Insane Clown Posse and fans win appeal in 'gang designation' suit

Sep 18, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of Insane Clown Posse and their clown paint-wearing fans — commonly known as Juggalos — who want to see their moniker removed from a 2011 FBI gang list, arguing that Juggalos have suffered because of the gang label.

The initial lawsuit, which was filed in January 2014 with the American Civil Liberties Union, was the subject of a Metro Times cover story by Brett Callwood last year. The suit was dismissed Federal Court for the Eastern District of Michigan because the plaintiffs didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit. Yesterday's ruling, however, means the ICP fans will get their day in court. 

Howard Hertz, a lawyer working for ICP, tells us that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit did a 180 on the lower court, recognizing the plaintiffs' standing. Hertz says, "The trial court said we didn’t meet any of the standards, and the court of appeals said we met all of the standards."

Hertz tells us, "We’ll see what happens. You never know with a case. But at least we’re back in the game. ... "

Stronger words came from ICP in a prepared statement that read: "Discrimination against someone based solely upon the type of music they listen to is just flat out wrong and it's time that the legal system acknowledges that." 

The Faygo-spraying Farmington Hills-based "horrorcore hip-hop" duo has been around since the early '90s, and is known for its music and live performances. Over the years, ICP has built an unusual hip-hop empire, including the Psychopathic Records label, a wide array of merchandise, and even a wrestling league. But what has made ICP such a sensation is the fans, referred to as "the family," especially when they get together for such events as Detroit's annual Hallowicked showcase, or the Gathering of the Juggalos. Such shindigs are practically tailor-made for the numerous "subculture" photoessays, articles and documentaries they've inspired.

Perhaps this uniformity tipped the FBI off. In 2011, the agency's National Gang Threat Assessment labeled the Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” (whatever that means). Plenty of Juggalos suspect that the designation plays into the way they've been pulled over by law enforcement for decorating their cars with ICP stickers. In fact, the lawsuit says as much, noting "state and local police routinely stop, detain, interrogate, photograph and document people ... who do not have any connections to gangs, because they have exercised their First Amendment rights to express their identity as Juggalos by displaying Juggalo symbols." (Will Sigler told us an excellent story about that once, in our own "Ask a Juggalo" column.)

Hertz says the suit's allegations of harm weren't just limited to improper stops, detentions, interrogations and searches, but denial of employment based on Juggalo identity. Apparently, the designation even entered into custody hearings.

"It’s an interesting issue," Hertz says. "This has been going on for years already, and it’s good to see at least that this court gets it. We still have to prove our case, but at least it’s not being tossed out."