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The Juggalos and the Media Were Made for Each Other

A dispatch from the Juggalo March on Washington

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I have seen a man in a kilt and black-and-white face paint juggling. I have seen a woman in a JUGGALETTE jersey standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gazing out at the Washington Monument. I have seen a man in blue and purple glitter dance behind a man dressed in head-to-clown-shoe rags. Was there vaping? There was vaping. I saw a Juggalo sitting on a pink and yellow picnic blanket perhaps 20 feet from the reflecting pool, phone in selfie mode as he used a Q-tip to delicately re-apply face paint. Did gas masks dangle from backpacks? They did. There were WHOOP WHOOPS followed by WHOOP WHOOPS followed by WHOOP WHOOPS.

I have also seen no fewer than four photographers scurry toward the juggling Juggalo, who ceased juggling the moment they finished taking pictures. I have seen another photographer asking the woman in the JUGGALETTE jersey to maintain her gaze until he captured the right shot. I have seen the man in blue and purple glitter as well as the man in rags immediately stop what they were doing once a pair of reporters told them they weren’t being filmed. I have seen journalists pin microphones to T-shirts covered in synthetic blood and instruct their subjects to place the attached battery pack in the pockets of their jorts.

If you have spent any time online over the past 48 hours, you too have seen images from the Juggalo March on Washington. You know that it was a rally consisting of fans of horrorcore-rap duo Insane Clown Posse in protest of the FBI’s 2011 decision to designate the face-painted, hatchet-man-tattooed fan base as gang members.

At its peak, there were perhaps 1,000 people gathered around the Juggalo stage at the Lincoln Memorial, circled by many dozens of journalists while advocates—including the “Juggalawyer,” a Detroit-based attorney who, in conjunction with the ACLU, is seeking to have the F.B.I. designation revoked—took turns on stage with bands including Wolfpac (whose website entreats “Come one come all!” after a warning of sexually explicit content is dismissed. “The rejected, the outcast, the different, the freaks, the abnormal, welcome home!”), LYTE (latest single: “Flint Town Tittie Bar Bathroom”), and, once the sun set, ICP themselves. In the days leading up to the event, pages meant for organizing attendance filled with the requests of reporters: “I’m a journalist based in Los Angeles looking to get in touch with anyone in Southern California who’s planning on going to this.” “In your own words, we’d love to hear from you in the comments…. Why are you attending the Juggalo March?” “I’m looking for people to interview who have dealt firsthand in Juggalo discrimination, whether with cops or at work.” “I’m looking to interview juggalos and juggalettes from Maryland. Let me know if you’re interested!”

Not long after the start of the march, Theresa Lindsey and Timothy Schlarmann were getting used to interviews. They were dressed, respectively, as Snow White and Uncle Sam with telltale black-and-white face paint. Toting a sign that read “I’M A PRINCESS 4 KIDS NOT A GANG MEMBER” alongside images of Disney princesses with inked-on Juggalo warpaint, they proved a ready draw for reporters. Two hours into the planned eight-hour event, they estimated they had given 17 interviews—18, counting the one in which they settled on this number. How many pictures had been taken of them? “Oh, hundreds,” said Theresa.

The pair had travelled from their home an hour outside Los Angeles for the occasion. There, they go to shows with equally decked-out friends. But here they were two of perhaps 100 total attendees in D.C. who’d donned the ICP makeup and—with their sign so pleasantly, pitch-perfectly encapsulating the Juggalo cause—found themselves suddenly media darlings. “Out here we were like, OK, everybody will be dressed up,” Theresa said. “We’ll just be within the crowd. But today we’re like, wait, maybe we overdid it.”

The Juggalo story—by which I mean the default Juggalo report, the one a publication will assign and which, with some luck and adjoining visuals, readers will disperse on their social channels—is a simple one. It’s a story about goobers: goobers with face paint, goobers with weird costumes, goobers with—to the non-horrorcore-loving masses, which, let’s acknowledge, is a sizable majority of potential listeners—bad taste in music. Take your pick of missives from the annual Gathering of the Juggalos: Here’s SPIN in 2010, Deadspin in 2011, A.V. Club in 2012, Fuse in 2013, Gawker in 2013, Broadly in 2015, The Daily Beast in 2015. The stories are, as a rule, fun and generally written by wide-eyed novices to ICP fandom.

It goes without saying that this was the prevailing hope of many—most?—of the reporters at the march: Look at these goobers; look how audaciously they’ve inserted themselves into an American landmark; look at their calf tattoos. Did I want a goober story? Of course, you’re reading it right now.

And yet here were the Juggalos, at times seemingly all but matched in body count by their documentarians, each pleasant and cheerful and often disconcertingly media-savvy. They had, after all, the nerve to bring with them a good point: The FBI’s gang designation is misguided at best and vindictive at worst. This latter claim was buttressed by the numerous Juggalos brought on stage to talk about what the federal distinction had cost them, ranging from jobs to custody of children. If the FBI has grossly misunderstood Juggalos in a way it has not, say, interpreted the potential threat of the oft-costumed fandoms of Marilyn Manson or KISS—well, it’s worth wondering just what the telling of all those funny stories about Faygo and face paint and goobers has added up to. Are Juggalo events so appealing to reporters because Juggalos are singularly grotesque? Or do we think they’re singularly grotesque because of the way they’re covered?

On Saturday, at least, attendees seemed pleased about the outsize attention. If anything, the weekend’s media saturation is a sign of the success of the Juggalo March, which was designed for maximum press coverage. The march’s website featured categories like “PRESS” and “EDITORIALS”; you don’t hold an event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to not foster cinematic gazes toward the Washington Monument.

Off to one side of the stage, a group of Juggalos sprawled on the grass. Around them were a series of homemade signs bearing an order: “PICTURES $1.00.” “Everybody’s taking pictures without asking,” explained one ICP fan whose beard was bleached in stripes and who asked to be identified as “710 Juggalo.” He readily admitted that he had no real choice in the matter. “It’s like they think, well, ‘These are Juggalos, so we can just take pictures of them. We can do whatever we want. We can make fun of them.’”

Asked if he really thought the media was there for the purpose of making fun, 710 Juggalo leaned back. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “That comes with the territory of being a Juggalo.”