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Insane Clown Posse sues FBI, Justice Department over Juggalo gang classification

Carlos Osorio / AP

Joseph Bruce aka Violent J, left, and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope, members of the Insane Clown Posse, address the media in Detroit, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.

Detroit music duo Insane Clown Posse along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, demanding that the agencies remove "Juggalos," or self-identified fans of the Posse, from their list of gangs.

"Organized crime is by no means part of the Juggalo culture," read a complaint filed in federal court in Detroit, adding that the gang designation is "unlawful" and "unconstitutionally vague."

ICP fans are recognizable by the way they paint their faces to look like clowns and for displaying the “hatchetman” logo on their clothes, skin or bumper stickers. 

Juggalos were officially identified as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” by the Department of Justice in 2011, when the fan group was included in the department's National Gang Threat Assessment. 

As a result, the complaint filed Wednesday states, "state and local police routinely stop, detain, interrogate, photograph and document" Juggalos, with some fans even being denied consideration for employment.

"The Juggalos are fighting for the basic American right to freely express who they are, to gather and share their appreciation of music, and to discuss issues that are important to them without fear of being unfairly targeted and harassed by police," said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director. "Branding hundreds of thousands of music fans as gang members based on the acts of a few individuals defies logic and violates our most cherished of constitutional rights."

The federal government estimates that there are more than a million Juggalos in the United States, the ACLU said. The group formed in 1991.

ICP members Joseph Bruce aka Violent J and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope have repeatedly called their fan base a family.

“It’s time for the FBI to come to its senses and recognize that Juggalos are not a gang but a worldwide family united by the love of music,” Bruce said in a statement. “There has never been — and will never be — a music fan base quite like Juggalos, and while it is easy to fear what one does not understand, discrimination and bigotry against any group of people is just plain wrong and un-American.”

The defendants have until March to respond to the complaint or request a dismissal.