The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) and a group of four ICP fans filed suit in federal court Wednesday claiming that the government has violated the rights of its fans, who are known as Juggalos.
Four Juggalos are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The suit charges that the Department of Justice’s decision in 2011 to designate the Juggalos — who paint their faces to look like clowns and wear Juggalo symbols — as a “hybrid gang” was “arbitrary and capricious” and has resulted in problems for the fans.
“Plaintiffs challenge the federal government’s unwarranted and unlawful decision to designate a musical band’s supporters as a criminal gang, thereby subjecting them to significant harm, including repeated police harassment and denial of employment,” the suit reads.
ICP and the ACLU say the label violates the fans’ right to free association and expression. The suit acknowledges, “As with any large group, a relative handful engage in criminal activity, sometimes while wearing Juggalo symbols,” but points out, “Juggalos are a ‘family’ of people who love and help one another, enjoy one another’s company, and bond over the music and a philosophy of life.”
“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 Steinberg, the ACLU of Michigan’s legal director, said. “Branding hundreds of thousands of music fans as gang members based on the acts of a few individuals defies logic and violates our most cherished of constitutional rights.”
The four Juggalos included as plaintiffs charge that the gang label has hurt them in some capacity.
“It’s unfair that police are treating fans of ICP like criminals just because of the music we like,” Juggalo Brandon Bradley said. “Even though the Juggalo community has had a positive effect on my life, now I feel I have to cover my tattoos in certain areas or risk being harassed by police. It’s wrong to make me hide who I am.”
The suit requests a judge order the DOJ to remove the Juggalos from its list of gangs.
“It’s time for the FBI to come to its senses and recognize that Juggalos are not a gang but a worldwide family united by the love of music,” said ICP member Joseph Bruce (known as Violent J). “There has never been — and will never be — a music fan base quite like Juggalos, and while it is easy to fear what one does not understand, discrimination and bigotry against any group of people is just plain wrong and un-American.”