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Notebook: Gang status unfair for Juggalos

Psychopathic

By Andrew Eckhous, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 4, 2012

Imagine, for a moment, it’s the year 2020 and you’re a Justin Bieber fan, all grown up. Drawn together by the scorn of music elitists worldwide, most Bieber fans choose to clandestinely hang out at underground clubs and form close-knit groups. Some, like you, sport JB-flavored tattoos or emulate his haircut.

Occasionally, a Belieber — the cute name you’ve given yourselves — will commit an isolated act of larceny, assault or some other mid-level crime. Though there are no known connections between the crimes — which span the entire country and nearly a full decade — the FBI believes there is a common thread. They quietly classify Beliebers as a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” a term so vague it could probably be applied to the NRA. However, this groups Beliebers with gangs like the Crips and MS-13.

Following this decision, law-abiding Beliebers, like you, are subjected to harsh treatment nationwide. Beliebers guilty of having visible Bieber tattoos are branded “gang members” and consistently hassled by police at routine traffic stops. A speeding ticket turns into an interrogation, and soon you find yourself outside of the car being photographed for no apparent reason. You are no longer a Bieber fan, but a member of the dangerous Belieber crime syndicate.

This may sound absurd and unconstitutional, but it’s happening to one group of music fans. The Juggalos — fans of Michigan-based horrorcore rappers Insane Clown Posse — are being targeted by the FBI, and have actually been placed in company with Crips and Bloods.

But the Juggalos are fighting back. At the annual “Gathering of the Juggalos” event in Illinois — a music festival celebrating all things ICP — band members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope announced their plans to sue the FBI. They’ve created a website where Juggalos can tell their stories and promised to have their legal team review each case pro bono.

While only four states have officially classified the group as a gang, the lawsuit brings up questions about equality before the law. Part of the mystique of the ICP, at least for the Juggalos, is that they welcome people who might be considered outcasts. Many call themselves “scrubs” — they’re the kids who were beaten up in high school or came from broken families. Violent J, real name Joe Bruce, came from poverty himself, but decided to embrace the stigma rather than fight it. He began calling himself a “floob” and was proud of it. ICP grew mostly due to their willingness to embrace “floobs” and “scrubs,” and while it makes for an unusual crowd, it has given many a sense of belonging.

Where equality becomes an issue is the broad net that the FBI is using. The FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment of the Juggalos is painfully vague including conclusions like “Most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism.” Do no other groups of music fans use drugs, get in fights or vandalize?

The report also states that “Juggalos’ disorganization and lack of structure within their groups, coupled with their transient nature, makes it difficult to classify them and identify their members and migration patterns.” So what the FBI is saying is that they don’t have enough information to know who they are or their “migration patterns,” but they still know they’re a gang? This is a blatant violation of the American justice system, and their righteous fight should be supported.

With such a large number of fans — 20,000 attended the 2009 Gathering — it’s inevitable that some of those people will be committing “sporadic, disorganized, individualistic” crimes. And statistically speaking, based on where they were raised, the average Juggalo is more likely to have a criminal record. But that’s no excuse for deserting police work and naming every fan a gang member. If ICP fans can be classified as a gang, why not classify dubstep fans as the same? Go to a Bassnectar show and try to tell me you can’t find drugs, vandalism or the occasional assault.

To many, this issue isn’t serious or worthy of attention. The Juggalos aren’t the most glamorous group, and are often the butt of the joke in a lot of places. But while you’re laughing about the FBI taking down the most scorned group of fans in America, maybe take a second to inspect your own iTunes. You never know which group will be next.