- Juggalos are fans of the horrorcore-rap duo Insane Clown Posse.
- The subculture is characterized by wearing face paint and dressing up as clowns.
- Many Juggalos say they want to subvert class hierarchies and build a familial community.
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This month, Juggalos came together for their 21st annual Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio, offering a new deluge of imagery of chaotic clown behavior. The major fans of horrorcore-rap duo Insane Clown Posse are widely known for wearing intense face paint, dressing as clowns, wearing hatchet symbols, and drinking Faygo soda.
While it’s hard to track the exact number of attendees, previous Gatherings have drawn upwards of 20,000 people, organizers told the IndyStar in 2019.
But decades into the existence of the Insane Clown Posse fandom, it remains largely misunderstood by mainstream society.
The community was labeled by the FBI as a non-traditional gang in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. The report highlighted a handful of crimes committed by fans of the Insane Clown Posse as “sporadic, disorganized, individualistic,” and said these crimes “often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism.”
For the last decade, the Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalos — alongside the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan in an unsuccessful 2014 lawsuit — have fought this label.
“The Juggalos are fighting for the basic American right to freely express who they are, to gather and share their appreciation of music, and to discuss issues that are important to them without fear of being unfairly targeted and harassed by police,” Michael J. Steinberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, said in a 2014 press release announcing their federal lawsuit fighting the government’s classification. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FBI could not be sued for infringing on freedom of expression rights.
Violent J, one-half of the Insane Clown Posse, claimed at an ACLU of Michigan press conference in 2014 that the FBI’s report had caused Juggalos to unfairly lose jobs, be denied housing, and even lose custody of children.
The subculture persists despite its reputational challenges. Many members of the community say the real culture of the Juggalos is one that seeks to upend class hierarchies while building a community founded upon familial bonds.
JessieJayne Dough, a Juggalette (a female Juggalo) from Pennsylvania, attended the Gathering for the first time this year.
“To me at least, there’s no level of love and community and just people being able to safely and happily be themselves, however weird or different it might be, than what I experience at any ICP show,” Dough told Insider.
The Juggalos are fans of the Insane Clown Posse, a rap duo whose albums tell stories in a fictional universe
In the simplest terms, Juggalos are fans of the Insane Clown Posse, representing a predominately white, working-class subculture of people of all genders, many of whom feel like outcasts from mainstream society. As Vox reported in 2017, a Juggalo is just a fan in the same way a Belieber or Swiftie is devoted to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, respectively.
Originating in Detroit in the early 1990s, the Insane Clown Posse — Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler) — have developed a complex musical universe of symbols, themes, and aesthetics that have reverberated through the community since.
In their first album, 1992’s “Carnival of Carnage,” the duo introduced the narrative of a traveling carnival of spirits who enter upper-class neighborhoods to punish the rich for their crimes against the working class.
With each subsequent album, Insane Clown Posse (often called “ICP”) has introduced new characters, like the Ringmaster, the Great Milenko, and The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, each of whom has their own story and function within the greater arc of the Dark Carnival, or the extended Insane Clown Posse musical universe. Each installment is referred to as a Joker’s Card.
Fans quickly began to follow the group after their first album, with the term “Juggalos” originating from an off-hand comment during a concert performance of the song “The Juggla.”
There are no official numbers for how many people identify as Juggalos, though the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment reported that there were 1 million self-identifying Juggalos and Juggalettes.
There’s also evidence that many youths who are homeless identify as Juggalos “because the group’s music embraces poverty and being an outsider in mainstream society,” according to a 2017 article published in the Child Psychiatry & Human Development scientific journal, which also found that “Juggalos are stereotyped as being violent, undereducated, poor, racist, crime-committing youth.”
Insane Clown Posse music is horror-themed, but not without purpose
Much of the music in the Dark Carnival is indeed violent and horror-themed, with songs about chopping up bodies or murdering an entire family in hopes of luring one’s ghost lover back.
But in most cases, this terror serves a narrative purpose: often, the violence is explained in the lyrics by Insane Clown Posse as retribution for the working class or an attack on racism, but more simply, it’s a metaphorical expression of anger originating from systematic oppression.
That said, literal violence isn’t part of what it means to be a Juggalo. Most Juggalos assert that their community is more about peace and love than the hatchet symbols and scary clown costumes might suggest.
I got into it all by total accident but the community, the people, the music — it saved me a little, it gave me hope.JessieJayne Dough, a Juggalette
The most significant embodiment of this is through the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, the multi-day music festival featuring numerous performers, wrestling matches, parties, and generally carnivalesque behavior, culminating in an Insane Clown Posse performance in which typically everyone gets sprayed with Faygo, a soda brand popular in the midwest.
This year, the Gathering was held from August 19 to 22. The Daily Beast reported that the festival was “slightly scaled-down” from previous years, though writer-photographer Igor Smith cited Juggalos hugging as the primary activity he witnessed throughout the festival. “Jackass” member Steve-O and Chris Hansen of “To Catch a Predator” made appearances, and Vanilla Ice, Danny Brown, and Juggalo rapper Ouija Macc were among some of the performers.
Research has suggested that the annual Gathering fosters a community bond
The clown facepaint many Juggalos adorn during the festival, as well as practices like spraying Faygo, may actually serve to enhance the community bond. Face-painting, in particular, serves to highlight Juggalos as part of the community separate from the rest of society and offers a unique method of bonding and creative expression. It’s something Insane Clown Posse has themselves been doing for nearly every public appearance since their beginning.
This dynamic is something the late sociologist Karen Bettez Halnon explored in reference to the Gathering and other music festivals, describing it as embodying what she coined as “grotesque realism,” a “potentially limitless challenge to the structural and moral orders of everyday life,” per a 2006 study.
As Halnon explained in her research, acts like costuming and becoming sticky with soda function like uniting rituals among Juggalos. Anyone can be a Juggalo, but to do so requires aligning with an aesthetic that challenges social norms. Quite literally, being a Juggalo requires making a clown of oneself. For that reason, though, the theme of family is paramount — if you’re down with the clown, as they say, you’ve got an extended family thousands of Juggalos strong.
“I got into it all by total accident but the community, the people, the music — it saved me a little, it gave me hope,” JessieJayne, the Juggalette, told Insider.
“There’s nothing like the way these shows and everything about the Gathering make you feel. It’s really like family on so many levels.”
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