Good Men Project

Throw Beck Thursday: Dressing Like a Clown Doesn’t Make You a Gangster

juggalosThe FBI says you’re looking at gang members. I say that’s insane clown talk.


beckFirst things first: I don’t know the two guys in the photo at the top of this article. I found their photo on Flickr. They look like they’re having a good time, don’t they? They appear to be at Wizard World, which I think is a comic book convention kind of thing. We might even be looking at a father-son bonding moment.

Here are two more random guys I found on Flickr:

juggalos 2

They look like they’re having fun, too. Is that a cake plate? Cake is delicious. Hooray cake!

A 2011 FBI report flags one of these two pairs of buddies as part of a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” Did you guess that Mr. Cake and the Punch Cup Guy (coming to NBC this Fall) were public enemies? Guess again.

The first photo depicts two members of the weirdest subculture to come along since Fox & Friends: the diehard fans of Insane Clown Posse known as Juggalos. And what is an Insane Clown Posse? Detroit’s own Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, a couple of backyard wrestlers turned rappers whose gimmick is—well, just take a look.

If that does it for you then go in peace. I don’t get it, but my parents didn’t get my over the top allegiance to the KISS Army when I was 12, either. But for Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse (“ICP” for short) and their “horrorcore” genre of music and dress is a way of life. Think of them kind of like the hippies who used to follow The Grateful Dead, but with less patchouli and more makeup.

high school jamesI get that. I feel like I know your average Juggalo even though I’ve never met one because I once was the kid who wanted to belong to something. The picture at left was taken in 1984 in a very small town in South Carolina where mullets, Members Only Jackets, and Camaros ruled the world. I felt completely alienated from my small town, had my share of problems at home, etc. and instead of trying to blend I did everything I could to set myself apart.

Acceptance in alienation, finding my tribe, working through my shit via eyeliner and a bad haircut. I embraced bands the Members Only crowd hated and took pride (at least outwardly) in being declared “that craphead who won’t make anything of himself” by the school’s psychology teacher. You know the story—you may have even lived it.

Back then punks were eyed suspiciously. Those freaks with the bad haircuts were bad news, and law enforcement had the data to prove it: fights at clubs, Sid stabbing Nancy, anything GG Allin or Wendy O. Williams did. The stereotype carried over into movies like Repo Man and the no-budget classic Class of 1984:


I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a sad kid, maybe a lonely kid, but I wasn’t going to set the teacher’s car on fire or hold up a convenience store. I just looked like a bad kid because I fit that era’s profile of a threat, and I endured my share of hassles because of that.

And this is where the Juggalos find themselves since the FBI designated them “a loosely organized hybrid gang,” a fight which found its way back in the news last week when four fans joined with the band in a lawsuit. Law enforcement contends that while most Juggalos are law abiding face painters, as many as ten percent have co-opted the band’s iconography—the face paint, the logos, even the name Juggalo—for criminal activity. Much like a kid wearing red or blue in Compton, the net result is that if it walks like a Juggalo and it quacks like a Juggalo, then according to the FBI it is a ten percenter Juggalo until proven otherwise.

These ten percenters allegedly are brutal, fighting with weapons like machetes and battle axes, committing arson, and even affiliating with more well-established gangs. Not unlike my misspent youth, a small percentage of guys with silly clothes and bad haircuts are ruining it for everyone.

In other words, the Juggalos are dealing with a rather surreal form of profiling. If you wear clown makeup and show up at Applebee’s with a machete, chances are any law enforcement in the area is going to look at you sideways. To an adolescent (or one with an adolescent mentality), this feels like persecution: Why can’t I just be me? Why is The Man hassling me? And then he or she doubles down on the face paint because this is war, goddammit! Juggalos for life!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia captured this phenomenon beautifully a couple of season ago:

Yes, it’s a situation comedy, but Richard the Juggalo rings true to me: the outcast who creates his own family, no matter how silly or abstract it may seem.

The FBI painting the fictitious Richard and his Juggalo brethren with the same broad strokes as some small criminal element more than likely will result in the Juggalos embracing their lifestyle even more strongly. It makes law enforcement look like the bullies in the bathroom shoving them around because of their face paint, and more alienation breeds more desire for acceptance somewhere.

I don’t have a pithy conclusion to this rant. Law enforcement is almost always in a bad spot. I have no doubt that they are acting with the best of intentions, trying to serve and protect as best they can. I’m sure the majority of cops don’t think all party clowns are John Wayne Gacy, nor do they think everybody at an ICP show is a public threat.

But spiritually I’m with the 90% of the Juggalos on this one, and if you find this article here’s what you really need to know: You’re good kids, and you belong. Whatever is going on at home or at school or in your shitty little small town or neighborhood will pass. Someday you’ll be old and bald and a little thick around the middle and you’ll have a steady job, maybe even a family, but on the inside you’ll always be a Juggalo for life.


– cover photo Doug Kline / Flickr Creative Commons

interior photo (bearded men) Parker Knight / Flickr Creative Commons

originally posted at The Good Men Project

4 replies »

  1. I recently read John Sandford’s new crime book. The bad guys were this band of psychotics who murder and dismember just for the “fun” of it. And, you guessed it, they were juggalos following the ICP around the Midwest. But it wasn’t all bad. A juggalo (not in the gang) saved the life of one of the main characters and helped the police find the baddies. So I guess it’s a mixed bag, stereotype-wise.

    As for my youth, I was seriously alienated but chose to do everything I could to fit in with the masses.


  2. Yes, it is a novel, part of a long series of books with the main character being a cop named Lucas Davenport. Davenport started out as a detective in Minneapolis/St Paul. Early in his career his hobby was writing role playing games based on historic battles. Then computers came along and he switched from paper to electronics and became very successful, all while fighting crime. He ended up writing training simulations for police training, sold his company and became a millionaire. But he still fought crime. What I like most about Sandford’s writing is the vivid characters he creates, even among the minor characters. What’s unusual about these books is that Sandford creates strong, capable women who have important roles in his stories.This is probably more information than you wanted but I am a fan of the series and can’t help myself.


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