Fans or gang? Meet the Juggalos - East Valley Tribune: News

Fans or gang? Meet the Juggalos

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Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2008 6:09 pm | Updated: 9:21 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Derek Sprunk feels a special kinship when he paints black and white clown makeup into a wicked smile on his face.

VIDEO: Juggalos: Just fans of underground rap group Insane Clown Posse?

SLIDESHOW: Juggalos: Fans or gangs?

Derek Sprunk feels a special kinship when he paints black and white clown makeup into a wicked smile on his face.

"When you wear makeup, that unifies everybody," the 19-year-old Mesa man said.

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Sprunk is part of a subculture in the East Valley and throughout the country that's united over love for the music of the underground rap band Insane Clown Posse and a sweet soda called Faygo.

But to some police investigators, the group - which calls itself Juggalos - is a gang.

Last month, a group of statewide gang investigators met to discuss the Juggalos in an effort to classify the subculture. They decided that while most Juggalos aren't considered gang members, a few emerging sects meet the statewide criteria for a criminal street gang.

"We're extremely divided," said Arizona Department of Public Safety gang expert Detective Michelle Vasey. "I've kind of made these guys my passion over the past year-and-a-half. You've got 90 percent of them that are true fans ... but what we've found ... is small groups of gangs breaking off and calling themselves some kind of gang sect."

Scottsdale police gang officers also met earlier this month with the city's school resource officers to educate them about Juggalos and how to identify them.

"I think the Juggalos have a pretty overt style with the face paint and the hatchetman," said Scottsdale police Sgt. Aaron Minor. The hatchetman is cartoon drawing of a little man running with a hatchet that serves as a logo of sorts for the Juggalos.

"These things are a lot different than some other groups out there," Minor said.

Insane Clown Posse is an underground rap group that got its start in Detroit in the early 1990s. Band members were poor and grew up drinking a cheap soda popular in the Michigan area called Faygo. Even now, at concerts, the band often sprays Diet Faygo into the crowd.

There's an annual event called The Gathering of the Juggalos that fans liken to a Woodstock-type event.

Many gang officers say violent undertones permeate the music - produced by the Psychopathic Record label - which the subculture follows.

"The lyrics are often violent and sexual in nature," said a handout on Insane Clown Posse from Mesa police.

Juggalos also identify themselves by the hatchetman logo and are known to carry hatchets and knives as weapons.

"I had a kid once try to tell me it's a Christian band and his parents were all for it," said Chandler police school resource officer Kevin Quinn. "I had a little chat with the parents and showed them the lyrics."

But those who follow the music and the lifestyle say the songs speak to them. They believe in the messages contained in the Six Joker Cards, otherwise known as the six albums released by the band from 1991 to 2004.

"If you listen to the music. ...it's so much 'Society has done me wrong (and) the world should pay for it.'" Vasey said. "We may not have anything here, but together we will."

Juggalos and their female counterparts, called Juggalettes, were thrust into the spotlight in June when one of them was shot to death in west Mesa during a marijuana deal gone bad. Since then, many East Valley Juggalos have been fearing for their safety from people involved in the killing.

"If I walk around I have to walk around and worry about them hurting me," said 19-year-old Mesa Juggalo Jordan McCloe.

A Mesa gang detective who asked that his name not be used because he sometimes receives death threats from gang members said the Juggalos aren't being targeted by any groups right now. He and his fellow gang investigators don't consider all Juggalos to be gang members, but said they have documented 34 people in the city who meet the criteria of a criminal street gang.

According to Arizona law, a criminal street gang is an association of people who commit or help in the commission of felony crimes and has at least one person who is a gang member. A gang member is defined as someone to whom two of the seven following criteria apply:

They declare themselves to be a gang member

They're documented as a gang member through witness testimony or official statement:

  • They're documented through written or electronic correspondence
  • They possess paraphernalia or photographs affiliated with a gang
  • They have gang tattoos
  • They wear gang clothing or display gang colors
  • Anything else that would indicate gang membership

Sprunk said he firmly believes that Juggalos don't meet any of the gang criteria, and said it frustrates him that law enforcement sometimes labels him and his friends that way.

"You get picked on a lot more because you're different," Sprunk said.

Of Mesa's 34 documented Juggalos, public records show some have been arrested in connection with crimes including aggravated assault, shoplifting, drug paraphernalia and armed robbery. But many Juggalos said these types of people are rare in their circles.

And McCloe said it bothers him when he hears a news report of Juggalos hurting people.

Vasey, the DPS gang investigator, said although she believes Juggalos are by and large not a gang, she keeps certain sects of them on her radar.

"Where my concern is ... I just want to make sure we do keep an eye on it when these gangs are breaking off," she said.

Vasey, who used to work as a police officer on an Indian reservation, said she has seen traditional gang members break away and call themselves Juggalos more frequently over the past three years in Indian communities. She believes it may not be long before the trend becomes more widespread in other parts of the state.

Lt. Andy Vasquez, who heads up the statewide gang task force and is also a member of the Arizona Gang Investigators Association, said officials have identified two specific sects of Juggalos as gang members. One is in Mesa and the other is in Tucson.

In Tempe, officer Brandon Banks said his department is not identifying Juggalos as a gang at this time and the group hasn't been a problem in the city.

Banks said that Juggalos often boast "they are down with the clown."

The Mesa detective said many of the Juggalos he has encountered have come from broken homes and have found family and support in the music they listen to and the group they spend time with - as unorthodox as they may be.

And even the Juggalos themselves will admit there is truth to that.

Andrew Godby, a Juggalo now living in Washington, D.C., agrees.

"That's why a lot of Juggalos become Juggalos, because they're outcasts and they're not part of the popular group," Godby said.

He was one of many Juggalos who contacted the Tribune after a story about the June killing.

Sprunk said he is much closer with his Juggalo family than his biological family.

And McCloe said his mom is in prison for more than two years, so the Juggalos are his main family, too.

"There is a song (on one album) saying if you don't belong anywhere and you feel like an outcast, we'll take you," Godby said.

"Just because we call ourselves a different name doesn't mean we do any more harm than anyone else."

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