Citrus Heights resident Brandon Bradley says his taste in music doesn’t mean he’s a gang member. That’s why he’s one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s labeling of fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse as a criminal gang.
Supporters of the Insane Clown Posse, known as Juggalos, display an almost cultlike loyalty, dressing in face paint, feverishly attending concerts and adorning themselves with “hatchetman” tattoos. In 2011, the FBI listed Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” in its National Gang Threat Assessment.
But the Detroit-based group, backed by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says fervent support doesn’t make its supporters a gang. The lawsuit, filed last week in United States District Court in Michigan, calls the designation unwarranted and unlawful. Bradley is the only local plaintiff.
“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,” the lawsuit reads.
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Insane Clown Posse is largely below the mainstream music radar. What the group lacks in radio appeal, it makes up for in fan loyalty, with as many as 6,000 people attending the annual gathering of Juggalos featuring the Insane Clown Posse and other performers in Illinois. While some fans talk about the positive inclusive message of the Insane Clown Posse and related groups on the Posse’s Psychopathic Records label, their music, categorized as “Horrorcore,” is extremely dark.
The suit claims the designation infringes on Juggalos’ First Amendment freedoms, is unconstitutionally vague in violation of due process, arbitrarily stigmatizes an entire fan base and violates criminal intelligence collection procedures.
Bradley, 20, wore a hatchetman necklace last week as he took the podium in Michigan on behalf of other Juggalos, but he said he’s afraid to wear Insane Clown Posse gear around town for fear of being stopped by the police.
“Three times the police have stopped me on the street and asked me questions about my shirt and my tattoo and what being a Juggalo meant,” Bradley said at the news conference. “The police kept saying my tattoos and shirt meant I was gang member even though I kept telling them I’m not a gang member and the Juggalos are not a gang.”
Bradley is one of many local Juggalos who told The Sacramento Bee their tattoos and clothing have attracted negative police attention.
Jade Miles, 22, of Sacramento, said she was stopped and asked to take off her Insane Clown Posse sweatshirt when entering Arden Fair mall in 2009.
Zacharey Bergman, 37, of Citrus Heights, said stickers on his car prompted police questioning.
Juggalos represent a tiny fraction of validated gang members in Sacramento County, according to the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department. Of the 14,821 validated gang members in the region, 69 Juggalos met the criteria to be considered gang members, said Sgt. Dan Morrissey of the county gang intelligence unit. Of the thousands of calls for service last year, 13 listed the word Juggalo in the content of the call, he said.
Morrissey said that there are two types of Juggalos: law-abiding citizens who enjoy the Insane Clown Posse and those who are directly involved in gang activities.
“The Juggalos that participate in crimes may have no direct tie to the band itself or the Juggalo brand that Insane Clown Posse promotes,” Morrissey said.
The lawsuit suggests law enforcement officers use the FBI designation to stop and harass Juggalos without making a distinction between Juggalo gang members and law abiding Juggalos.
“Most crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism,” the 2011 FBI report reads. It goes on to say, based on “open source reporting” 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.”
Mike Vitiello, a law professor at McGeorge Law School, said the American Civil Liberties Union will have a hard time overturning the government’s use of gang rules to subject Juggalos to additional scrutiny.
He compared it to disproportionate traffic stops of African American drivers and New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy.
“There are some good reasons to have these laws, but there can be abuse,” Vitiello said.
Miles described herself as an outcast who found a family among Juggalos.
“None of my Juggalo friends are gang members. None of us are criminals at all,” Miles said.
Bergman said he’s being unfairly stigmatized because of the actions of few.
Matt Latka, 23, of south Sacramento, said being a Juggalo doesn’t involve any of the things traditionally associated with gangs or gang initiations.
“I’ve never been jumped into anything,” Latka said.
Mario Delgado, 33, of Modesto, who performs under the stage name “Mars,” said he grew up in a Christian family, but found himself attracted to the Insane Clown Posse’s crazy lyrics.
He compared the music to the horror film genre. Sacramento-based horrorcore artist Brother Lynch Hung famously rapped about marinating baby guts. Despite the violet nature of the lyrics, he said Juggalo events are peaceful.
“It’s kinda like going to a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ except 10 times crazier,” Delgado said.