Live from Insane Clown Posse's Gathering of the Juggalos

Revenge of the losers! Or, what it's like at a four-day reunion of 'the most misunderstood people of all time'

The Gathering of the Juggalos is an annual summer pilgrimage for people who know they are among the most hated on earth. Nestled deep in the Illinois woods, the Gathering is "the biggest family reunion on the planet" for the "most misunderstood people of all time" (their superlatives).

United for four days in one place from around the country, the Juggalos testify to conjuring a magical solidarity that is, according to one of the event's inspirations, a 38-year-old father of two famously known as Violent J, "What I imagine it's like for the Muslims to visit the Holy Land of Mecca."

Except here, there's a Ferris wheel.

Nate "Igor" Smith
Someday this will be someone's grandmother.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Someday this will be someone's grandmother.
Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J at the Gathering's "Michael Jackson Moonwalk BBQ Blowout Pajama Jam." Note the Jackson-themed hatchetman.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J at the Gathering's "Michael Jackson Moonwalk BBQ Blowout Pajama Jam." Note the Jackson-themed hatchetman.
One of the back-up Faygo-spraying clowns during ICP's headlining show.
Nate "Igor" Smith
One of the back-up Faygo-spraying clowns during ICP's headlining show.
Coolio at the Gathering, 
showing off his misspelled "Jugalo" tattoo.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Coolio at the Gathering, showing off his misspelled "Jugalo" tattoo.
Welcome to Lake Hepatitis.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Welcome to Lake Hepatitis.
Tila Tequila being led offstage.
Nate "Igor" Smith
Tila Tequila being led offstage.
This says it all: A young fan at a Gathering wrestling match
Nate "Igor" Smith
This says it all: A young fan at a Gathering wrestling match

The Gathering of the Juggalos is a campground retreat for followers of Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit horror-core rap duo who paint their faces like evil harlequins and talk about 'ho's, hatchets, and dicks. For nearly two decades, MTV has ignored Violent J and his partner-in-clown, Shaggy 2 Dope. Spin famously crowned the minstrel-descending "über-wiggers" 1997's "Mooks of the Year." Malls across America ban shoppers from wearing ICP gear. The band itself has waged bitter public feuds with Disney, the Beastie Boys, Eminem, Sharon Osbourne, and, last month, reality star/Playboy model Tila Tequila. (See "Tila Tequila vs. The Gathering of the Juggalos: An Eyewitness Account.")

Probably the nicest thing any professional music critic has ever said about ICP is that they're "dumb": USA Today awarded them "Worst Album of the Year"—twice. Even the company behind generic soft-drink Faygo, long associated with the band, which purchases it by the truckload to spray in fans' faces—on the brand-loyalty scale, it's what Adidas was to Run-D.M.C.—only politely acknowledges their existence.

"Not only do people diss us for what we do, but it's almost to the point that they want us to stop!" Violent J yells over the phone from the band's bootstrapped label, Psychopathic Records.

Insane Clown Posse have wisely turned this cultural leprosy into an elevator pitch. Over the course of nearly two decades, the wicked clowns, who bought their mamas houses on cartoon massacres and butt, nut, and slut jokes, have sold more than seven million releases, racked up three gold and two platinum RIAA-certified records, and accrued millions of dollars in merchandising. They advertise the Gathering as "the Most Controversial Music Festival in the World!" and promote ICP as the "Most Hated Band in the World." Both are spins few would debate.

As high-profile lowbrow exiles, Insane Clown Posse have become magnets for hundreds of thousands of fellow outcasts who call themselves Juggalos and Juggalettes, bonded by their outcast status. For approximately 10,000 of them, the Gathering is a yearly reminder that these white-rap-loving black sheep aren't alone. It is also an opportunity to shower in a trailer, ride in a helicopter, and get tattooed in the back of a pick-up truck.

"It's a motherfuckin' Juggalo Woodstock, only better," Violent J has written. "There's more to do, more to see, more 'ho's to fuck, and it's all insane as hell."

"I would almost compare it to that movie 28 Days Later," jokes comedian Tom Green, who was onstage when Juggalos pelted reality star Tila Tequila with rocks, referring to a horror film about the spread of an apocalyptic "rage" virus. "Just me running all the time: Don't let them get too close to you 'cuz they may eat your brains!"

For 96 hours in mid-August, Psychopathic Records transforms HogRock Campgrounds into a shantytown psycho-porn amusement park. The privately owned property spreads across 115 acres of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, an Ohio River–traced village that "has a history of violence as long as your tattooed arm!" and a tradition of sheltering "river pirates, smugglers, counterfeiters, ghosts, and some of the nation's first serial killers!" (Both are blurbs, now deleted, from the "Site Attractions" page of the official Gathering website.)

It's a setting that is ideal for self-contained outlaw culture. The police force of surrounding Hardin County consists of a sheriff with only four deputies. For the Gathering, seven additional officers are hired to pitch in for the weekend—two, when there are biker rallies in the same spot in June and October—but even with the additions, the department is only equipped to intervene outside of the gates. Local laws don't require any permits to throw an event like this ("Nothing," confirms the County Sheriff), so once the grounds are rented, organizers can set up shop without bureaucratic hassle. Events are BYOB, the nearest package store is 14 miles away, and a weekend like this triples the county's population of 4,700.

A map given at the entrance shows how HogRock has been carved into an Insane Clown Posse theme park: Three camping areas are rechristened the "Chaos District," "Loonie Boonies," and "Red Mist Mountain." Scattered around them are six separate stages, a wrestling ring, and an autograph tent. There is the Main Stage, where ICP will headline and Method Man will get his cheek bloodied from a flying object. There is the Second Stage, where bong MC Afroman will get figuratively stoned and reality-TV star Tila Tequila will get literally stoned. There is the Seminar Tent, where omnipresent porn icon Ron Jeremy will initial the sunburnt breast of a Juggalette already sporting a neck hickey, then take her inside his trailer. There is the Freakshow Tent, where a Ms. Juggalette contestant will ejaculate on command (and win), Vanilla Ice will unleash "Ninja Rap" (his contribution to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II soundtrack) at around 4:30 in the morning, and one of the Half Pint Brawlers (a little person wrestler) will get a dollar bill stapled to his testicle.

There is the Jump-Off, the broadcast headquarters of Psychopathic house station WFuckOffRadio (call letters WFKO), where a nude model will duct-tape a Juggalo to a stripper's pole and then stuff an Ecstasy pill in his rectum. (Later, the Juggalo will suck tequila from a beer bong and vomit.) There is the Spazmatic Hangout, a dry saloon serving Faygo and the official Juggalo energy drink, ICP's Spazmatic!™, which tastes like a melted freeze-pop mixed with cough syrup (text on the can: "Insane Clown Posse's Frothy, Freaky, Frosty, Refreshing Energy Freshness Can of Shazam!"). At seven in the morning, watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher will be found there nearly passed out, smoking a joint.

There are also carnival attractions, since ICP's major mythology is a purgatorial afterlife called the Dark Carnival, with spinning swings, the Ferris wheel, a dunk tank. (Who's inside? A mean clown, of course.) There are concession stands hawking funnel cakes, fried Twinkies, and Faygo sno-cones, and midway games, like a basket toss where the bored female attendant passes the time by sucking hard on a glass pipe.

The entrance fee is $150 for four days, with tickets available online and in person at selected Hot Topics. (A three-day pass to Coachella in Indio, California, cost $269, plus $3 charity, plus "applicable service fees.") ICP will later swear they have never made money off this thing: "We're celebrating over here, because when this year's Gathering was said and done, Psychopathic Records only lost 15 grand," Violent J will insist. "It's true. I swear to you, it's true. We only lost 15 grand. The way we look at it, we paid 15 grand to give everybody that bomb-ass experience." This is not counting any potential legal fees that will result from Tila Tequila's appearance.

Three important landmarks are not on the sanctioned guide. One is 7-Juggaleven, two visitors under a tarp selling candy ($.50), over-the-counter medicine ($3), and a toothbrush-and-toothpaste combo ($4) from a truck bed. There is Lake Hepatitis, a murky, foam-green watering hole with no lifeguard, many topless Juggalettes, and a "SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK" sign accompanied by a ghoulishly dying hand. The last is the Drug Bridge, a footbridge where 10 to 20 dealers will spend nights milling around, advertising their wares with handmade signs or carnival-barker shouts ("Green crack, green crack, I've got the green crack!"). Even the private security detail, hired by Psychopathic, will refer to this stretch as the "Drug Bridge" via walkie-talkie. And at no point will anyone be seen interfering with this underground economy. ("You were there," Hardin County Sheriff Tom Seiner says after we've all returned. "Would you want to take five people into that campground and start making drug arrests?") Ever seen season three of The Wire? This was a lot like Hamsterdam.

"Welcome to the fucking ultimate vacation," a 22-year-old Juggalo from Baltimore named Chris will say, putting his arm around me during a wet-T-shirt contest hosted by the ubiquitous Ron Jeremy. "Hope you're not a feminist."

Insane Clown Posse is made up of two childhood friends, Joe Bruce ("Violent J") and Joey Utsler ("Shaggy 2 Dope"), from Detroit. Bruce is Penn to Utsler's Teller—Utsler does speak, but far less than his counterpart. Bruce grew up with a single mother on a church janitor's salary, an abusive stepfather who molested his older sister and brother, and a steady diet of the pantry junk unloaded through canned-food drives and Faygo (the "ghetto pop of Detroit").

"In elementary school, you know there's always that one kid who's notoriously a scrub?" Bruce asks in his ghostwritten memoir, Behind the Paint. "That was me all day and then some." Then he tells the story of having a bathroom accident at school that ends with his peers chasing him around the playground with his "shitty drawers on a stick." If there's one metaphor for the plight of the Juggalo, this is probably it.

Bruce met Utsler in junior high. They were wrestling fans, so they built a backyard ring out of railroad logs with their older brothers. They became obsessed with rap—Run-D.M.C., Geto Boys, Beastie Boys—and formed a crew, JJ Boys, also with their brothers. (Sample rhyme from Bruce: "All my girlie friends chase me down the hall/I don't smoke dope or drink alcohol!") Later, they pretended to be gangsters with their homies and called themselves Inner City Posse. They beat up "anybody with a mouth." They beat up hookers. They beat up rich kids. "The whole gang thing kind of gave us an excuse to be losers," Bruce writes. "At least we were cool losers."

Revenge of the scrubs became their guiding light. So one night, at their soon-to-be manager's mom's house, the idea of being murderous, rapping clowns came to Bruce. He recalls thinking, "Our whole lives we have been the scrubs, so we might as well rep that in some way! Let's rap about the shit that makes us wanna become serial killers, just to let it all out!" He describes the epiphany's arrival like a meteor, BOOM! "Let's put our biggest fears and angers on tape!" He continues, "Let's paint our faces like clowns, and be the Insane Clown Posse: clowns who murder and kill people who deserve to be murdered and killed!"

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.)

His encore is Insane Clown Posse's "Chicken Huntin', " a metal-riffed rap-rock anthem about killing rednecks. In ICP's arsenal of enemies, the most contemptible are bigots—in many ways, the Juggalo identity, however imprecise it is, is a direct rejection of the shotgun-toting Confederate-flag wavers that hometown foes Ted Nugent and Kid Rock have embraced—and the chorus boasts the spoils of their spree, a chant Andrew leads for the crowd: "Blood, Guts, Fingers, and Toes!" When the soon-to-be seventh-grader is finished collecting his Gathering of the Juggalos T-shirt prize, his family is waiting.

Andrew's mother is Sherry Picerno, a 39-year-old kindergarten aide. She has Insane Clown Posse stickers all over her car and ankle clown tattoos that the rest of the world can see only when she's wearing capris. She is also here with her older son, 15-year-old Shad, Andrew's stepfather, Frank Picerno, and her niece, who was drugged at the Gathering last year and had her shoes stolen, but, for some reason, came back—this time with extra shoes.

"As people, I think we're more laidback and rely on ourselves more," says Frank when asked about how Juggalos are different from everybody else. "We're not tied up in the drama of Wall Street. We don't let that get to us. If something happens tomorrow, we know that down the street, there's a Juggalo that's got our backs. We need a drink of water, they'll get us a drink of water—and we're down the street from them."

Boondox, that killer scarecrow on ICP's record label, saved Sherry's life. "I had four strokes almost four years ago," she explains. Her tone reminds one, in a good way, of Roseanne Barr. "I got stuck in an MRI machine for two hours. I'm claustrophobic, I can't handle it. All I could remember was Boondox's [record] The Harvest, so I kept singing it over and over again so I wouldn't hear the machine." Her MySpace profile picture is a Boondox avatar.

Andrew invokes Cousin Oliver from The Brady Brunch. His favorite subject is math, and he's two grades ahead in the curriculum. At school, he can wear his hatchetman gear, though Shad can't. "Even if I'm wearing something with [ICP acolytes] Twiztid killing somebody, with a cigarette—ah, a blunt—in their hands, teachers don't even really see the blunt because it's so small on the shirt," Andrew says, with the casual defiance of a shopper who has just sneaked 15 items through a 10-item checkout.

Sherry likes that ICP is against wife-beating. Andrew likes that Insane Clown Posse are against child molesters. He cites 2009's "To Catch a Predator" in which Violent J—in reality, the father of a toddler daughter—poses online as a 12-year-old girl, lures potential pedophiles, and then rather explicitly mutilates them. "He's trying to help keep kids safe," Andrew says. "He doesn't want them to get fucked by an adult." And I quote.

"I can see how somebody coming in from the outside, looking at what goes on around here—there's going to be culture shock," interjects his stepfather. "Like, 'Oh, my Gosh, to see all of this out in the open.' But that's the only thing they see. They don't see people here like us who just want to be with each other."

Three things that somebody coming in from the outside might notice—besides the love and unity that Frank Picerno and his family talk about so earnestly:

1) On Friday morning, a propane fire injures one of the hired concession workers. Not a Juggalo, he disappears into the crowd for hours, returns acting funny and wearing a bandanna, then stabs his boss over an expensive radio. It is later assumed that hallucinogens were involved. When the cops drive in to retrieve the victim, the County Sheriff Tom Seiner says, the crowd was "yelling, 'Fuck the Police,' chanting it, and throwing things at the patrol cars."

2) On Sunday morning, near the campground entrance, three people are beating another man with a lead pipe. Local police take the alleged attackers into custody and, while trying to get a statement from the victim, discover that he has an outstanding out-of-state warrant. The victim, who was beaten up badly, according to the cops on the scene, flees back to the festival before they can get his statement. The three men in question are released. The warrant is non-extraditable and the victim wouldn't have been arrested.

3) Hardin County convenience stores notice that Juggalos are purchasing gallons jugs of gas, so they alert the police. Early on Monday, Porta-Potties, hay, and a barn inside HogRock burn.

It's behavior like this, along with the Tila Tequila incident, that makes Chris Pitman, a Juggalo from Dayton, Ohio, say that some of his peers "need to grow up." (There's even a blog called ICP Fans Against Juggalos.) "We're here to have fun. We can't have a good time if people are getting hurt."

Pitman first heard ICP when he was eight. He's now 22. "I had a shitty past—a really shitty past. My dad beat me growing up. I didn't have much of anything. I lived all over Ohio, in different areas. If my dad didn't like the way I looked at him, I got hit in the face. It was bad. So I started listening to them, and I was able to get out all my anger. And I'd be like, 'You know what? I'm not the only one out there going through this shit. Other people feel the same and can understand where I'm coming from. I'm not the only one.' " His dad hates ICP. "Juggalos have accepted me more as a family than anyone else I've ever met."

Pitman, who is working for a telemarketing company, actually wants to become a cop someday. Right after he finishes paying off his car, he's going to school for criminal justice. He does not see the phrase "Juggalo cop" as an oxymoron: ICP narrators are usually vigilantes who carve up rednecks, cheaters, wife-beaters, and child molesters. "The people who're dying are bad people," he clarifies.

Someone here compares the fiction of ICP's music to Showtime's Dexter, an award-winning show about a serial killer who only executes people he can personally prove are guilty. But just like how Dexter allegedly inspired an Edmonton copycat in 2008, there have been a smattering of young folks who call themselves Juggalos and commit savage crimes. Which is how, earlier this year, Martin Bashir ended up interviewing Violent J and Shaggy—who answered the news program's questions about their "nursery rhymes laced with murder" in full face paint—for a segment entitled "Could the Music of Insane Clown Posse Cause Fans to Kill?" When the suggestion was made that a song called "Imma Kill You" could inspire someone to kill, Shaggy 2 Dope responded that it would only if "you a grown retard."

Off-camera, they've also defended their ax-massacre tales as parables. Violent J claims that many years ago, he had a vision one night that involved a jester teleporting him to a Dark Carnival. There, a white-gloved clown tossed down six Joker cards before him. "I began to realize that either I was chosen for a grand purpose in this world, or I had gone completely insane," he writes. What J says he dreamed became the inspiration for ICP's six concept albums, each one based on a different character that embodied six evil aspects of human nature. "You see yourself in different reflections, and you have a chance to change yourself before your ending comes," J once explained to shock-rocker Alice Cooper, who guested on The Great Milenko. When the last album in the series came out, it revealed that the figure behind Insane Clown Posse's theology was . . . God. The hymnal's chorus rallied: "And may the Juggalos fiiiiiiiiiiind Him!"

The bottom line? Chris Pitman, the aspiring Ohio cop, swears that ICP got him back to church. "I'm a Juggalo, and I'm a Christian," he says. "When I get up in the morning, I thank God for letting me live another day as both." When the Gathering is over, he's even going to stop smoking weed.

Friday afternoon in the Bomb-House, waiting for a belated wet-T-shirt contest hosted by Ron Jeremy. Adam, a shirtless, cowpoke-handsome 22-year-old with a cherry-red hatchetman inked above his navel, walks over. " 'Sup, ninjette!," is his greeting. We have never spoken before, but he leans over for a hug, which I reciprocate. "Shit, man, I'm from Oklahoma, and I hate it!" he offers, apropos of nothing and everything. "I want to get out of there so badly!" He came alone to the Gathering this year—his homies flaked—and he lives with his mom, who pitched in for his expenses to get here. "Go, mama!" he says, pumping his fist.

Beside us are TrueJuggaloFamily.com co-founders Julianne Murrow, a lithe 28-year-old editorial assistant who writes obituaries at a tiny Texas newspaper, and her husband. Online, they're known as JesterJules and RandomNinja, and they live in Possum Creek, a town of about 9,000 dominated by churches and cops. Even though TrueJuggaloFamily.com was launched this year on April 20, this weekend is Julianne's first time seeing pot smoking in public.

This is Adam's second Gathering. Last year, he didn't have that much fun because he got hit in the face with a can during a wrestling match, so he "spent the whole event being pissed off." He shows us a scar above his upper lip. But this year, he is in a much better mood: "Have fun, take it as it comes" is his attitude—about this weekend, about life.

Adam drifts off to do more sup-ninja! mingling. About 15 minutes later, he is in the middle of the Bomb-House crowd, his arms extended like wings. Trash pelts him in the chest. He is smiling.

Twiztid are Psychopathic Records' second most prominent face. Two guys with ghostly white mugs and those braids, they are horror-core protégés of ICP. Juggalos adore them.

They headline the Main Stage on Saturday night and unexpectedly cut the set short to debut their new album Heartbroken and Homicidal a month early. They are effectively leaking their own album to their fans, which would be a big Internet deal in a genre like, say, indie rock. The Juggalos hate this. They did not come to the Gathering to listen to a CD. "Lame!" people hoot. And they love these guys.

That's nothing. When rebel-flag-waving, speedpunk hillbillies Nashville Pussy opened for Insane Clown Posse at the Hammerstein Ballroom in 2000, the Juggalo crowd sat on the floor, backs to stage, middle fingers extended. In 2003, the Gathering's fourth year, when Southern rapper Bubba Sparxxx came out allegedly "a little too cocky," Juggalos booed him offstage. In 2010, when old-school legend Method Man kept shouting out, "Illinois" at the Gathering as if the crowd's loyalty was geographic, and seemed confused by their repeated "Whoop! Whoop!," someone in the crowd beaned him in the face, almost knocked him out, drawing blood.

"You can't guess who that's going to happen to," says Violent J. "They were throwing shit at the [crunk rappers known for "Wait (The Whisper Song)"] Ying Yang Twins two years ago. We figured, 'The Ying Yang Twins, they got fun anthems!' We didn't pay the Ying Yang twins 30 grand for them to come in and get booed offstage!"

Juggalos throw things. They just do. Even while waiting for Insane Clown Posse to address its faithful at an official "panel," an airborne war broke out between the front and the back of the tent, in the impish style of a cafeteria food fight. "It's the Gathering," someone behind me huffed when MC Upchuck the Clown pleaded with them to stop. "Juggalos throw things."

The following day, I met a 'lette who "busted ass" all summer to attend her first Gathering with her tattoo-artist brother; she got hit in the face with a Miller Lite bottle waiting for that ICP panel. The glass, which technically isn't permitted on the grounds, shattered and deeply cut her cheek; the skin below her eye was bandaged and bruised. She didn't care about a scar—she was more upset that her older sibling had to forfeit precious moments of the Gathering to track down a Wal-Mart for first-aid supplies.

So when Tila Tequila got pelted with rocks, feces, bottles, cans, sex toys, and a bag of chicken tenderloin—an incident she immediately reported to TMZ with photos of her facial bruises and then threatened to sue—it wasn't unexpected. A fever pitch of promises had already been made, via Twitter and Juggalo forums, to heckle her, to spray her with Faygo. "Before I got onstage, I already knew what was going to happen," she even told E! later that week.

The whole thing became so precarious that on Friday, the two members of Insane Clown Posse addressed the situation at a previously scheduled public forum. "Everybody that comes—they know where they're going and they know who they're performing for," Violent J told a tentful of at least 1,000 Juggalos, mostly seated on bales of hay. "You wouldn't believe how many people refuse to come play the Gathering." (Later, he told me that no one has flat-out refused—just raised their fee extremely high.) "When we see somebody who actually agreed, and who was actually looking forward to it, get bombed onstage? That shit hurts, man, because we feel bad for them, you know. And we just want you to know, you're going to have equally as much love from us no matter what you decide to do, but we wish you wouldn't throw the shit, man. I'm keeping it real." The Juggalos applauded.

Even Hannibal Buress, a New York comedian who writes for 30 Rock and performed at two o'clock in the morning, said he wouldn't put up with that: "If they throw shit at me, I'll stop."

To counter the criticism that Insane Clown Posse's catalog and attitude encourage misogyny (I can't even tell you how many times Juggalos begged me to flash), Psychopathic Records wanted, finally after a decade, to establish a female face. So they promoted the Tila Tequila lineup, which Lil' Kim was supposed to headline, as the "Juggalettes' Revenge." It was also sold as something "for horny Juggalos!" on the infomercial by Sugar Slam, in real life Violent J's longtime girlfriend and the mother of his children.

Ill E. Gal, a green-haired, Maine-based pothead rapper, went on right before Tila, despite not getting paid to play, and was received warmly. "I had the most amazing, magical set with nothing but love and then she goes up there and gets shit thrown at her. It's obviously not the people, because if it were the people, I would have gotten it, too."

Even before Tila Tequila's face turned bloody onstage, Insane Clown Posse has recently enjoyed a public-eye resurgence that's seen them written into Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force and spoofed on Saturday Night Live twice in the last year: once for their extremely earnest, extremely long Gathering infomercial; once for their most recent video, "Miracles," which has over 3.5 million views on YouTube.

"Miracles" is unflaggingly positive, uproariously so from guys who have a history of promising to give your forehead a butt-crack with an ax: a wide-eyed P.M. Dawn–style paean to giraffes, "fucking rainbows," their children's birth, and a hungry pelican that once nearly ate Violent J's cell phone, the single exuded a Saturday-morning kids'-hour naïveté about natural phenomena. "Fucking magnets, how do they work?" is Shaggy's most memorable line, followed by his subsequent dismissal of lab-coated reasoning. "I don't wanna talk to a scientist/Y'all motherfuckers lying, and get me pissed." Slate's Jonah Weiner cast it thusly: "Imagine Wordsworth gone rock-rap, dropping f-bombs aplenty in praise of the natural sublime."

"We're just trying to show appreciation for the things that are in our everyday life—and we made a song about it," Violent J explains. "And people are mad about it! They know we don't really not know how magnets work! They know we know that shit. We know what miracles are! And we know those aren't all miracles. So why are people so mad about it? It's Insane Clown Posse, we're clowns, we're singing about something positive, and they said"—from Detroit to New York, you can hear the caps in his voice—"FUCK THIS. THIS IS THE WORST SONG EVER MADE IN LIFE! You should go on YouTube and look at these posts! How mad these guys are! They're so angry!"

Oh, and they are. Writes BridgesOutOfficial: "The only miracle is that this shit piece of video has over 3 million views . . . this is fucking illiterate poison, absolute trash lyrics. It's like if Vanilla Ice was slightly more gangster, overweight, and started a KISS cover band." Allshallfuckenperish is more succinct: "this song gave me cancer =*{"

Juggalo Deathcamp, a Boston-metal trio with an EP called You Look Like an Idiot and Your Girlfriend Is Fat, has 255 fans on Facebook. Meanwhile, "Miracles" has accumulated 2,403 views on YouTube just in the time it took me to write this section.

Violent J and Shaggy just stand back and watch. "When this shit is around us, this shit is mindblowing," Violent J says. "This shit is. A. Lot. For Us. To Take. Both of us are on medication for this shit. It's too overwhelming. This shit is—[long pause]—unreal! Everyday. Is Breathtaking. Every day, it's amazing—that Juggalos even exist! And we appreciate it. We don't control this. We're not the leaders of this. All we do is provide a soundtrack."

cdodero@villagevoice.com; on Twitter @camilledodero

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2 comments
AnAgreeablePunkalo
AnAgreeablePunkalo

I like that you at least tried to keep your obvious bias out of it, but still I wish people would try to understand that we Juggalos are people, we do have feelings, and we aren't all idiot/illiterate wiggers.  Some Juggalos are indisputably what I just described, but most of us truly enjoy the meanings of the songs, the message that the Juggalo music community sends and the family-esque vibe one gets from a Juggalo concert or a Gathering.  I feel the same way about religion, just because some Muslims do crazy things doesn't mean that all the Muslim people in the world are crazy.  People just need to try to coexist.

s424h
s424h

this is insane

 
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