Joseph Bruce aka Violent J, left, and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope, members of the Insane Clown Posse are seen after a news conference in Detroit, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. The rap metal group sued the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday over a 2011 FBI report that describes the duo's devoted fans, the Juggalos, as a dangerous gang, saying the designation has tarnished their fans' reputations and hurt business. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in Detroit federal court on behalf of the group's two members. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Insane Clown Posse suing FBI
02:11 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

"Juggalos are a 'family' of people who love and help one another," suit says

FBI analyst concluded in 2011 Insane Clown Posse fans are a "loosely-organized hybrid gang"

Gang designation violates free speech, free association and due process rights, suit says

Every large group includes "a relative handful engaged in criminal activity," suit contends

Los Angeles CNN  — 

Insane Clown Posse and four fans are suing the FBI for designating the rap duo’s followers as gang members.

FBI analysts, using law enforcement and media reports of crimes committed by people wearing “Juggalo” tattoos and clothing, concluded in the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment that they are a “loosely organized hybrid gang.”

“Juggalos are a ‘family’ of people who love and help one another, enjoy one another’s company, and bond over the music and a philosophy of life,” said the lawsuit filed in Detroit Wednesday. “Organized crime is by no means part of the Juggalo culture.”

The gang designation violates fans’ constitutional rights, including free speech, freedom of association and the right to due process, the complaint argues.

People with “Juggalo” tattoos and clothing have been illegally targeted by police and denied jobs because of the FBI’s gang designation, the complaint contends.

“Among the supporters of almost any group – whether it be a band, sports team, university, political organization or religion – there will be some people who violate the law. Inevitably, some will do so while sporting the group’s logos or symbols,” the filing said. “However, it is wrong to designate the entire group of supporters as a criminal gang based on the acts of a few. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.”

The group has been battling with the FBI in court since 2012 for the release of any information the analysts used to make their determination. Most of the documents released were online news stories detailing robberies and violence in which “Juggalos” were suspects.

The Insane Clown Posse lawsuit claims that its followers identify with their songs, which “have hopeful, life-affirming themes about the wonders of life and the support that Juggalos give to one another.”

Insane Clown Posse: Hate us, don’t hate the fans

“Many people view Juggalos as nonconformists because of their musical tastes, their practice of painting their faces to look like clowns, and the distinctive Juggalo symbols – including the ‘hatchetman’ logo – that they often display on their clothing, jewelry, body art and bumper stickers,” the suit said. “Yet when Juggalos come together at concerts or their annual week-long gathering every summer, they know that they are in a community where all people are equal and where they will be accepted and respected for who they are.”

The wide distribution of the gang report to law enforcement agencies around the United States “has caused real harm to ordinary Juggalos from coast to coast.”

The four fans who joined the lawsuit – from Nevada, California, North Carolina and Iowa – include a truck company owner who said he was detained by a state trooper in Tennessee because he was driving a truck with a “Juggalo” symbol on its side.

Another man has been repeatedly stopped and questioned by California police because of his visible “Juggalo” tattoos, the suit said.

A third fan was told by an Army recruiter that he could not join the military because of his “Juggalo” tattoo, it said. He was denied entry into the Army even after they were removed, the lawsuit said.

The fourth plaintiff is an active-duty soldier with “Juggalo” tattoos. The gang designation “places him in imminent danger of suffering discipline or an involuntary discharge from the Army,” the lawsuit said.

A Royal Oak, Michigan, theater canceled an Insane Clown Posse concert – known as “Hallowicked” – at the request of police, the suit said.

The U.S. Justice Department has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” FBI spokeswoman Jenny Shearer said when contacted by CNN.

“We’re aware of the lawsuit,” said Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle. “We’ll decline to comment.”

CNN’s Suzanne Presto and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.