Cave-In-Rock, Ill., population around 300, is not an ideal site for a hedonistic pilgrimage. The entire town smells of fresh cut grass, and there seem to be more grain silos than homes. Blue tarps hang from telephone poles advertising protestant churches and Bible verses.
There’s one secular tarp, the last one you see before you hit the Ohio River.
"The cave hole was discovered by the French in 1729," it says. "Used as a hideout for river pirates, robbers, killers, a gang of counterfeiters."
Every summer the bucolic hamlet returns to its outlaw roots when rappers Insane Clown Posse ride into town with several thousand dedicated fans known as Juggalos.
Not long ago I spent five debauched days with the 21st century river pirates at the 14th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos. By the end of it, the Hardin County Sheriff’s Department had exhausted about 75 percent of its annual budget. And a young fan was dead.
Juggalos have plagued America’s suburbs for two decades. They poop their pants, drop acid, drink cheap beer and cheaper soda until liquid spews from their lips, wail through the night, then sleep all day. I had a roommate who lived the Juggalo lifestyle, but my daughter left all that behind when she turned two.
Juggalos also halt mosh pits to help someone find his glasses, offer expensive drugs in exchange for tiny courtesies, and give needy comrades shoes, food, and gas money. They’re quick to offer comfort and CPR to any passed out "homie." Because that guy on the ground isn’t just a fellow music fan—he’s Capital-F Family.
Most come from broken homes. Some are hard at work creating new ones. They all embrace the Juggalo identity because it offers a support network, a love they never knew before they donned the face paint and raised the Hatchetman, ICP’s logo.
"I hate everyone, and I hate everything/Except for all the Juggalos and the love that they bring," ICP protégé Madrox says in the song "Juggalo Family."
That love translates to platinum albums.
ICP has sold two million more records than hip-hop trailblazers N.W.A., a group that introduced the world to Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and the late-Eazy E. The latter’s son, Lil Eazy E, doesn’t share the stage with his father’s mainstream crew. He performs at the Gathering.
Tech N9ne, one of the most talented rappers of the past decade, trails only Jay Z and Robin Thicke on the Billboard hip-hop charts right now thanks to Juggalos.
"You been buying my records, making them look our way, [proving] that we don’t need no TV or radio to be on the Billboard 200," he tells the packed crowd.
Other artists recognize this. Vanilla Ice is mounting his comeback on ICP’s label, Psychopathic Records. He sings hardcore remixes of "Ice, Ice Baby" at the Gathering to chants of "Fam-A-Lee" from the Juggalos. Colorado rapper Unispade has been performing at the festival for five years. He sells Crown Royale off a card table because of the relatively meager checks he collects for taking the stage, but he’s not complaining.
ICP originally stood for Inner City Posse. Duo Violent J and Shaggy Dope rapped about the violence of America’s underclass, no different from any other gangster rapper of the era. Then Violent J awoke from a fever dream he interpreted to be Hell.
The band started painting their faces like the terrifying clowns of the nightmare. They stopped making albums and started making "Joker Cards," theological diatribes describing a limbo-like "Dark Carnival" that consumes the wicked. Those who neglect the poor and engage in bigotry, sexism, pedophilia, and murder are doomed; those who lead good lives are redeemed.
"Truth is we follow God/we’ve always been behind him/the carnival is God/And may all Juggalos find Him," Violent J croons in the 2002 track, "Thy Unveiling." It turns out the murderous, hatchet-wielding, rape-fueled ninjas featured prominently throughout ICP’s oeuvre are intended to usher Juggalos into Shangri La, ICP’s heretical Heaven.
Juggalo-ism is closer to a religion than anything else. There are Juggalo wedding ceremonies and funerals. Juggalos are baptized in Faygo Pop, a cheap Midwestern soda ICP throws into the crowd, take communion from one-hitters, and listen to homilies delivered by two men wearing vestments of black jeans and face paint. The stage is the Juggalos’ altar, ICP records their catechism.
ICP are marketing pioneers whose tactics have spread through the entertainment industry. They built upon their initial success with five Joker Card sequels and spent off years developing other artists: Blaze Ya Dead Homie, Twiztid, and Anybody Killa, among others. ICP popularized them, sold their albums, then added them to a supergroup called Dark Lotus, which has sold hundreds of thousands more records. If the formula doesn’t sound familiar, then you missed The Avengers.
About one out of every 300 Americans is a Juggalo, though no two people agree on what the nebulous title means.
Violent J describes a Juggalo as, "A dead body/ Well, he ain't really dead, but he ain't like/Anybody that you've ever met before/He'll eat Monopoly and shit out Connect Four." Urban Dictionary says a Juggalo is "an uneducated, pathetic excuse for a human being. … They should not be allowed to reproduce because that is too cruel to future generations." The FBI classifies Juggalos as gang members.
The truth is there is no set definition for a Juggalo. It’s an umbrella term describing a subculture that begets many sub-subcultures. There are Thuggalos, Hug-galos, Druggalos, Juggalettes, Jugga-Hoes, and Ninjas, as I learned from Moonshine Mike, Roo, Drew, Ryan, Stretch Nuts, NoPo, Joey Stock, Headless Ninja, Richard, Whys Face, Hippie, who is not a hippie, his friend Lance, who is, and Mr. and Mrs. Byron Anson, M.D.s.
Cave-In-Rock has hosted the Juggalo pilgrimage for seven years thanks to Tim "Hog Daddy" York, who rents out his 600-acre property, Hog Rock, to the band.
While trying to find the campsite, I ran into Hardin County Deputy Mike Rogers and Auxiliary Deputy T.K. Angleton. They’re fed up with Hog Daddy.
Rogers says the county sheriff’s department spends about 75 percent of its annual budget on the five-day concert.
"We’ve had to launch search parties for days to find people that wander off," he says. "We’ve now abandoned pulling people over because none of them pay their tickets. We need new equipment, but we spend all of our money helping [Hog Daddy] get rich." Rogers is in the Army Reserves. "I was military police in Iraq; that was easier."
Before escorting me to Hog Rock, Rogers and Angleton warn me to avoid super-soakers filled with mystery liquor, as well as a gel-like substance Juggalos allegedly wipe on passers-by. I see neither during my stay.
They get me past the state police checkpoint, and I’m a quarter mile away when I pick up hitchhiking Patrick, a 27-year-old security guard and the Gathering’s 4th overdose victim.
Three Juggalos overdosed on bath salts in the Festival parking lot before the Gathering even started; rumor has it one bit off his own tongue and two are in comas. Patrick is not nearly so intense.
He tells me he rewarded himself with a bong hit from a stranger after completing the 11-hour drive from Baltimore solo.
"I felt like I was melting to the floor, then I was convinced that the EMTs were Italian mafia trying to kill me—a bad trip," he says.
Patrick is a trusting guy. He dismisses my theory that he was given laced marijuana—"nah, I just don’t smoke that often"—and believes his black Mazda 3 will be safe and sound at the campground when we arrive. The strangers who gave him the weed also took off in his car. That was the last time he saw it.
Patrick, like most Juggalos, is a "weekend warrior." He doesn’t have tattoos, hides his green Mohawk beneath his hat at work, votes Republican, and listens to technical jazz, classical piano, and pirate chants along with Black Sabbath and ICP.
"I came to smoke and party and now I’m never going smoke again—cigarettes, weed, nothing," he says, before hopping out in search of his missing Mazda.
Juggalos rely on Drug Bridge for amusement. Dozens of dealers camp out on the shoddy wooden structure. Cardboard signs advertise $5 dollar morphine pills, $20 baggies of Ecstasy derivative Molly, $20 hash, $15 hallucinogenic 2CB, $4 Xanax, and $65 cocaine grams.
A whiteboard belonging to "the only pimp @ GOTJ" markets $50 blowjobs and $75 "1-Fucks." An eighth of mushrooms goes for $55. For $3 more you can pay a Juggalo to cut off his right nipple. A card table displays "I Survived Drug Bridge" t-shirts. Not everyone does.
Juggalos are a self-conscious lot. Face paint is rare at the festival, let alone in public, and most swear they don cufflinks, double Windsors, and nametags at work. They wear long-sleeved shirts to company picnics to cover up their prison-style ICP tattoos. Screaming "whoop whoop" is forbidden in their daily lives, and neighbors never have to call the police because they’re screaming "Fuck Your Sleep" and setting off fireworks early in the morning.
Juggalos see themselves under constant threat—every one swears to the existence of Juggalo Holocaust, a mythical entity hell-bent on killing ICP fans. If the FBI accomplished anything with the gang-classification, it confirmed the Juggalos’ worst suspicions about society, spurring ever-more detachment.
Juggalo insularity has earned Deputy Rogers’ begrudging respect, however: "They tend to handle things internally," he says.
I thought he was talking about Juggalo Night Court, a daily ceremony designed to smooth out trivial festival disputes under the jurisprudence of Judge Upchuck the Clown and bailiff/professional wrestler Mad Man Pondo.
I took my seat on the haystacks on Wednesday night. The matter at hand: Juggalo Lee had sued Juggalo Pete for groping his date.
"It was the heat of the moment," Pete said before admitting to groping at least a dozen other women. During closing arguments, the alleged victim took the stage topless and allowed Pondo and Upchuck to grope her.
The crowd sided with Pete. Lee was tarred and feathered with honey and a gutted pillow.
Lust is forgivable in Juggalo eyes. Theft is not. The Gathering program warns of "dire consequences" for stealing, and that’s an understatement. Last year a man was found with pilfered goods in the trunk of his red Pontiac. Juggalos stripped his car, smashed the windshield, ran it over with a monster truck, then posted the video to YouTube under the title "Juggalo Justice."
Juggalo Justice is why I feel safe leaving my laptop in public, my car doors open, and beers unattended.
Juggalos approach their ethics as black-and-white as their face paint, even though the ethics themselves are as convoluted as the drugs they take.
One goal is to make the Gathering as family-friendly as possible. There are carnival rides. I was riding centripetal thriller Spin City when a woman with a bullhorn proclaimed "zero gravity makes these titties look awesome" and exposed herself.
A young boy with an orange Mohawk rode next to her.
"My dad says I’m not allowed to see titties," he said.
She covered up.
"That’s Violent JJ; J brings him on tour, but this is his first Gathering," my Juggalo Sherpa Richard said. The boy exited the ride and joined petite Michelle "Sugar Slam" Rapp, Mrs. Violent J herself.
Some Juggalo parents do not approve.
"This is no place for children," says Michelle Anson, who left her kids, ages 11, 9, and 6, home with relatives.
She and her husband, Byron Anson, are outside of their RV, drinking Keystone Light. They don’t want to flaunt the fact that he’s an anesthesiologist and she’s a family doctor. They say they are "to the right of Reagan." Byron excuses himself to the bathroom. When he returns, he’s covered in clown make-up.
The Ansons are exceptions in the ICP universe. Ryan, a spike stapled through his nose and Omerta tattooed on his chest, says Juggalos are "thugs and lugs … 80 percent of us have arrest records." Ryan himself has 9 months left on probation for scheming a Maine Best Buy out of $32,000 in merchandise. He got permission to leave the state after typing out a 10-page essay on the "Misperceptions of Juggalos."
Ryan’s face is painted ghostly white with black stars around his eyes in "Norwegian Black Metal style." His face paint doesn’t run like everyone else’s in the damp heat because "this is professional grade. My ex-girl took it from a fancy make-up store while I distracted" the man working the counter.
Ryan doesn’t steal because he’s a Juggalo; he steals because he’s broke. It’s hard to picture him stealing high-end cosmetics if he wasn’t an ICP fan, however.
"You can’t let a few bad apples poison the group; that’s like calling all Giants fans gang members because a few guys paint their faces team colors and beat people up in the parking lot for wearing the wrong jersey," Ryan says.
"Most of us are good people."
But even good people make mistakes.
At 4 a.m. on Friday morning, 24-year-old Cory Collins asked four Oklahoma Juggalos if he could sleep in their Ozark Trails tripartite tent. Ray, Christian, and Robert, not their real names, told him to lie down. Robert turned down Collins’ invitation to "take a shot" of pink liquid he thought was liquefied ADHD drug Adderall.
At 7 a.m., Ray asked Collins if he was all right and received a mumbled "okay" in reply. The trio was playing a drinking game at 8 a.m. when Collins drew his last breath, according to coroner estimates on scene.
Christian and Robert soon retired to the tent, climbing over Collins to get to their air mattresses. At 3 p.m., Ray, coming down off of a mescaline and acid trip, gripped Collin’s cold, blue neck and his stiff, track-marked arms in a vain attempt to find a pulse. He woke Christian and Robert and ran for security.
"We’ve got a dead body," one of the orange security guards told me as I approached. I looked inside the tent and saw a lanky man in the fetal position on the floor. A pool of liquid surrounded his blue face and neck.
A stereo blasted ICP’s "Dead Body Man" as a car pulled up. A topless woman emerged from the passenger seat with two cases of Keystone Ice before security informed her what happened.
"I hope they don’t find my hash," Robert said. His friends seemed too stunned to answer. Robert approached security and told them about the drug stash. EMTs say the tent is a crime scene. Ray later tells me that security retrieved the drugs for them.
Ten cop cars, marked and unmarked, state and county, soon arrived on scene along with the coroner’s Chevy Suburban. After hours of interrogation and evidence collection, the police gingerly placed the body into an ambulance, and allowed the Okies to return to the tent.
No drugs were found, no arrests made. The only person who pays a price for the ordeal is a curious Juggalo who asked security what happened. The guard discovers he snuck in without buying a ticket and boots him out the front gate.
Within minutes of the grisly discovery, event organizers parked two semis on Drug Bridge, scattering the dealers.
"We don’t want anybody to get in trouble," one guard said.
Even the most drug-infused Juggalos are livid.
"Whoever’s dealing meth or heroin to Family needs to get the fuck out," says Christian.
"People come here and think that there are no rules; your body’s rules still apply," says Unispade.
"True Juggalos are not down with hard drugs—crack, heroin, meth. They need to regulate that bridge," says Cody Smith.
Attendees express sympathy for Collins’ family, but most are more concerned about how the overdose will affect public perception of Juggalo-ism.
"People are calling us gang members; the government is doing all they can to criminalize groups of people who are threats to their control, be it Catholics or Juggalos," says Hippie, who won’t give me his real name because of his lucrative career as a medical equipment engineer.
"We’re here to have a good time with Family, but then we leave and go back to normal life. People fear what they don’t understand.
"And they don’t want to understand us."
Hog Rock sits just off of Illinois Route 1, Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway—a forgotten region commemorating a forgotten war.
To get there you turn left when you see the pink and blue crosses memorializing two bikers killed in a 2009 collision. This year the campground added another memorial: A two-by-three-foot piece of sandstone with white letters that reads, "Cory Collins: 1989-2013." The Okies etched it themselves.
"I didn’t know him, but it’s the least we could do to remember the kid," Ray told me.
A red Hatchetman is carved into the corner.