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ICP, ACLU Sue FBI Over Juggalos Gang Classification

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Joseph "Violent J" Bruce and Joseph "Shaggy 2 Dope" Utsler. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

Joseph “Violent J” Bruce and Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

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DETROIT (WWJ) – The ACLU of Michigan has filed suit in Detroit claiming the FBI has wrongly labeled fans of the rap-metal duo Insane Clown Posse as “dangerous gang members.”

Group member Joseph Bruce, known as “Violent J”, says the designation has caused their fans, known as Juggalos, lasting harm.

“Parents have lost custody of their kids, they’ve been fired from jobs, they’ve been denied housing,” Bruce told reporters at the courthouse on Wednesday. “They’ve been subjected to illegal searches and sometimes (they’re) added to a gang database simply for walking down a street wearing an ICP t-shirt.”

“That, my friends, is punishing our fans for representing us,” Bruce said.

It’s been an ongoing saga.

In a 2011 report, the FBI described fans of the group as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”  Then, in 2012, lawyers for Insane Clown Posse — which consists of Bruce along with Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler filed a lawsuit seeking documents that would explain the designation.

ICP poses for a photo with Brandon Bradley and attorneys. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

ICP poses for a photo with Brandon Bradley and attorneys. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

With that case still pending in Flint federal court, an unsatisfied ICP sought the ACLU’s help.

According to Bruce, because of the government’s actions, some stores now refuse to carry ICP music; and one fan claims the Army tried to force him to have his ICP tattoo removed.

Bruce and Utsler — both from the Detroit ares — insist the Juggalos are a family, not a gang.

Cooperating counsel, attorney Saura Sahu, said the six-count lawsuit alleges that the FBI’s gang designation violates Juggalos’ rights to congregate. The lawsuit also alleges violation of group members’ rights to free speech, alleging that many fear repercussions if they openly identify themselves as Juggalos.

The suit also raises questions about the lack of any clear criteria for distinguishing between average Juggalos and ICP fans who may actually be criminal suspects.

“There’s the ‘Gang of Eight’ in Congress, there’s ‘Our Gang,’ on old school TV, you know, and then people talk about criminal street gangs,” Sahu said. “The word ‘gang’ has no meaning.”

There is place in the federal statute in which a criminal street gang is defined, according to Sahu.

It’s “the kind of scary thing that you would expect,” he said, but it bears no resemblance to the Juggalos.

Self-described Juggalo — 20-year-old Brandon Bradley of Sacramento, Calif. — says he’s been stopped several times by police for wearing his ICP hatchet man pendant and other ICP gear.

“I would just be walking down the road and they’ll ask me about, you know, why do I have this jacket … why are you a Juggalo, you know … when did you start listening to this music?” Bradley said. “And they’ll just treat me like I’m doing something wrong  when I’m just getting back from work, you know. They’ll just harass me over what I’m wearing.”

Bradley, who is a plaintiff in the case, believes that because of the FBI hang designation his name is in a gang database, which impacts his ability to work in a field like law enforcement — something he has long wanted to do.

ICP has come under fire in recent years over drug use by their fans; especially at the annual “Gathering of the Jugglaos” where there have been several overdoses, and a few deaths.  The festival, described as “Juggalo Woodstock,” draws thousands of attendees to a southern Illinois campground each year.

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