Gang Related: What Antifa and Juggalos Have in Common in this Strange New World
“How can I lay back and chill?
With so many down on their knees”
-ICP, Crossing Thy Bridge
On the surface, Oklahoma City, OK seemed like an odd choice to host something as reportedly chaotic as the 18th annual Gathering of the Juggalos, a “family reunion” of sorts for Juggalos, fans of Insane Clown Posse. A city smack in The Bible Belt, it felt like a strange, overly wholesome place for a 4-day festival that the media and the public alike are quick to label a Faygo-flavored “gang rally”.
Well, “wholesome” for conservative definitions of such, anyway — let’s not forget that Oklahoma City is also where Daniel Holtzclaw, the rapist of multiple Black women, was a cop. And Oklahoma City was judged the #2 most conservative city by The Economist in 2014 based off of this study, after all. The Oklahoma House and Senate have been controlled by Republicans since 2012. The Oklahoma County Jail is under investigation because inmates just seem to keep dying under their watch, somehow — yet it’s still easier to get mentally ill people into jail than into treatment. Oklahoma is a state where “prosecutorial discretion” means that prosecutors have close to unchecked power to pick and choose whether to bring criminal charges against people who are arrested, what crimes to charge them with, and thus, how severely they’re punished.
Being a queer woman from Oakland, CA, the #4 most liberal city on the aforementioned Economist list (only because I can’t afford #1, San Francisco), I was fully prepared to have The Bible Belt used to beat me out of town. To be fair, the locals weren’t my only concern- I packed my clothes with the understanding that any of all of them could be stolen, stained, or destroyed on my adventure. Having read the accounts of Juggalos gone wild, I was also prepared to have to defend myself against catcalling, physical assault, full 2 liters thrown at my face, and possibly feces (thinking of Juggalo-victim-turned-Nazi Tila Tequila, here).
Turns out the only thing I really had to protect myself against was the unbearable heat — both from the sun, and the out of control police presence due to Juggalos being called a gang. I mean, the National Gang Intelligence Center says in their documentation from 2011, “Due to this lack of structure and absence of leadership, most crimes are not committed on behalf of the group; rather they are more sporadic and individualistic in nature.”
That’s… strange behavior for a so-called gang, but ok.
While researching for this piece and the accompanying piece for VICE, I also uncovered a police blog offering up “3 things cops need to know about Juggalos”. The blog is fascinating — it describes one cop’s impression of who Juggalos are (from his description, they’re aggressive leftists parallel to PETA… apparently they did not listen to ICP’s descriptive song “What Is a Juggalo” to inform them, which is probably just as well). It also explains the Juggalo “recruitment strategy” as adolescents with histories of trauma and potentially mental illness being attracted to ICP’s music and the Dark Carnival.
That seems like a really ineffective way to recruit people into an army, but hey, I’m not the professional.
I’ll admit, I wanted to go to Gathering of the Juggalos in part because I knew they were marching on DC in September and, as an activist with some experience, I was pretty worried that Juggalos weren’t going to take protesting seriously. They seem, at least online, like they enjoy being edgelords “rustling jimmies” more than they actually go out to protests and stand up for stuff.
Once I got there, though, the story I wanted to explore quickly changed from one focused on the radical potential of Juggalos to one focused on the obvious police harassment of what boils down to a musical fandom. What I saw and heard made me realize that in all these discussions of Juggalos being a gang, the media was ignoring the behavior of a much more organized gang fitting far more of the qualifications: the police themselves. I mean, you can’t even refuse them service without worrying about ramifications (many of which are illegal) that you have no power to hold them accountable for.
You know, like a gang.
You can read all about that experience in this VICE piece. It’s got great quotes from Psychopathic, and demonstrates some of the ways that law enforcement can point at a group, declare them dangerous, and then let the pre-existing prejudice and confirmation bias do the rest of the work.
I’ll also admit that while I had read about Juggalos marching in DC to protest being called a gang, I hadn’t really witnessed them being harassed before. I was a little cynical, even, about how serious the issue really was after being a street medic at Occupy, Black Lives Matter and the various ongoing “Battles for Berkeley”. In Oklahoma City, though, I definitely saw why ICP felt it was time to stand up for themselves in such a public way.
I realized that this is not, fundamentally, about Juggalos. This is about identity and interrupting the status quo.
See, Juggalos do that by not caring that people despise them, by not being hidden or ashamed of their poverty and their life trauma. Juggalos drink cheap overly sweet soda and paint their faces like evil clowns, they whoop whoop at each other, they engage in behavior that is typically more suited to middle school. They’re childlike and childish in turns, and they don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of them. The status quo is disrupted by such behavior.
Another thing I identify with, antifascism or “antifa”, does that by being very upfront about their lack of tolerance for fascism. Fascism that aided a group of angry white people to terrorize Black folks, to murder an activist, to injure many more. Fascism that allowed the cops to stand by and let that happen with few consequences. Fascism that has shrugged while the militant “alt-right” become ever more transparent about their adoration of Nazis, their delight in bringing guns to protests, their increasing desire to murder people. Antifa is a strategy to prevent these people from having power… and we’re being declared a terrorist organization, the “militant left”, because the status quo is dependent on that white supremacy.
While Juggalos are being ridiculed for fighting back against police harassment with the March on DC, antifascists are being demonized for realizing that if Nazis and the Klan can bring *guns to a protest* and cops will let them, maybe we should be prepared for that. Resistance, of course, comes in many forms — some bring armor and shields and prepare to act as defense, some train as medics to offer on the ground first aid, and yes, some practice armed self defense.
I’ve been on the ground at the Battles of Berkeley and I have to say every time I have witnessed the police standing down while white supremacists “defend their free speech” with knives, reinforced sticks, and straight up police grade tear gas and pepper spray. It is folly of the most dangerous degree to expect that the police are not sympathetic to these fascists, especially when they “accidentally” indicate themselves to be.
As a country we moved far more quickly to shut down Juggalos for singing badly about how they want to “murder your face” than we have white supremacists who have told Black city officials that they’re going to be lynched. We need to sit back and think about that for a minute.
And then, we need to ask ourselves if we’re going to let the police and the media tell us who the bad guys are, when they are repeatedly the ones who enable and enact violence against the marginalized.