ICP and invited them to play on their stage. "I wanna give them (Juggalos) the opportunity to reach a community, the patriot community, who doesn't normally hear them," Pissed off American said in an interview with Juggalo YouTuber Child's Play Ninja. "We embrace anyone who's willing to fly that flag and love this country." Psychopathic Records, however, seems to have turned the offer down in their March edition of the Juggalo Show.

While the approach is different—the right seems more inclined to try to bring Juggalos into their patriot rally, while the left seems more inclined to materially and politically support the Juggalos own rally—it is interesting to see these outreach attempts. Why are political groups coming out in support of Juggalos when Juggalos so often identify as apolitical?

I can't speak for others, but one of the main reasons I'm invested in this March is that my boyfriend is a Juggalo; his friends and family are Juggalos, and this gang designation affects him personally. It's part of why we co-founded Struggalo Circus, a collective coalition of radical Juggalos and radical activists working together to address issues like safety at protests, homelessness outreach, and resisting police brutality. While initially inspired by our desire to offer—without a political agenda—medic care and legal resources to people at the March who may not have easy access to other options, Struggalo Circus plans to continue to find ways after D.C. to be active within our local communities. Judging from the group we've created online, there are quite a few Juggalos who are politically active and just never had a space to be both an activist and a Juggalo. We hope that Struggalo Circus can be open armed enough to be that network and support system for those who are looking for it.

Perhaps, too, some activists have seen this sort of demonization happen before and are concerned about the consequences. Ozzy Osbourne was taken to court in 1986 when one of his songs was accused of influencing a teen to commit suicide, for example. Marilyn Manson's music was blamed for Columbine, leading the musician to write an op-ed in Rolling Stone in his own defense. For every academic study suggesting rap music leads to crime, there is further data to disprove it. The fear-mongering about music and behavior still has real life effects, however, as ICP's gang designation proves. And if Juggalos are the first to be criminalized for their musical taste, are they just a taste of what's to come? "Even though it's happening to a group of people that no one gives a fuck about, when does it stop?" asked Mr. Makanhoes, a Juggalo YouTuber. "It's Juggalos now, but Lady Gaga's Little Monsters could be next."

At the March, people will be speaking on how they have been impacted by the FBI's gang label, from losing custody of their kids to being kicked out of military service. Whether or not you like ICP, Juggalos marching for their right to not be harassed by the State for their musical taste is no laughing matter.

Kitty Stryker is bashing back on Twitter.