Nathan Rabin is not your average Juggalo.
He’s one of our preeminent pop culture writers, having steered the Onion’s entertainment coverage for well over a decade and authored four books, he’s a family man, and you won’t catch him wearing sweaty globs of greasepaint. Here’s the thing, though: the actual average Juggalo may not be who you think it is, and the person you’re imagining probably would’ve felt more at home at this summer’s Republican National Convention. It’s something Rabin learned the loud, schizophrenic way—by attending both the RNC and the Gathering of the Juggalos over the course of one exhausting week.
Like the vast majority of people, Rabin first took Insane Clown Posse and their wildly devoted fanbase–the Juggalos–for a joke. The group’s doofy name, garish visual aesthetic, and crunchy ’90s-bound rap-rock are all so heightened as to defy parody. (Well, almost.) It wasn’t until he followed the band on tour as research for a book on ostracized fandom that Rabin became a dyed-in-the-wool Ninja. This year, he decided to attend the 17th Gathering of the Juggalos, ICP’s much-thinkpiece’d annual festival, with his long-lost brother. Since the event happened to take place around the same time as the Republican National Convention, and in the same state, the intrepid reporter decided to attend both. What he found, he describes as “two sets of clowns, two divergent worldviews.”
Rabin crowdfunded the trip through GoFundMe, and used the proceeds to self-publish an account of his trip, 7 Days in Ohio. It’s an alternately harrowing, heartwarming, and funny snapshot of two very different movements, at a crossroads in America history. But what the two groups have in common, and what they don’t, surprised Rabin just as much as his initial descent into Juggalohood.
“Trump is playing to the idea that white heterosexual Christian people are horribly oppressed by Muslims, homosexuals, and Mexicans, and it’s very appealing to certain white people, especially because we’ve had a non-white president for the last eight years. It somehow projects that white people don’t have power anymore,” Rabin says. “One of the themes of the RNC this year was anger over this oppression, but Juggalos have a more legitimate and accurate grievance. The FBI has classified them as a gang and a national threat, and they just want to be treated like people who have dignity and not be persecuted for the music they like and the tattoos on their body or their hair. The FBI thing is more toxic and dangerous than the public perception has been. There are a lot of law enforcement people who have been given license to target you and hassle you because you are a Juggalo.”
“Both events felt very influenced by wrestling. Insane Clown Posse used to be involved with the WWE, and there’s a wrestling ring at the Gathering of the Juggalos, but also don’t forget that Trump is a Hall of Famer at the WWE. He’s a performer,” Rabin says. “Both events kind of had the vibe of cult meetings, too. There’s a lot of chanting, but the chanting is very different. At the Gathering, people will be chanting ‘Fam-i-ly! Fam-i-ly!’ or ‘Magic magic ninja what!’ It’s about community, and there’s affection there. People were chanting to affirm themselves and their experience and just be generally positive. At the RNC, when people would chant things, it was terrifying. It made me feel scared–it played to this hatred of women, more than anything. ‘Lock her up!’ There’s this hatred that kind of goes beyond the pale and becomes frightening. ‘Build a wall!’ These are all just incredibly negative things. When people were chanting at the RNC, they wanted to hurt or punish somebody.”
“I wouldn’t say Insane Clown Posse are totally Christian, but they do promote a Judeo-Christian theology. It’s almost like AA, where you just have to have faith in something bigger than yourself. The form of Christianity at the Republican National Convention just took the form of flat-out hate. The Westboro Baptist Church–the God Hates Fags people–were there, but they kind of lost some of their mojo because everybody was saying horrible things about homosexuals. There were a lot of signs like ‘Sodomites roast in hell.’ I think Trump’s a fake-Christian. I think he is obviously a debauched sinner who realized that in 2016, if you wanna get elected as a Republican, you better start talking about how much you love Jesus and your favorite book is the Bible.”
“These events are funhouse mirror reflections of each other–they’re spectacles, very vulgar, populist, and they’re about appealing directly to the base, but in different ways,” Rabin says. “Here we have the party of the establishment, one of these two giant parties who have dominated American politics, and it has sort of compressed itself into the fringe. To say you support the Republican presidential nominee this year is to make a kind of extreme and radical statement and that’s crazy. While this party is descending into madness, the Juggalos are starting to get at least a little more activist-minded and respectable. They’ve never been more political, working together on this case to counter the FBI.”
“There is less and less misogyny at the Gathering than there once was, and it’s nowhere near as bad as at the RNC where there are T-shirts of Trump punching Hillary Clinton in the face and pushing her off a motorcycle. I was at the Gathering in 2010 when they were hurling things at Tila Tequila, and that was disconcerting and creepy, but somehow that didn’t feel as bad as the convention when they were chanting ‘Lock her up!’ Overall, the Gathering of the Juggalos was way more patriotic and more American and a much better reflection of who we are as a country and where we’re going and where our ideals are than the RNC.”