You may know Juggalos as a close-knit family of Faygo-spraying, facepaint-loving fans of the Detroit hip-hop duo Insane Clown Posse. But since 2011, the FBI has categorized them as a gang, a designation they say has cost them personally and professionally. This week, they will march on Washington to show their true colors, aided in part by a new organization, the Struggalo Circus, which unites a bloc of Juggalos under the banner of strong leftist values — and against the rise of a white supremacist police state.
The Struggalo Circus, according to its private Facebook group, is “a ragtag and messy coalition between radicals and Juggalos,” while the page itself is “where you come to get shit done!” It has just about 250 members at present. The Twitter account, with nearly 1,300 followers, notes that the movement encompasses libertarians, socialists, communists and anarchists, and regularly retweets or cites antifa (anti-fascist) sentiment. Lately, the group signal-boosted Juggalos offering hurricane relief in Texas, occasionally pointing out that the hard right did little to help in the aftermath of Harvey.
Similarly, the Struggalos on hand for the Washington event, scheduled for Saturday afternoon, will be “providing medic care for those marching,” as well as “free food and Faygo,” says Kitty Stryker, a writer, activist, anarchist street medic and alternative community anthropologist who co-engineered the intriguing partnership. Joining her in leading the project are her boyfriend — a “second generation Juggalo” who goes by Apraham or Ape Boy LCJ (the initials stand for Left Coast Juggalos, a web forum for California fans that he used to manage) — and RaiderLo, a Bay Area friend who hosts the YouTube series The Pissed Off Juggalo Show. Of the trio, only Stryker is new to Juggalo culture, but her outsider perspective was a catalyst for the alliance between ICP disciples and the radical left, who turn are often one and the same.
“It was less realizing that Juggalos could be activated, and more that the ones I knew were already activists,” Stryker explains. “They just weren’t Juggalo activists. For something that’s such a big part of a Juggalo’s life, I found that somewhat strange. I think we [the three co-founders] realized that perhaps Juggalos had felt pushed away by radical organizing, but that we might be able to help each other and learn from each other in a way that could be really powerful.”
If the leftist principles shared by many Juggalos aren’t immediately obvious, she says, that’s because “Juggalos, when asked, will often say they’re apolitical, especially when they’re in a group, which helps avoid conflict.” As a matter of course, Juggalo gatherings are reinforced by an ultra-positive, family-like bond, so individuals aren’t inclined to prise out their ideological differences.
“Juggalos generally tend to shy away from party labels and are disinterested with established political language,” Apraham agrees. But that’s not the same as opting out of the debate as to where this country is headed. “The anti-racist, anti-police and anti-classist statements in ICP’s music are numerous, and constant,” he says, and while everybody takes their own message from the music, Juggalos as a group have long stood “against bigots, crooked cops, and the greedy rich,” and “these tenets translate easily into the kind of values being discussed in the current political climate.”
Diversity among Juggalos, which prompted the FBI to lump them under the dubious umbrella of “hybrid” or mixed-demographic gangs, is coupled with a working-class ethos: ICP tends to foreground their roots in urban poverty and elevate the experience of those shunned or mocked by the elite. One stated goal of the D.C. summit is to prove that “the Juggalo Family is not a joke.”
You’re tempted to see some parallels with the national resentment Trump channeled during his presidential campaign, except that the Juggalo standard of acceptance cuts hard against the nativist core of Trump’s appeal; the “Occupy” movement and Bernie Sanders’ attacks on Wall Street would make better comparisons.
Thanks to that kind of compassion and sympathy, Apraham says, “Struggalo Circus came together in a very organic way.” Because Juggalos “show affection to one another regardless of minor religious or philosophical” divergence, they can “look past certain disagreements for the sake of working cooperatively on more substantial things.”
The most important of those objectives, it seems, is a cohesive resistance to government profiling; Juggalos attending the Washington march have been instructed to show up sober, refrain from property destruction and otherwise comport themselves with dignity. The whole affair is being staged in part as a First Amendment rally, with Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope warning that the carnivalesque world of Juggalos may be just the first of many musical subcultures targeted by an authoritarian regime.
It’s possible, then, that Saturday’s demonstration — at which ICP themselves promise to address the Juggalos on “the state of the nation” — could unfold as a self-contained call for justice in their beef with biased, overreaching law enforcement.
But whether the Juggalos like it or not, they may find themselves fighting for a wider set of ideals: An alt-right-approved event called the Mother of All Rallies (or M.O.A.R.) is scheduled for the same day, and the two factions are likely to meet on the Mall. Any altercation between sides will be unpredictable. “I’m not sure I’d say Juggalos as a group have ‘tactics,’ to be honest,” Stryker says. “Individual Juggalos handle conflict in different ways — some with diplomacy, some by ignoring it, some with fists. They’ve all been asked to stay chill, however, and we hope that’s the end result. If someone hits them first, though, I suspect they’ll be capable and willing to defend themselves.”
The tension between those schools of engagement — to punch first or remain pacifist — has swirled around loosely planned, non-hierarchical antifa activities of late, with many advocating for the use of violence against anyone spouting genocidal rhetoric. It’s no coincidence that ICP’s lurid “horrorcore” lyrics, rather than being nakedly gratuitous invitations to murder, play out in the service of deeply felt moral lessons, with characters judged and graphically punished for their evil ways. And the Juggalos are sure to align with anti-fascist groups in at least one other vital aspect: Just as the radical left “masks up” to avoid doxxing and create anonymous solidarity, the Juggalos will conceal their identities with bandanas or their signature clown makeup.
The Struggalo Circus’s role, as Stryker outlines it, is to facilitate understanding between leftist political activists and Juggalos who may not otherwise know how to communicate — and find common ground wherever they can. So far, she says, they’ve advised the Democratic Socialists of America on how to support Juggalos at the march, spread materials to inform Juggalos of their legal rights and helped to draft a statement from the Industrial Workers of the World’s General Defense Committee condemning government harassment of Juggalos, whom they argue are crucial players in a larger class struggle and ought to be embraced as such. “[W]e believe by standing with them now, we can begin to build bridges of trust and cooperation,” the letter reads.
“These are terrifying, troubled times,” Stryker says. “I think there’s a huge advantage to reaching out a hand to people with whom I have more in common with than I have differences.”
Apraham agrees, and what’s more, he sees built-in opportunities for teamwork; the ICP devotees have been more of a family than a fandom for the past couple decades. “Juggalos organizing have a unique strength in being able to look past controversial topics with each other, in the interest of mutual care and unity,” he explains. “[W]e agree on enough issues that the huge similarities are more important than the minor contradictions.”
But, as Stryker reminds me, heterogeneity is no less important to the cause: “[M]ultiple tactics have always been useful when trying to create social change,” she says, meaning, “Juggalos and radical activists have lots of things we can teach each other,” assuming both elements of the coalition can “be patient with a bumpy ride as we get to learn how to communicate.”
“And if Struggalo Circus can help make that happen,” Stryker says, “it’ll be a success in my eyes.”
Plus, who knows — maybe some socialists will get down with the clown.