By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
And that is how Insane Clown Posse, the Most Hated Band in the World, was conceived—in an unsuspecting mama's basement.
So what is a Juggalo? That's a question even Violent J and Shaggy can't answer neatly. They've tried. "Years and years and years we've been pondering this—years," Violent J says. "Not just when talking to people, but just home alone, thinking about it." The term isn't even his, exactly—it's a riff on "The Juggala," an ICP track from 1992. "The fans took it from there."
A characteristically blunt track on ICP's breakthrough platinum-selling 1997 release, The Great Milenko, proffers a few descriptions. A Juggalo is unflaggingly honest with women ("He could give a fuck less what a bitch thinks. He tell her that her butt stinks"). He's good at board games ("He'll eat Monopoly and shit out Connect Four"). He does not have a degree, but he is an entrepreneur ("He works for himself scratchin' his nuts, ha!"). He will exercise to fight upper-class oppression ("He'll walk through the hills and beat down a rich boy"). He is one hell of a dinner guest ("He walks right in the house where ya havin' supper, and dip his nuts in ya soup—bloop!"). A Juggalo doesn't even know what a Juggalo is exactly ("What is a Juggalo? I don't know, but I'm down with the clown, and I'm down for life, yo").
Juggalos recall their conversion to "down" the way born-again Christians pinpoint the day they first accepted Jesus into their hearts. As in: I've been down since 1995. Or: Since middle school, I've been down. Or, a question I was frequently asked, Are you "down"? They also hoot, "Whoop! Whoop!" constantly: to convey approval, camaraderie, team spirit, sexual interest. During concerts, instead of clapping or cheering, Juggalos hoot en masse: "Whooooooooooop whooooop!" It sounds like a flock of horned owls.
On the surface, Juggalos are a motley bunch. They have tattoos of the band's symbol, a man with a hatchet; spider-leg braids; vacant green contacts; black T-shirts with goofily menacing designs. They come from small towns with names like Possum Creek and Rock Springs, and often from the Midwest or the South. They read websites called FaygoLuvers.net, TrueJuggaloFamily.com, and JuggaloNews.com. Some paint their faces, but far less than you'd expect here—only about 20 percent in the 96 degree heat. Some could use a good pro bono dentist. Some have bacne. Some are heavy: Violent J is a big guy himself, and he shouts out "fat kid love" more than Oprah—here, they run around naked, which Internet trolls both hate and secretly love.
"I know that every motherfucker here has had the most fucked-up childhood that you could possibly think of," says Jazmine Voyce, a homeless Juggalette from Skagit County, Washington State, who traveled by Greyhound with her boyfriend. (Not a single person besides the booked talent seemed to have traveled by plane or by rail to get to the Gathering—in most cases, carpools navigated all-night journeys.) "That's why we all relate. That's why we're all fucking one."
"I got introduced to ICP when I was about 12 years old," says Adam Kobel, a lean 20-year-old from Lewiston, Maine, with a " 'lette" girlfriend Laura-Jean ("Just call me Twitch"). "The reason why it stuck is that I was not very liked as a kid. I don't know why. When you get to middle school, you get segregated one way or another—either you're cool or not. Juggalos—we just found a way to be cool—and that's to be together." Kobel is an aspiring Juggalo rapper who goes by "Professa" and raps under the name F.O.G. (Freaks of the Graveyard). Their song with the most plays on MySpace (531) bears this message: "You don't have to die alone."
For all of ICP's lyrical bluster about showing up at your high school prom "with an ax in my motherfucking palm," Juggalos constantly profess "clown love" and gush about "family." They sign e-mails MCL "Much Clown Love" and frequently intone, "We will never die alone!" which is not a call for a mass murder. There may have been hundreds of hatchetman tattoos on display at the Gathering, but the chant, "Family! Family!" repeated 10 times, was heard constantly as a declaration of connection, promise, and self-regulation. The one instance of Juggalos fighting that I witnessed lasted for all of 15 seconds: As soon as the surrounding crescent began yelling, "Fah-mah-lee! Fah-mah-lee! Fah-mah-lee!," the two kids broke apart and stomped off in opposite directions.
"Look at all of us," says Voyce, another Juggalette sporting Ron Jeremy's initials on her chest. (He approached her.) "We're all crazy as fuck. How can we be fucking normal? How can we if we haven't started off normal, you know?"
"Juggalos are just as human as the President!" declares Violent J. "With hearts and feelings and they're important. They're not lower-class humans or anything like that. They're important fucking humans!"
For the second year in a row, the undisputed star of the Gathering karaoke contest is Andrew Hieb. Hailing from Rock Springs, Wyoming, a town with a population of "approximately 20,000" according to the city clerk's office, Hieb performs "Seven," a track by a killer scarecrow MC named Boondox. Written from the perspective of a "demon spawn," the homicidal climax goes like this: "I hear these voices talkin', they won't leave me alone/Tell me snatch up this bitch by her hair and drag her home/Over my shoulder in the back of a pick-up truck/Can't wait to get her home and hold her/Bleed her/Then chop her up." Two hype-men waggle their pointer fingers in the air while Andrew paces back and forth across the stage, grabbing at his crotch and frequently missing. He wins easily. Andrew is 12 years old. (See "Meet the World's Youngest Juggalo Rapper" for video of his performance here.)