About 1,000 fans of the American hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse marched Saturday in Washington to protest their designation as a street gang by the federal government.
ICP and its die-hard fans, who refer to themselves as “Juggalos,” gathered near the Lincoln Memorial, where they spoke about the troubles they’ve dealt with because of the designation and chanted anti-government slogans.
Marchers held signs that read “Music is not a crime” and “I’m a Juggalo, not a gang member.”
The march marked the latest step taken by ICP and its fans to fight their designation by U.S. authorities as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”
The issue stems from a 2011 FBI report in which Juggalos are said to “exhibit ganglike behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence.”
The ICP is known for its unique brand of horror rap that often includes lyrics referencing drug use and violence. It has attracted a fan base made up largely of poor white people who have built an identity around the music produced by the rap duo and their trademark clown makeup.
“We represent people who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth but instead with a rusty fork,” one member of the group, Violent J, said during an interview in 1995.
Some fans of the rap group say the gang designation has had a severely negative impact on their lives, with some reporting they’ve been fired from jobs, lost custody of their children or been denied housing because of their support of ICP.
“Being labeled a gang member can be a permanent stain on an individual’s life, since it will come up in a simple background check every single time,” the group said on its website promoting the event.
The FBI, in a statement provided to NBC News, said its report was based on information provided by states. The report specifically notes “the Juggalos had been recognized as a gang in only four states.”
“The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. We investigate activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. The FBI cannot initiate an investigation based on an individual’s exercise of their First Amendment rights,” it said.
In 2012, ICP, with the help of the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the FBI, claiming the designation unfairly profiles the group’s fans and violates their First Amendment rights.
A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2014, but ICP won an appeal in 2015 ordering a Michigan court to take up the case. The case currently remains under appeal.
ICP members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, whose real names are Joseph Bruce and Joseph Ulster, are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with four of their fans.
One of the plaintiffs, Scott Gandy, said he had to cover up an ICP tattoo in order to apply to join the military. Another plaintiff, Brandon Bradley, claims to have been repeatedly stopped, questioned and photographed by police in California for wearing Juggalo clothing and having a Juggalo tattoo.
Government lawyers have argued that the FBI report did not label all ICP fans as gang members and did not force the actions taken by any independent police agency, and thus could not be held liable for the actions taken by those police officers.
Unsatisfied with the legal process, the Juggalos marched in Washington in the hope of gaining attention for their cause.
“I didn’t have a problem with this country. Then all of a sudden they technically made it illegal to be a Juggalo. It’s like they took that one thing away that made me not have a problem with the government,” Violent J said in a recent interview with Reason.