Insane Clown Posse knows you hate them. They know you don't get their makeup, that you've never heard their songs on the radio, that their fans don't look or act like anybody else's. They're OK with that. Actually, they kind of love it.
"We may never be understood till we're dead and gone," Joseph Bruce, known as Violent J, said last month, sitting among stacks of vinyl in the band's warehouse outside Detroit. "Once we're gone, people will take a look at the whole picture and say, 'What the f*** was that?'"
For now, though, they're not OK with anybody taunting or discriminating against their fans, known as Juggalos. ICP founders Bruce and Joseph Utsler, or Shaggy 2 Dope, announced last weekend they plan to file a lawsuit against the FBI for labeling their fans a gang. They made the announcement during the Gathering of the Juggalos, an annual music festival that draws thousands of ICP fans to rural Cave-In-Rock, Illinois.
"This is the government's way of telling us what you can listen to, what you can wear," Violent J told a crowd in a video posted online. "They're telling you that 'if you listen to this music and you support this music, you are going to be committing a crime in our eyes.'"
An Insane Clown Posse spokeswoman said the band's lawyers are deciding how to proceed, but they are asking Juggalos to visit juggalosfightback.com to report "any negative consequence with an employer or governmental representative, including law enforcement, border patrol, airline security, or other local, state or federal governmental agency or employee as a result of their status as a Juggalo."
The FBI called Juggalos a "hybrid gang" in its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, a designation ICP's members call "insanely ridiculous." The report mentions a January 2011 case in which a "suspected Juggalo member" shot a couple in King County, Washington, and a January 2010 case in which two "suspected Juggalo associates" beat and robbed an elderly man.
"Most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism," the FBI report said. "However, open source reporting suggests that a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity, such as felony assaults, thefts, robberies, and drug sales."
That's not how Violent Jay and Shaggy 2 Dope see it: "At any of our shows, it's all love, total strangers high-fiving," Violent J said. "It's the camaraderie that can't be defined or explained."
The ICP founders have seen their fans act out. At the 2010 Gathering, Juggalos lobbed rocks and bottles at singer and former Playboy model Tila Tequila, leaving her bloodied and bruised. Shaggy and Violent J take some of the blame; they say they shouldn't have invited her to the Gathering, and when they realized how negative the reaction would be, they asked her not to take the stage.
Tequila was injured, they said, because she insulted the Juggalos, then wouldn't leave the stage. Even after the onslaught of press coverage that followed, they do not blame their fans.
"Juggalos come from all walks of life, man," Violent J said. "This is an acquired taste, what we do. We're not on the radio. It's not something where you're going to pull up at a red light and the dude next to you is going to be bumping our s***, too... Our fans like a little background, a little story. They don't want to see us wearing what they're wearing. They want to see us jump out with fire and f****** strobe lights and confetti.
"They bought a ticket, they want to see the circus."
Starting in the 1990s, the self-dubbed "scrubs" quietly amassed a devoted following of fans that spans ages and backgrounds. If there's a common theme among them, it's this: The fans were outsiders who finally found a community in the hip-hop, wrestling, Faygo pop-loving pack of 'los and 'lettes.
They rely on their label, Psychopathic Records, and the devotion of their fans, to advertise and distribute their music. News of the possible lawsuit came days before the release of the band's new album, "The Mighty Death Pop," a multiyear effort with editions that include cover tunes that originated with Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera and "Yo Gabba Gabba!"
"We're really high on things right now, not substance-ly high. We're high on ourselves right now," Violent J said. "I know we're a joke to the mainstream world, but the love we get from our fans is solid and real."
They say the new album is their best work, an album of songs that took years to write and record. With so many fans, it's not the same as it was in the early years when they boasted and lied about who they were and what they were about. They can't even remember why, only that they saw themselves more as actors than artists. They still love wrestling and rap, but they started getting real about a message after Violent J's 2003 autobiography, "Behind the Paint," a book he said exposed the dark truths about divorce, abuse, poverty and drugs in his life.
"We came from broken homes, but it almost feels stupid to sit here and talk about that because we had a great childhood," Violent J said. "My childhood was incredibly awesome, filled with imagination, fun, adventure..."
"Backyard wrestling," Shaggy added.
"The poorer I was," Violent J continued, "that made me who I am today. Nowadays, it doesn't take a lot to impress me because I never had s***, you know what I mean?"
"We got to be broke as you can possibly be together, and we got to appreciate everything that happened since then together... Not a day goes by we don't sit there and analyze this, and say, 'Man, you know, we're living our dream.'
"We still get to hang out with the same people we hung out with when we were 15 and 16. They work in this building. We get to travel the world with them. And most people you know, they have their high school years, their college people, and after that, they become family people. That's all gravy, but they can't say they don't dream about what it was like when they were running around with all their friends."
After 20 years, they said they're just hitting their stride. They're sober, and never got into hard drugs, they said, but both talked about medication to stabilize their moods, to keep the pressure from overwhelming them, to keep them away from bad habits from the past.
"I love coming up here and doing what we do, then I love going home," Shaggy said, holding an electronic cigarette. "It's such a blessed life."
They say they'll keep going "till the wheels fall off."
"Some people listening actually give a f*** about what we have to say and that feels good. I can't front about that. It feels good to have people care what's on your mind," Violent J said. "We get to rock stages. I've f***** some beautiful women in my life. Straight up, two or three chicks at once. Who gets to do that s***, man? Especially scrubs?"