The Day the Clowns Marched On Washington

The Juggalo March took place on Saturday in Washington, D.C, to protest the group’s FBI classification as a gang. It well outdrew the pro-Trump “Mother of All Rallies” nearby.

Daniel McKnight

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Whoop! Whoop!” The rallying cry could be heard throughout the National Mall as locals and tourists alike looked on curiously at the face-painted men, women, boys, and girls converging on the grounds, making their presence known with those two words.

The Juggalos were in Washington, D.C.

Announced by Insane Clown Posse during their annual Gathering of the Juggalos last year, the Juggalo March served as a retaliatory demonstration against the FBI classifying the rap act’s fans—Juggalos—as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” who engages in “gang-like behavior and criminal activity and violence” back in 2011. The FBI cited drugs, theft, and assault committed by ICP fans, impeling ICP’s Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J—alongside the American Civil Liberties Union—to sue the FBI and demand that it remove Juggalos from its list of gang-affiliated groups, which includes violent gangs like the Crips, Bloods, and MS-13, in 2014. However, the case was dismissed, with ICP receiving a chance to appeal the following year (the group is still waiting on their court date).

“The authorities may not understand the Juggalos, they may not like their music, they may not like their face paint, but it doesn’t give them the right to punish them for their beliefs,” Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, told The Daily Beast. “The Juggalos are simply fighting for the basic American right to freely express who they are and to gather and share their appreciation of music.”

Although the FBI has not classified Juggalos as a gang in subsequent reports, the Bureau has failed to remove or retract the label. As a result of this, Juggalos throughout the country have been discriminated against. The testimonies offered by Juggalos prior to the actual march spoke to that.

“One concert was all it took. And now I see my children two times a week for six hours,” Crystal Guerro told the crowd on a stage built near the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, recounting how she lost custody of her kids after attending an ICP concert.

Laura King, a 30-year-old who is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in music business, spoke about how her probation officer placed her in the system as a gang member because of her Hatchetman (an ICP mascot) tattoo, while Jessica Bonometti shared how she was fired from her job as a parole officer for “liking” a few Juggalo pictures and artists on Facebook.

“So instead of going to work everyday and helping people who have fallen on hard times and are stuck in the criminal justice system, I do nothing at all, because no one will hire me. No one will hire me because of the music I listen to,” Bonometti said.

At the root of discrimination lies misunderstanding, and Juggalos are very often misunderstood. They are fans of a Detroit music group who have been labeled “The Worst Band in the History of the World, Ever.” Their aesthetic—clown or corpse facepaint, drinking and spraying the soft drink Faygo, wearing Hatchet Gear, piercings, tattoos, and twisting their hair in a way that resembles spider legs—is easy to ridicule. Their leaders are crass and offensive (for their pre-march speech there was plenty of cursing, as well as frequent references to “buttholes” from Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J). On top of all of that they are also classified as a gang group. Juggalos are either taken too seriously or not at all.

But by organizing and hosting the 1,500-strong Juggalo March, which was formally endorsed by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Juggalos were able to demystify people’s preconceived notions of who they are and what they represent. The overwhelming majority were responsive and welcoming, politely answering questions from reporters and other non-Juggalos passing by on their way to the Lincoln Memorial. Most responses centered around one word which gets to the heart of why ICP, Psychopathic Records, and the Juggalo subculture means so much to so many people across the country: family.

“We take care of one another, even if we don’t know each other,” Stephan, a Juggalo from nearby Baltimore who declined to give his last name, said. “I was homeless at one point in time and I’ve actually had other Juggalos help me out and they didn’t even know me, just because of the unity and the familyhood through the music.”

Family!” was a rallying cry alongside the whoops yelled throughout the day, especially once the Juggalos took to the streets to march. The DSA was on hand to distribute “Faygo Not Fascism” stickers as well as four-point anti-capitalist pamphlets, while onlookers snapped pictures and videos. Others followed the march from the sidewalks, with some voicing their support of the Juggalos and their free speech battle.

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“This is about coming and seeing what they’re all about but also showing support for them, for this group of people who have experienced a type of oppression,” Kyle M. said. “And they’re responding to it with fellowship and a community. It’s really incredible.”

A few hundred yards to the east, pro-Trump activists were staging the “Mother of All Rallies”—an event describing itself as the “Woodstock of American rallies” with the aim of sending “a message to Congress, the media, and the world: we stand united to defend American culture and values.” Sadly, that demonstration, peppered with with president’s signature red Make America Great Again hats, drew only a few hundred people.

Upon returning to the National Mall from the march, the main event transformed into a party, featuring performances from Eazy E’s oldest son Lil Eazy-E, as well as speeches from Psychopathic Records artists Sugar Slam, Rude Boy, and Jumpsteady.

Then came a headlining performance from ICP.

Most of the Juggalos were surrounding the stage, while others preferred to lay in the grass, resting their feet from all the standing and walking they did earlier. The celebration was well-deserved—the Juggalos had successfully pulled off a peaceful demonstration defending free speech while introducing themselves to the world in a monumental way.

The Juggalos, it seems, are nothing to be afraid of.