When I popped out of the Smithsonian Metro station onto the National Mall last Saturday, it seemed everyone in Washington, D.C. had become an activist for the day.
Right outside the station sat a bandstand festooned with American flags. A couple hundred feet away, a Ford F150 was hitching up to a bandwagon decorated with a miniature Statue of Liberty and the giant white letters “TRUMP.” Bystanders waved Make America Great Again signs. A sign outside the Metro proclaimed in red, black, and white letters “NO KKK, NO Antifa, NO Racist USA. Patriots Unite!”
A Run DMC cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” played over the loudspeaker, perhaps in a subtle attempt to emphasize racial healing.
When the F150 started dragging the Trump bandwagon toward the stage, about 200 supporters wearing MAGA hats or otherwise patriotic attire rushed forward, smartphones held high in the air, not really looking at anything, but eagerly recording the patriots uniting.
A woman in the crowd pointed to me — the one guy not raising his smartphone — and shouted “We will not be stopped!” repeatedly.
When the bandwagon did stop, a man with a southern accent asked if all the youngsters (“We have a lot of youngsters,” he said) would please lead the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
As I walked away from the rally toward the Washington Monument, a man covered in tattoos called to me.
“Hey, do you know where ICP is playing?”
“Oh they’re down at the Lincoln Memorial,” I said, pointing down the Mall toward my destination. “They speak at four and do the concert at nine.”
“Is that the Trump thing up there?” he said, pointing in the opposite direction.
“Dang — looks like I’ll be hopping back and forth.”
As he walked away, I noticed a tattoo of a dreadlocked hatchet-wielding man stamped on his elbow, marking him as a Juggalo, a fan of the Detroit-based rap duo The Insane Clown Posse — which meant he had come to D.C. for a much more interesting rally.
While Trump supporters rallied, about 2,000 Juggalos gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to protest the FBI’s 2011 classification of ICP fans as a “loosely organized hybrid gang,” in a protest dubbed The March of the Juggalos by it supporters. According to the FBI’s report, Juggalo activities include “simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism.” Since the classification was enacted, law enforcement officials gained the discretion to regard anyone supporting ICP as a gang member.
While the classification has allowed law enforcement to crack down on violence from people who happen to be Juggalos, it extends an enormous amount of leeway for officials to decide what a Juggalo gang member really is. Anything that distinguishes someone as an ICP fan — whether it be clown face paint, a hatchet man tattoo, a 20th-anniversary copy of the album “The Great Milenko” — can now be considered gang paraphernalia and cause for police investigation, military discharge, or child protective service interventions, in the case of Juggalos who happen to be parents.
According to Kevin Gill, a representative of ICP’s record label, Psychopathic Records, the Juggalo march was intended to prove that the Juggalos are not gang-like; they’re just a big family of misfits.
“Our hope is that we can show the FBI and the world the truth about Juggalos and get the FBI to remove this insane gang classification,” he said.
A noble statement, but “the truth about Juggalos” is hard to define precisely. While they do call themselves a family — they chanted the word for five hours — they tend to act more like a dysfunctional family, disagreeing on everything except a common love for ICP, Faygo, and their social status as untouchables.
A red-headed Juggalo from the metro Detroit area who introduced himself as Bob gave me a 24 oz. bottle of his favorite flavor of Faygo, Cotton Candy.
“I have to drive an hour to get it back home,” he said.
Later he led in a group of Juggalos in “STAFF” T‑shirts bearing about 20 boxes of Little Caesars pizza and several backpacks full of Cotton Candy Faygo.
“Free for everyone!” he shouted. “Fa-Mi-Ly! Fa-Mi-Ly! Fa-Mi-Ly!”
I ran into Bob again while interviewing Jason Fox, a Juggalo minister from Virginia Beach. Fox claimed Juggalos were more than family, they were a spiritual brotherhood in Christ.
“The downtrodden have found a way to come together through the universal language of music and pry themselves from the darkness and reach for the light,” Fox said.
At this point, Bob noticed Fox’s Roman collar and romped over to our conversation. He turned to his friends and declared his solidarity with all Juggalos.
“I will take a picture with this Jesus guy, even though I’m an atheist,” he said. “Because you’re a Juggalo too — how’s that for family love?”
Fox posed for a picture.
“Jesus loves you,” he said.
“Oh, I know he does.”
Elsewhere, various political outliers were trying to make the Juggalo March a political movement. A representative of the Democratic Socialists of America was handing out flyers with the slogan “Faygo Not Fascism.”
“It’s just ridiculous that the FBI would classify the Juggalos as a gang,” he said. “The FBI just wants to harass people.”
He pointed up the Mall, indicating the MAGA rally.
“That’s nascent fascism,” he said.
When asked if he thought any Juggalos supported Trump, he became reticent.
“Well, there’s a lot of people here,” he said. “A lot of people. We just support solidarity.”
Down in front of the Reflecting Pool, a Juggalo wearing a Cthulhu mask was smoking a blunt. Another walked back and forth across the steps, holding a sign that read “FBI = Foolish Bunch of Inbreds.” A friendly Faygo spray battle erupted in front of the now-empty pizza boxes.
A girl with a New Yorker tote bag slung over her shoulder took a selfie in front of the whole scene.
A stranger asked me for a cigarette. I asked him if he was a Juggalo.
“I’m not a Juggalo, man, but there’s nothing about these people I can’t support,” he said. “I was just walking through the Trump rally and it was, you know — a lot of old people with sunsets for profile pictures, shouting about ‘sadistic men dressing up as women.’ But man, this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They’re shouting ‘Family! Family! Family!’ I think they mean it.”
Whether or not the Juggalos meant it, when their leaders, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, took the stage to address the crowd, their joint speech provided no answer to the only question that really mattered: If not a gang member, then what is a Juggalo?
Violent came out with a Mac laptop and shouted “Speech time!” As he was scrolling through Microsoft Word to find his place in the speech, he accidently closed the document. He cursed at the computer, but Shaggy helped him fix it. Shaggy’s son ran out and hugged his father’s leg.
When the two finally started speaking, Violent told the crowd the Juggalos were in the right with regards to a legal issue.
“The holy creator is patting us on the head right now,” he said.
How nice. But Violent quickly undercut the sentiment with a joke about how this God pat was for a job well done; it was not an uncle-that-touched-you pat. The crowd laughed. Someone sprayed me in the face with Faygo.
After calling himself the Martin Luther King Jr. of the music industry, Violent told the Juggalos that gang violence is not part of the Juggalo lifestyle.
“Don’t be the thugs, the hoodlums, the vandals they say we are — while they’re looking,” he said.
Violent and Shaggy passed the microphone back and forth for about half an hour, making crude jokes and comparing themselves to great civil rights leaders. They even carted out The Dark Carnival, their quasi-theological attempt at describing a path of salvation for Juggalos.
Violent wrapped it up with a declaration.
“We’re marching for love! Juggalo family love!”
And it almost seemed true. But as I was walking away, I saw the DSA representative again, distributing indoctrination literature to the Juggalos making their way over to Constitution Avenue for the march. I ran into a contingent of Antifa members — dressed in all black — fresh from their protest behind the White House. They looked like ISIS insurgents.
“We’re here in solidarity against police overreach,” their flag bearer said. “We’re with anyone who is against them.”
The march commenced, and I walked alongside it, trying to film its scope. I picked out Violent in the crowd, walking among the Juggalos, sans bodyguards. He was smiling and joking with other face-painted marchers.
As I was filming, a dead-eyed Juggalette put up her middle finger and started blocking my camera, trying to force me away from the crowd.
Andrew Egger ’17, who was also covering the march for The Weekly Standard, put his hand on her shoulder.
“Excuse me, is there a problem?” he said.
There was a problem — and there still is — but it’s much more than any one of us can hope to solve.