Music has a long tradition of inspiring fanaticism within fanbases. Consider the babybooming-pensioners at any Jimmy Buffet concert, the Parrotheads. Consider the smelly burnouts who follow around The Grateful Dead, the Deadheads. Even “Weird Al” Yankovic has a legion of rabid fans called “Close Personal Friends of Al.”
Now consider the Juggalos.
I don’t have to tell you that Juggalos are fans of the Detroit horror-rap group the Insane Clown Posse (ICP). Popular culture has had far too much fun mocking what it feels an inferior subculture. This may have made ICP a household name, but a much-maligned one, so much so that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in its 2011 annual report on gangs and organized crime, classified fans of the band as a “loosely-organized hybrid gang.”
It was for that reason that Violent Jay and Shaggy 2 Dope, the two unassuming guys at the center of the insane clown vortex, began planning the Juggalo March on Washington. They had just lost a sizeable chunk of their own money unsuccessfully trying to defend the FBI’s classification of their fans.
Most bands would give up at this point, perhaps even begin to relish in the label, but ICP aren’t most bands. In-between doing charity work for underprivileged children (ICP are famous for their Christmas toy drives) and helping raise donations for many worthy causes (one of the more recent was Hurricane Harvey), Shaggy and Jay spent a year planning their march on Washington, dotting every ‘i’, crossing every ‘t’, and taking meticulous care that this event be an opportunity for the world to see that this family of misunderstood misfits were far from criminals.
Then, the Nazis happened.
I admit with no pride that my interest in the Juggalo March only piqued when word started circulating about an alt-right event being planned at the same time. The internet billed it “Nazis vs Juggalos: Fight of the Century” and all I knew was I wanted to be in the center of it.
Unfortunately, a good friend of mine lives in northwestern DC and was more than happy to put me up for a few nights, so I soon found myself traveling aboard the Greyhound Buslines - a tedious journey from Asheville to Winston to Raleigh to Richmond, VA. to Washington, DC that took sixteen hours and eroded what little sanity I have left.
There were roughly 180 attendees at the alt-right event, compared to the thousands of people ICP had drawn to their stage, set up between the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. As my friend and I walked down from the Washington Monument, aggressive hip-hop echoed out to greet us. It was filled with strange-looking people in strange-looking clothes, smoking strange-smelling cigarettes, fearlessly out in the open (I would find out later that the police, who feared the Juggalos would massacre the alt-right, were happy that we were all well-behaved and were leaving us to our devices).
Darkness had already fallen on the capital when ICP took the stage. I had never been to an ICP show before, but I am a very experienced concert-goer. Still, nothing in my life could have prepared me for the surreal nature of looking in one direction and seeing ICP on stage, rapping about murdering racists, then moving my head but just a few degrees, and seeing Abraham Lincoln, smiling down approvingly from his throne.
In that moment, I realized something: I had came for the destruction but I stayed for the beauty.