Insane Clown Posse Defends Fans, With F.B.I. Lawsuit
The Michigan rap group Insane Clown Posse filed suit on Wednesday against the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, saying that the United States government had made the “unwarranted and unlawful decision” to classify fans of the band as criminal gang members, leading to their harassment by law enforcement and causing them “significant harm.”
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit by lawyers for the band and for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Plaintiffs include the Insane Clown Posse founders Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, who perform as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, and whose fans call themselves Juggalos.
Also listed as plaintiffs are four Juggalos from Nevada, California, North Carolina and Iowa, who offered details of incidents in which they said they had been subjected to police harassment or other punishments for identifying with Insane Clown Posse.
Brandon Bradley, from Citrus Heights, Calif., and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said at a news conference in Detroit on Wednesday that he had been stopped and questioned by police on several occasions because he wore Juggalo tattoos and clothing. He said that after a lifetime of feeling like an outsider, the music of Insane Clown Posse “told me I wasn’t alone.”
He added that he was standing up “for people like me who are being discriminated against, just because of the music we listen to.”
“I’m a peaceful person and I try to live my life right,” he said.
The suit said, “Among the supporters of almost any group — whether it be a band, sports team, university, political organization or religion — there will be some people who violate the law.”
It added: “However, it is wrong to designate the entire group of supporters as a criminal gang based on the acts of a few. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.”
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment on the suit.
The seeds of this lawsuit were sown in 2011, when the F.B.I.’s National Gang Intelligence Center published a report that described Juggalos as “a loosely organized hybrid gang” whose members were “expanding into many U.S. communities.”
The report, titled “National Gang Threat Assessment: Emerging Trends,” cited a 2011 incident in which “two suspected Juggalo associates were charged with beating and robbing an elderly homeless man,” and another in 2010 in which “a suspected Juggalo member” shot and wounded two other people.
The report also included a photograph of a woman described as a “Juggalo member,” wearing face paint similar to the kind used by Insane Clown Posse and pointing a gun at the camera.
In its lawsuit, Insane Clown Posse said that, even more than other hip-hop artists whose music “uses very harsh language to tell nightmarelike stories with an underlying message that horrible things happen to people who choose evil over good,” the band’s own songs offered “hopeful, life-affirming themes about the wonders of life and the support that Juggalos give to one another.”
The lawsuit asks the court to set aside the findings of the 2011 F.B.I. gang assessment, order the elimination of “criminal intelligence information” on Juggalos from government and law-enforcement databases and prohibit the gathering of further information without “sufficient facts” of a “definable criminal activity or enterprise.”
Mark Parsons, a Juggalo from Las Vegas and one of the plaintiffs listed in the suit, said in the complaint that he had been detained in July by state troopers outside Knoxville, Tenn., for displaying Insane Clown Posse’s insignia, known as “the hatchet man,” on his semi truck.
Another plaintiff, Scott Gandy, from Concord, N.C., said that he was told at an Army recruitment office in 2012 that he could not join the military without removing his Juggalo tattoos, which a recruiter told him were “gang-related.” Mr. Gandy said he spent “hundreds of dollars to undergo a painful procedure in which his Juggalo tattoos were covered with other tattoos,” but his application to the Army was still denied.
Mr. Bruce and Mr. Utsler said that they had had an Insane Clown Posse concert canceled in 2012 at the Royal Oak Music Theater in Michigan. They said the police had requested the show’s cancellation, citing “the federal Juggalo gang designation.”
Jeff Engstrom, a lawyer and blogger who writes at Abovethelaw.com under the pseudonym Juggalo Law, said in an email that the government’s actions were “laughably off base” and “the equivalent of placing Phish fans on a terrorist watch list.”
He added, “It elevates an Internet punch line into something even more absurd.”
Insane Clown Posse filed an earlier lawsuit against the F.B.I. in 2012, seeking the documents that the bureau had used to reach its determination that Juggalos should be classified as a gang. Federal authorities filed a motion to dismiss this suit in August, saying that they had already shared much of this material.
Mr. Bruce said at the news conference that Insane Clown Posse was a band that had spent its whole career struggling to be taken seriously.
The actions of the government, he said, were “punishing our fans for representing us.”
“When was the last time that’s happened in this country?” he asked.
Mr. Utsler said: “We’re not a gang, we’re a family. We’re a diverse group of men and women, united by our love of music and nothing more. We’re not a threat, a public menace or a danger to society.”