A sticky spew of Faygo soda snuffs out the looming glow coming from Bic lighters left and right, but no one in the crowd seems to mind. The Bics and their owners are being dosed by their heroes, after all. For many stuffed into the concrete Seven Flags Event Center in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 8, being sprayed by liters of Faygo's off-brand root beer by two overweight, middle-aged rappers dressed as clowns is a dream come true.
This is the Insane Clown Posse — a hip-hop duo made up of rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, who dress up as evil clowns and talk about chopping up whores and how gosh darn great God's wonders are with equal zeal. They have a substantial, cult-like following, and their most hardcore groupies have their own name like any powerful pop act: Juggalos.
They're known for painting their faces, chugging Faygo and listening to horrorcore. They've also been classified as a gang by the FBI — something fans called "stupid" and the American Civil Liberties Unions described to Mic as "unjust and problematic." The band and its fanbase are locked in a deep web of appeals trying to clear their names.
The band has been fighting this "unjust" pigeonholing since Juggalos were first classified as a "hybrid gang" in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. The term "hybrid gang" was new. They got their own category, a "nontraditional," hard-to-pin-down subset on the same list as the Bloods, Crips and Latin Kings. Juggalos made the list because of drug charges, disruptions of the peace, robberies, thefts and "to a lesser extent, murder," according to the National Gang Intelligence Center's report.
This was an extreme and inaccurate representation of "the Juggalo family," as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, who both declined to comment for this story, told Rolling Stone in September. Knowing they couldn't fight this stigma alone, they drafted lawyer Farris F. Haddad, the ACLU of Michigan and multiple other law firms to their legal team. The team filed two lawsuits against the FBI.
The first was a discovery case requesting specific details about why the Juggalos had been classified as a gang in the first place. A district court dismissed the case.
In the second case, though, the ACLU was involved, aiming to fight the classification. They claimed the gang affiliation infringed on Juggalos' First Amendment due process rights to free association and expression.
U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland dismissed the case on June 30, 2014, because the plaintiffs were unable to prove the FBI's actions were unconstitutional. However, the legal team representing the Juggalo's filed for an appeal, and on Sept. 17, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's dismissal, ordering that case be considered. However, the real battle has yet to even begin.
Haddad isn't just a lawyer — he's also a Juggalo. He's been a fan of ICP since he was 12 years old growing up in Michigan. He was already familiar with both the clowns and counsel, so it was natural he'd defend Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, ICP's rappers sans their pseudonyms.
"Frankly, we thought it was kind of a joke when it first happened," Haddad told Mic of the original gang categorization. He, the band and most fans found it astonishing the FBI even knew about them, let alone cared enough to denigrate them. But it wasn't a joke, and it affected Juggalos in a real way no one anticipated. Much like the ICP's soda-infused concerts, their case against FBI has been full of surprises.
In 2012, Haddad appointed a trailer as a makeshift law office at the Illinois Gathering of the Juggalos, a time for most members of the subculture to drink beer, boast their face paint-stained pride and enjoy lyrics like: "Fucking magnets, how do they work?" But Haddad discovered identifying with the Juggalo label wasn't all fun and Faygo for everyone.
The gang status was affecting devotees' lives in unforeseen ways. According to Haddad, one Juggalo had been threatened to be discharged from the military because of his ICP tattoo. Others lost their jobs because of the music they listened to. A father came forth saying he'd lost custody of his children because of the poster on his wall.
"It was really depressing," Haddad said, but it only steeled his resolve to move forward with the case.
A lean man boasting a graffitied face and a top hat stumbles out of the crowd to go get more beer. He's been thoroughly soaked in soda. Clowns in green, sequined jumpsuits rigorously wave yellow and black flags that say "Fuck you" as the guys warble, "Fuck wine coolers. Fuck chickens. Fuck ducks. Everybody in your crew sucks." They pop bottles with the beat and continue to drench their crowd.
Kurt Daly is no stranger to Juggalo life. He's a 35-year-old super fan from Lawrence, Massachusetts. He has tattoos of the ICP's hatchet-man logo, as well as the faces of the band members permanently etched on this upper right arm. He's met "Shaggy and J," as he calls them, and once bought a VIP concert package that allowed him to come on stage and dump out liters of Faygo on fellow ICP enthusiasts.
But even Daly has had a hard time accepting the FBI-prescribed status. Daly was initially hesitant to share his name and refused to reveal his occupation. He doesn't want to be known as an affiliated gang member. He's never been in trouble with the law; he has a wife and two kids and he'd be a squeaky-clean citizen, save one catch: "I'm proud to be a Juggalo," he said.
A bit of a loner, Daly discovered ICP as a teenager when he needed it the most. "I didn't really have a lot of friends, but I found a connection with their music," he told Mic.
Though that phase in his life was 20 years ago, Daly still thinks the guys are delivering an important message. "They help people get from weird places to good places," he said. "They make you feel part of a family."
"I think it's normal for a fan base to think of themselves as a family," Matthew Donahue, a lecturer in the pop culture department at Bowling Green State University, told Mic. "It seems odd to me that the FBI is focusing in on Juggalos. I think you have to look at the individual — not a group that happens to have the same taste in music."
Haddad thinks ICP has a good chance at winning the battle for Juggalo justice. The next court date has not been set, but it should happen some time within the next three months, Haddad said.
"We're very confident," he said. "We have the law and the constitution on our side." He's hoping that this time they'll be able to bank on the right to freedom of expression in the First Amendment.
The FBI and its trial attorney from the Justice Department's Civil Division declined to provide a statement for this story, as the case is still ongoing. It's not yet clear how they plan to approach and justify their case or the impact it will have on the lives of the Juggalos when they do.
Back at the concert, though, these troubles are far from everyone's mind. Everything reeks of stale root beer. Everything is sticky. Juggalos chant their signature "whoop whoop" as the band pauses for a short Faygo break. A child-like voice comes over the speakers, repeatedly chanting "Faygo break" with a "Wheels on the Bus" flair. The crowd goes nuts as the clowns come out with, not liters, but buckets of Faygo to unleash.
Like Daly said, "This is family."