In the era of the alt-right, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend the First Amendment. With professional provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos trolling for attention and white supremacists marching in the name of hate, one is left to wonder if there are any sane protesters left standing with the banner of free speech.
Enter the Juggalos.
At first glance, the makeup-clad fans of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) rap group may seem like unlikely candidates as free speech warriors. However, the discrimination the Juggalo “family” has encountered from the government is no laughing matter. Moreover, their existence as a community is a powerful modern-day American story of civil society.
I caught up with the juggalos last weekend at their March on Washington in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Drawn by a humorous sense of curiosity more than anything, I was quickly impressed by how on-message the entire event was in an age of meandering protests.
In 2011, the FBI designated Juggalos as “loosely-organized hybrid gang,” an action that had a rippling effect felt throughout the community. The March on Washington began with Juggalos providing testimony of the hardships they have encountered as a result of this classification. One woman claimed to have lost full custody of her children, another lost her job.
A ReasonTV video documents several cases of discrimination by the police. “I’ve been f***ing pulled over because I had a f***ing hatchet man sticker on my car. They were like, “Are you in a gang or something?” recounts one Juggalo. “And the cop was like, ‘Oh, so you’re just into this gang stuff, you’re not a member of it.’ And we’re like, ‘What gang stuff? It’s just music,” recounts one Juggalette.
Say what you will about the lifestyle choices of the Juggalos, they are not a gang. Attending a mediocre rap concert with Faygo soda spraying everywhere may seem like an odd idea of fun, but it is not criminal in any way, shape or form. The government has no role regulating the music tastes of its citizens — even if they like Nickleback.
Indeed, there is a deeper danger to the FBI’s gang classification that extends beyond the First Amendment. In an age of increasing isolation and polarization in American society, the Juggalos have created a genuine community centered on tolerance, acceptance and love. ICP’s lyrics are littered with anti-racist, pro-working class sentiment.
To give just one example, their 2015 song “Confederate Flag” calls out white supremacists who hide behind claims of heritage to support the racist history of the stars and bars:
Rednecks call it pride
Pride for what?
White pride for slavery it sickens my gut
I see that flag as a challenge that you want to fight
Although Juggalos are not exclusively low-income whites, the demographic dominates the community. As a group often overlooked and even mocked by the media, low-income whites are often tempted to channel their frustration in dark places, hence the rise of the populist politics of Donald Trump and the resurgence of white nationalism bred by the alt-right.
ICP instead offers this critical demographic a dose of blue collar pride and community without the hateful side effects. At the Juggalo March on Washington, shouts of “family” could be heard throughout the day. A group of teenage-looking Juggalettes walked around the crowd offering free snacks. One Juggalo even set up an impromptu sign-making station for those who forgot or couldn’t afford the necessary materials. The positive energy surrounding the Juggalo community was palpable.
Alexis de Tocqueville would admittedly be taken aback at first if he had taken a time machine to the Juggalo rally. But, after some initial adjustment, I’m confident he would see the Juggalo phenomenon as a modern-day continuation of the spirit of civil society he famously noted in Democracy in America.
Like the Grateful Dead, Phish, and other bands before them, ICP has created a community that is about more than just the music. It’s about a sense of identity and acceptance in this long, strange trip we call life.
Therefore, the government threat to the Juggalos is not just a threat against free speech, but American civil society itself. Admittedly, civil society is bound to only get weirder in with the Internet, as evidenced by the Juggalos. But to deny voluntary association of any kind is to deny the very fabric that makes this country great.
In that sense, the Juggalos are as American as baseball and apple pie. The march last Saturday perhaps is the strongest proof. In an age where violence is endemic among both far-left and far-right protests, no arrests or violence was associated with the rally — a true breath of fresh air.
Rather than look down at the Juggalos, Americans of all stripes should embrace them as model free speech warriors in our age of oddness. There’s nothing weird about peaceful association, no matter what form it takes.