Juggalos have become the darlings of the left and the new face of anti-racist activism

Juggalos have become the darlings of the left and the new face of anti-racist activism
Insane Clown Posse has been spouting anti-racist and anti-Confederate lyrics for decades. Getty Images
Insane Clown Posse has been spouting anti-racist and anti-Confederate lyrics for decades. Getty Images

They hate elites, the rich, Confederates and racists. They mask their faces in paint, worship the hardcore hip-hop artists Insane Clown Posse and have a top priority: defending their family and their honor.

They are the Juggalos, and they’re coming en masse to march Saturday on Washington.

The nominal reason is to protest their classification as a gang by the FBI, which had been discussed for years. But their march falls on the same day as the pro-Trump “Mother of All Rallies,” launched by the far-right patriot movement, with organizers involved with the recent — and violent — rally in Berkeley, California.

The strange face-off immediately led organizers and spectators to wonder: Is there a confrontation coming?

As Juggalos prepare for their journey to Washington, they’ve become the unwitting avatars of the fight against racism in President Donald Trump’s America. They didn’t ask to be held up as shock troops against the far right, but their anti-racist and anti-elitist reputation set them up as natural antagonists to Trump-style nativist xenophobia.

Soon enough, Marxist Juggalo memes popped up on the Facebook page for the march, and swathes of Twitter leftists swapped their online avatars for versions with the classic black-and-white Juggalo face paint. Major socialist and leftist contingents announced they would show up to march with the Juggalos in their battle against the state.

“Repression targeting a working-class subculture, and setting a dangerous precedent of casting wide nets, has to be challenged,” the Industrial Workers of the World wrote in a recent pledge for support against Juggalos repression. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

So — regardless of anything else — Saturday could present two very different models for organizing an aggrieved white working class.

“Trump and Insane Clown Posse each have an unusual connection to an unusually loyal, even pathologically obsessive, fan base,” author and self-made Juggalo expert Nathan Rabin wrote for Cracked. “They also share a number of carny hustle/psychological appeals that the left could learn from while trying to figure out how to appeal to the angry voters who made the nightmare of President Trump happen.”

Juggalo culture is often characterized as a self-selected family of cast-offs practicing radical acceptance. Many say they come from broken homes, abuse or poverty. The group also boasts a history of anti-racism. ICP has burned Confederate flags on stage, and wrapped them around scarecrows that get thrown to the audience only to be torn to shreds.

The Facebook page for the Juggalo March on Washington are covered with anti-racist and socialist memes. They always kick up controversy.
The Facebook page for the Juggalo March on Washington are covered with anti-racist and socialist memes. They always kick up controversy. Facebook

ICP’s first album, released in 1992, featured a song called “Your Rebel Flag” about violently murdering Confederates and racists. As today’s country’s pearl-clutching moderates wag their fingers at anti-fascist violence, and conservatives cling to Confederate monuments as proud symbols of Southern “heritage,” Juggalos have known where they stood for decades.

“Rednecks call it pride/ Pride for what?/ White pride for slavery it sickens my gut/ I see that flag as a challenge that you want to fight,” Violent J raps on the 2015 song “Confederate Flag,” warning listeners they’ll get “punched in their faces, reppin’ the racists.”

For liberal elites who want to see rural whites as irredeemable racists, Juggalos complicate the narrative.

“There’s Juggalos all over the South that don’t wave it/ Proud of where they’re from but that flag, they hate it/ Cause they understand it’s a symbol of slavery,” Shaggy 2 Dope raps on “Your Rebel Flag.”

Which is not to say that Juggalos are what a typical liberal would call “woke.” Beyond the sheer macho gruesomeness of ICP lyrics, the horrorcore rappers have been taken to task for casual misogyny and homophobia. The Juggalos’ yearly drug-fueled jamboree, the notorious Gathering of the Juggalos, is thick with a widely accepted show-me-your-tits ethos that’s unavoidable as a part of the festivities.

A contingent of Struggalo Circus at an anti-racist protest in Berkeley, CA.
A contingent of Struggalo Circus at an anti-racist protest in Berkeley, CA. Carly Mitchell

But there’s been a lot of progress through hard work outreach to the community, said Kitty Stryker, the co-founder of Struggalo Circus, a contingent of Juggalos who work on anti-racist activism. Juggalos now have their own feminist contingent called Lette’s Respect, and last year’s Miss Juggalette pageant hosted its first transgender contestant at the Gathering.

Juggalo culture’s emphasis on family and acceptance offers an opportunity for growth, Stryker said. But it takes time.

“Yes, there are issues, as there are issues with all of us,” she said. “You can ostracize them, or you can pull them in to talk and do the work.”

Addressing the darker behaviors in Juggalo subculture means confronting “call-out culture,” a point of fierce tension in online social justice circles. Liberal social media spaces can be punishing toward those who aren’t armed with the full range of acceptable language and behavior.

“In the social justice sphere, if you fuck up, it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your online life regardless of if you’ve grown,” Stryker said. “I don’t know how effective that is. If you aren’t demanding people grow, what’s the point of calling them out?”

A galvanizing moment for Juggalos came when the FBI classified the group as a gang in 2011. While the FBI classification sounds absurd, the consequences are very real.

In preparation for the march, Juggalos began sharing their stories of oppression — there are stories of Juggalos being kicked out of school for wearing ICP T-shirts, Juggalos harassed by the police and Juggalos fired from their jobs. Multiple Juggalos said they were denied the chance to serve in the military because of their ICP tattoos, an issue that led to ICP joining with enlisted servicemen in suing the Department of Justice over the gang classification.

Their classification as a gang creates a kinship with marginalized groups targeted by law enforcement, whether by race, religion or politics. In that spirit, Black Lives Matter chapters have voiced support. As Politico recently reported, the Department of Homeland Security has begun classifying antifa as “domestic terrorists,” creating the context for similar treatment of those who identify as anti-fascist. (Whether antifa will make an appearance Saturday remains unclear.)

Since 2013, Insane Clown Posse has been waging a legal battle against the FBI to clear Juggalos of their gang designation.
Since 2013, Insane Clown Posse has been waging a legal battle against the FBI to clear Juggalos of their gang designation. Carlos Osorio/AP

But not all Juggalos are down with the cries for solidarity. Across the Facebook page for the march, Juggalos still argue about whether their family is being co-opted to choose sides in a symbolic fight between anti-fascist left resistance and Trumpian far-right conservatism. It’s not just the left — Juggalos that spoke to Mic said organizers on the right have staked a claim on the Juggalo march.

“There’s a belief among some Juggalos that both sides want us to be canon-fodder — which, let’s be real, has been traditional way political parties have dealt with the poor since time immemorial,” Stryker said. “Juggalos are right to be suspicious of that.”

And so, Stryker advises groups like the Democratic Socialists of America to show up with material support. Since the presidential election, the DSA’s become the largest socialist group in the United States since World War II, partially through simple community programs like the New Orleans chapter’s initiative to install free brake lights for those who need them. For the Juggalo March, the Washington, D.C., chapter is making free stickers and buying up Faygo, a Detroit-based soda and the Juggalo drink of choice, to distribute during the march.

“It’s less about lecturing people on Marxism and more about reaching out to a population we don’t represent well,” Allison Hrabar, the DSA member coordinating the pro-Juggalo contingent for the upcoming march, told Mic.

Will Saturday’s march take a violent turn? Juggalos interviewed for this article, along with the sentiment expressed on countless Facebook discussions about the march, suggest they intend on keeping things peaceful. They’re just looking for supporters in their fight against the FBI.

And as for their prospective new friends?

“Through a compassionate exchange of information,” the Industrial Workers of the World wrote in its pledge, “we can emerge as comrades.”