The steps of the Lincoln Memorial have been the scene of solemn protest for decades, but when one man shouted “Show us your butthole!” on Saturday it was clear that the Juggalo March on Washington was going to be like no other.
Tattooed, pierced and wearing clown makeup, hundreds of fans of the rap-metal group Insane Clown Posse gathered at the storied location to protest the FBI’s labeling the fan base a gang in 2011.
One protester circulated in a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”-style mask, another in lingerie and a third in football shoulder pads. They raised their middle fingers, cursed and whooped.
The style was outrageous, but the purpose was serious: Juggalos, as the band’s hardcore fans are known, said the gang label is unfair and has cost them jobs, gotten them suspended from school, barred from the military and entered into gang databases.
Amie Puterbaugh, 36, from outside of Dayton, traveled to the District with two friends for the rally. She said she had been profiled by police in Ohio because of the gang designation.
“It’s bulls—!” Puterbaugh said of the gang label. “It’s like labeling Deadheads a gang. It’s like labeling Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters a gang. If we don’t stand up for our First Amendment rights, who is next?”
Insane Clown Posse, which got its start in Detroit in 1989, blends rap, metal and carnival theatrics. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope take the stage in clown makeup and douse their fans with cheap Faygo-brand soda.
The band has sold millions of albums and inspired one of the most loyal and notorious followings in pop music, while largely remaining outside the mainstream.
Six years ago the FBI labeled Juggalos a gang in a biennial gang report that serves as a reference for law enforcement nationwide.
The move followed a string of crimes from arson to homicide that were committed by people who were identified as Juggalos over the previous five or six years.
The label angered the band and its fans, who said it was inaccurate and effectively criminalized being fans of a pop group. Many not associated with gangs said they have been stopped by police while wearing band-related shirts or other gear.
The problems sparked a campaign by the band and its fans to get the FBI to disavow the label.
In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the FBI on behalf of a handful of Juggalos, saying the gang label violated the fans’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The federal suit was dismissed last year on technical grounds, but the ACLU is appealing that ruling.
Kevin Gill, a well-known Juggalo, kicked off the rally Saturday with a passionate plea for the FBI to rescind the gang label. He told Juggalos it was the most important day of their lives.
“Can I get a ‘whoop-whoop’ we can hear in the White House!” he said from a stage in front of the memorial.
The crowd obliged with a deep “Whoop-whoop!”
“The Juggalo March is like the Boston Tea Party for music fans,” Gill said.
Marchers held signs that said “American Juggalo Taxpayer” and “Faygo not Fascism.”
An FBI spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on the march or the Juggalo lawsuit, but it did make a general statement about its 2011 report, which was based on information gathered from local police departments.
“The 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment was comprised of information shared with the National Gang Intelligence Center and the FBI from law enforcement agencies around the country,” it read. “The 2011 report specifically noted that the Juggalos had been recognized as a gang in only four states.”