Insane Clown Posse Sues FBI for Labeling Fans as a 'Hybrid Gang'
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.
Insane Clown Posse is going to war -- legally -- against U.S. government agencies that have designated its fans, the Juggalos, as "a loosely affiliated hybrid gang."
A lawsuit was filed Wednesday in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of ICP members Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joey Utsler) and four Juggalos claiming that their constitutional rights of free expression and association and due process have been violated due to the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigations applying the gang designation in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. The lawsuit charges that the designation is wrong and without merit and should be removed.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is representing the Juggalos while the Detroit law firm Hertz Schram P.C. is representing ICP in the case.
"When the [gang] label first came out, I laughed at it. I had no idea how much it would effect us," Violent J said during a press conference Wednesday at the ACLU office in Detroit. "Now it's like a growing disease. It's affecting everything ICP does. We're going to fight this to the death, 'cause it's not true. It's stupid. It's ridiculous."
Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope acknowledged that merchandise sales have dropped considerably since 2011, as has attendance at concerts -- including the group's annual Gathering of the Juggalos summer festival, which lost more than $700,000 this year and will be relocated from Cave-In-Rock, Ill., where it's been held since 2007, to what Violent J said would be a "smaller" venue for 2014. Retail chains have also stopped carrying ICP music and merchandise, he added.
"We're not a gang," Shaggy 2 Dope said. "We're a family -- a diverse group of men and women united by our love of music, and nothing more. We're not a threat, a public menace or a danger to society … and it's time the FBI recognizes that. We will prevail in this fight to clear the Juggalo family name, because not to would be bullshit."
Brandon Bradley from California, one of the four Juggalo plaintiffs in the suit, told the press conference that he had been stopped and harassed by police on multiple occasions because of his Juggalo attire and tattoos. "I never imagined being in a situation where I could be listed as a violent gang member just because of my T-shirt," Bradley said. "The idea that my photo is in a police database marking me as a gang member is scary."
Hertz Schram filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in September of 2011, and attorney Howard Hertz said that the firm received 102 pages of documents from the FBI, "mainly newspaper articles" about the band and the Juggalos. Hertz said another FOIA request filed by MuckRock uncovered "inconsistent and conflicting documents from the FBI … emphasizing to me a lack of transparency with respect to this issue."
Saura J. Sahu, the ACLU's cooperating attorney from the firm of Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone, added that "this (gang) designation is having real impact on real Juggalo music fans across the country," adding that another of the plaintiffs, Scott Gandy, was told he couldn't enlist in the U.S. Army because of his Juggalo tattoo. Sahu and said he's confident ICP and the Juggalos will win the suit.
"The basic point … is really clear, to overturn this excessive and overbroad gang designation," Sahu explained. "We want the Justice Department to stop the harassment of these folks who have been suffering for over two years now … people who had nothing to do with any criminal gang and are simply exercising their First Amendment right to identify themselves as Juggalos. We're hoping we will win back their right to be left alone."