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Is This Music Group a Gang?

Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU of Michigan, announced that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of fans of Insane Clown Posse during a press conference in Detroit on Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Michael J. Steinberg, legal director for ACLU of Michigan, announced that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of fans of Insane Clown Posse during a press conference in Detroit on Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014. (Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Detroit — The U.S. government claims that fans of the Detroit-area rap group Insane Clown Posse — known as Juggalos — are members of a criminal gang.

But in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, fans blasted that label, saying some have been harassed by police, interrogated, denied admission into the U.S. military, and lost custody of their children just for liking the eccentric musical group. And they now fear losing their jobs and gaining criminal records.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit against the FBI and the Department of Justice, the lawsuit says the government’s 2011 designation of the group’s fans as a “hybrid gang” has targeted innocent people across the United States who are part of a peaceful, fun-loving movement.

“It’s un-American,” said Farris Haddad, a Southfield, Mich., attorney who’s a longtime fan of the band and helping with the lawsuit. “It’s as if we’re living in the Soviet Union.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, whose attorneys are helping with the case, announced the lawsuit Wednesday, along with the two members of the Insane Clown Posse: Joseph Bruce (Violent J) and Joseph Ulster (Shaggy 2 Dope).

The group has been derided by music critics and magazines, and they’re sometimes the butt of jokes, like a 2010 Saturday Night Live sketch that parodied them. But they have a loyal fan base who connect with their offbeat image. They have had two 1-million selling albums, five that sold more than 500,000, and an annual summer gathering in Illinois that draws tens of thousands of fans.

But in 2011, the Department of Justice included Juggalos on their National Gang Threat Assessment, saying their members have engaged in criminal activities. They estimated there are about 1 million Juggalos in the U.S.

While there have been Juggalos who have committed crimes, supporters say those are isolated incidents and not part of any gang culture.

The two members of the Insane Clown Posse said they are a peaceful group that brings together misfits of society. Like the rock band KISS, the duo wears face paint; another tradition is spraying the crowd with Detroit-made Faygo soda pop.

Violent J said “there’s never been any fights at our concerts...Juggalos feel a kinship to each other.”

At concerts, Juggalos “got their arms around each other. They’re chanting. They love to be together. It’s what we do. I don’t know any street gang like that.”

The FBI’s designation has hurt the band, causing them to cancel a concert in 2012 after the Royal Oak police shut it down because of the gang designation. Also, some fans are now reluctant to attend the summer festival in Illinois for fear of police harassment. And they’re facing problems finding distributors for their merchandise because of the designation.

Spokesmen for the FBI and Department of Justice declined to comment on the lawsuit. The action comes after the group’s attorneys filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit last year seeking more information about why the group’s fans were labeled as gang members.

Fan Brandon Bradley, 20, who attended Wednesday’s newss conference in Detroit, said he’s been pulled over by police because his Juggalo tattoos and clothes. One time, a police gang squad made Bradley pose for photos of his face, clothes and tattoos.

Mark Parsons, a truck driver and longtime fan, said he was once pulled over by police because he had a trailer with a logo of the Insane Clown Posse. Scott Gandy, another longtime fan, said he wanted to continue his family tradition of joining the U.S. military, but was told by Army recruiters he couldn’t because of his Juggalo tattoos.

Robert Hellin, a U.S. Army specialist, worries he might be later discharged for being a fan. He said that “being a Juggalo means being tolerant of others and giving back to your community.”

In Afghanistan, he said he even flew the Insane Clown Posse’s Hatchetman flag with the permission of his captain.

Violent J said the group’s music makes people who are often viewed as outsiders feel like they belong to something. And the group’s concerts allow Juggalos to “release and be stupid and not make sense and goof off.”