Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Juggalo Gang Designation

CINCINNATI (CN) – The Sixth Circuit rejected a challenge Monday by the Insane Clown Posse over the FBI’s designation of its Juggalo fan base as “a loosely-organized hybrid gang.”

Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler, better known by their on-stage personas Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, brought the underlying challenge in 2014, joined by four Juggalos.

The National Gang Intelligence Center made the determination three years earlier, saying “many Juggalo[] subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence.”

Although the report admitted the crimes were “‘sporadic, disorganized, individualistic,’ and relatively minor,” it claimed criminal activity within the group was on the rise.

Bruce, Utsler and the fans meanwhile fought the designation as a violation of their due-process and free-speech rights, saying the government publicly discouraged fans from expressing their identity by saying Juggalos could be identified through their tattoos, clothing or other insignia.

One of the plaintiffs named his trucking company Juggalo Express LLC, for example. He claimed a Tennessee state trooper detained him only because of the Juggalo insignia on the side of his semi-truck.

Another plaintiff was allegedly told by an Army recruiter that his application would be denied unless he removed or permanently covered several Juggalo tattoos.

The group appealed to the Sixth Circuit after U.S. District Judge Robert Cleland dismissed their case in 2014.

After holding oral arguments this fall, a three-judge panel took just two months to affirm dismissal.

“The Juggalo gang designation does not result in legal consequences because it does not impose liability, determine legal rights or obligations, or mandate, bind, or limit other government actors,” U.S. Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder wrote for the court in Cincinnati.

In addition to emphasizing the National Gang Intelligence Center’s lack of control over other agencies or law-enforcement officers, Batchelder noted that no agencies or law-enforcement officers are required to consider the 2011 report on gang-related issues.

The report “is merely an informational agency report,” Batchelder added.

Batchelder rejected the Insane Clown Posse’s claims that the informational report still carried legal consequences.

“The harms that appellants suffered were caused by third parties who discretionarily relied on the gang designation,” Batchelder wrote.

As for “the various reputational and personal harms suffered by appellants in the present case,” Batchelder said they “may be the practical consequences of the Juggalo gang designation, but they are not a direct or appreciable legal consequence of the Juggalo gang designation or the 2011 NGIC Report.”

A footnote at the conclusion of the 11-page opinion notes that the juggalos could still “raise their constitutional claims against the individual officers they complain of through a [civil rights] suit.”

Emily Palacios with the Ann Arbor firm Miller Canfield represented the Insane Clown Posse and its fans.

“While we are disappointed with the ruling, this case has been a success on many levels,” Palacios said in an email. “It raised public awareness of the FBI’s absurd designation of a musical fan group as a criminal gang. It led the Department of Justice to concede that the FBI’s statements in the 2011 gang report only applied to a small number of Juggalos subsets. And now we have an opinion that puts law enforcement on notice that officers can’t rely on an outdated FBI report to harass Juggalos without risking a lawsuit for violations of constitutional rights.”

Justice Department attorney Lindsey Powell argued for the government. She declined to comment on the ruling.

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