The hotel room in southwest D.C. smelled like weed and pizza.
At the table, a shirtless man called "Poncho" ironed sparkly silver letters onto a set of tie-dye tees. His friend "Diggity" stood nearby monologuing, long wavy hair threatening to cascade forward over his shoulders as he gestured animatedly at the corner of the table.
“What music you listen to shouldn’t discriminate anything,” declared Diggity, sprinkling his diatribe with f-bombs. “Especially what unit you get put in in a f---ing jail, whether you get hired someplace, or whether you can get, f---ing, your child in a custody battle or so forth.”
Poncho pulled the ironing fabric away from the tie-dye shirts. They read “First Amendment Warrior.”
"It's a brotherhood. It's like a fraternity, almost," Diggity added. "A f---ing white trash fraternity."
It was close to midnight on a Friday night, and across Washington D.C., Juggalos were preparing to partake in that truest of American political activities: a march on Washington, D.C.
On September 16, 2017, fans of the band Insane Clown Posse, better known as “Juggalos,” marched on Washington, D.C. to protest the FBI’s 2011 categorization of their subculture as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” Juggalos argue that the designation is based solely on the music they like and the clothing they wear, rather than actual gang activity. Being on a gang list, according to these Juggalos, makes it hard for them to get a job or join the military.
In 2014, the ACLU of Michigan, along with Insane Clown Posse (ICP), opened a suit against the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of Juggalos, on the grounds that “their constitutional rights to expression and association were violated.” But three years later, the suit is still in court and the designation still stands. According to the march's website, the ACLU and ICP face another court date on October 11, 2017.
Hoaxx, also known as James Stone, is a dog groomer and small business owner from Chattanooga, Tenn. He and his girlfriend, Trixie, drove over 300 miles to Washington, D.C. on Friday picking up Poncho and Diggity on the way. They don’t travel often, but the Saturday march was important enough to bring them north.
“[The FBI gang listing] opens the door for a lot of discrimination against us,” said Hoax as he stood by the reflecting pool in the waning post-march sunlight on Saturday. “Auto red flags when the cops see us, people are on their toes around us. It affects us everywhere.”
We sometimes, you know, get into some shenanigans,” explained Poncho, a construction worker from Knoxville, TN. He grinned through his white and black clown makeup. “Who doesn’t like breaking stuff occasionally? But we don’t try to hurt anybody or all of that. They think we’re extremely violent people who are out there to kill everybody.”
There may be a reason the public has a perception of Juggalos as violent. The defining characteristic of a Juggalo is a love for Insane Clown Posse, a musical duo whose lyrics - which range from "blood guts fingers and toes" to "it's raining blood, the streets are a bloody mess" - have been criticized as overly violent. In one Maryland incident - reported by The Daily Times - two Juggalos mutilated another Juggalo's arm in attempt to remove an ICP-related tattoo they felt he "had not earned."
The FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center report characterized Juggalo-commited crimes as mostly "sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involv[ing] simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism," before adding that "a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity."
Hoaxx, like some of his friends, admitted that his criminal record isn’t clean. But the difference, he and many other Juggalos say, is the wide gap between the petty or drug-related crimes most Juggalos commit and the murders and more organized crimes perpetrated by a tiny minority of the subculture. Every subculture, they argue, has its bad apples.
The 1,000 Juggalos who marched around the National Mall on Saturday held aloft signs that said “we are not a gang” and “music is not a crime.” One woman with blue and purple hair, clad in black scrubs, held a sign that read “I’m a registered nurse.” Many of them hugged, and chanted the word "family."
"You're doing a great job," one marching Juggalo told a photographer stationed on a bench.
"Where is the cake? We were promised cake," said another over a megaphone.
Tourists visiting the National Mall stopped and lifted their phones, recording the largely-black-and-red crowd moving between the monuments and trees.
"It's crazy to see how many people are supporting us," noted Diggity's girlfriend Lou Rae as she marched beside him. "I haven't heard a negative comment since I've been here."
Following the march, Juggalos lounged in the grass beside the reflecting pool, listening to speakers and musicians on the main stage in front of the Lincoln memorial. At moments, the crowd grew visibly frustrated or angry, but most of the event felt like a music festival.
“We don’t think much will happen," Poncho admitted, standing on the grass. "The thing that’s wrong is discrimination or prejudice. We’re trying to make a mark - whether its just a nick or we take the whole thing down.”