Hanging with the Juggalos

"Juggalos" — followers of the underground Detroit rap/rock group Insane Clown Posse — made news earlier this month when a group of thugs calling themselves Juggalos terrorized visitors to Pierce County's Fort Steilacoom Park. Curious about just who the Juggalos are, we decided to visit some members in Puyallup, who made it clear they believe those thugs aren't "down with the clown."

PUYALLUP — The man who presides over Juggalo Central, at least in these parts, is 32-year-old Kris Tarnow — a 300-pound, 5-foot-11 man with a shaved head, a brown goatee, a missing tooth here and there, typically outfitted in one of his many Insane Clown Posse (ICP) T-shirts.

If he covers his face in clown makeup, creating a look that is way more Gene Simmons than Ronald McDonald, Tarnow's a spitting image of Violent J, the robust, blue-eyed frontman of ICP.

That particular look helped Tarnow hook Sarah Parsons, also a die-hard ICP fan. Juggalo and juggalette — as male and female ICP fans are called — married in 2003 and, as part of their honeymoon, donned black-and-white clown makeup and attended ICP's "Shangri-La" concert held near Seattle's Northgate Mall.

Now they live in a modified trailer home at the end of a street, a stone's throw from a pair of "No Trespassing" signs. The U.S. flag flies. The front door demands "No soliciting." A puppy, a pit bull/Labrador named Mishka, barks and bounds about.

If you were a Juggalo/lette from around here, if you'd already met Tarnow — say, on his Web site, where he goes by the moniker "subtleaggression" — you'd eventually find your way to this trailer home.

Because local 'los and 'lettes like hangin' here with their own kind. Wassup Juggalo? Woop woop!

Yes, there's Juggalo lingo, Juggalo garb, even a beverage of choice: a cheap soft drink called Faygo that's available in an array of flavors. And as with any group, particularly a counterculture entity that's become a public curiosity, there's also a perceived Juggalo stereotype.

Which only leads "true" Juggalos to insist that mainstream folk ought to find out what they truly represent.

"The other day we went to go see 'Pirates [of the Caribbean],' " Tarnow says. "And a lady whispered, 'That's a Juggalo.' Like I was going to turn around and mug her or whatever."

"Against the whole culture"

Now's the opportune time to sit down with Tarnow and some of his Juggalo friends, given recent local news reports. Seven people, ages 14 to 29, have just been arrested and charged with violent attacks at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood. Victims told police their assailants carried machetes, beat and robbed people and threatened decapitation.

Two of the suspects told authorities they were Juggalos. One, Anthony Pierce, told authorities that Juggalos "have become increasingly ganglike," according to court papers filed last Friday.

Juggalos also grabbed headlines in February when Jacob Robida, 18, entered a gay bar in Massachusetts with a hatchet and gun and assaulted three patrons. He then fled to Arkansas where he killed a female companion and a police officer before police shot him dead. On Robida's MySpace.com Web site, he reportedly asked: "Are you a Juggalo?"

One of the first things Tarnow says when reached on the telephone and asked about the Lakewood assailants: "I really hate to say it, but if that's the path they've chosen to take, I hope they get what they deserve. Nobody deserves to be treated like that or robbed. That's not right, and it's totally against the whole culture of what Juggalos stand for." In fact, he and his friends are hoping to volunteer to clean up Fort Steilacoom Park in a gesture of good faith.

Tarnow gives his age, says he's a homeowner and sure, come over and meet the Juggalo family. It's all said in a tone that's as matter-of-fact as you can get, which is how Tarnow comes across when you meet him.

He's sitting on his porch, blue tarp as an awning, laptop at hand for posting to his site. The site has 91 registered members, who list their various interests, including: scrapbooking, walking, "my boyfriend," beer, "boobs" and "sittin on my ass." Listed jobs: "smothie place in the tak town mall," account rep, "bein me."

"It helps you vent"

This latter descriptor comes up a lot during several hours of conversation with Tarnow, his roommate Doug Carpenter, 22, and, later, neighbor Robert Nixon, 24, and friend Daniel Doll, 20, a pair of self-described rednecks who come across as more shy than guarded. The foursome hang on the porch, Nixon repeatedly passing out Liggett Select cigarettes and Doll chewing tobacco.

On ICP: "I've lived through some hard times, and the music they play I can really relate to it," says Nixon. Cowboy boots, Denver Broncos ballcap, Louisiana drawl.

On the violent lyrics: "It really helps you vent," Tarnow says. "I listen to ICP when I go down to target shoot."

"Most of the violence is against spousal abusers and pedophiles who, in my opinion, deserve it," says Carpenter. But note, he adds, the positive message about friendship in a song called "Homies."

On the hatchetman insignia: "If you drive and you see a hatchetman [on someone's car] and you roll down your window and you say, 'Wassup, Juggalo?' they'd smile," Tarnow explains. "It's just like wearing a sports logo or being a Deadhead and seeing a dancing skeleton or those Jerry Bears."

"I was a loner until I got to hang out with the Juggalos and saw the culture," Nixon says. "They're real family oriented. If I need something fixed on my car I can just ask a Juggalo. If I'm stranded in Seattle, all you have to do is ask a Juggalo and they'll see how much money they have in their pocket."

Last week, some chatter on Tarnow's Web site, www.pcjuggalos.com, asked the media to stop crucifying all Juggalos. Some of that chatter is unprintable in this newspaper. None of that language, though, ever surfaces out on Tarnow's porch.

Profanity is something Sarah Tarnow, 26, says she's been trying to eliminate from her life. On this day she arrived home around 4 p.m., after work helping care for a woman who has MS, pulling up in an old Jeep with its Power of Pride bumper stickers.

After many years estranged from religion, she's recently returned to her faith, and it's been tough to balance being a Juggalette with being a Christian, she said.

But not, apparently, in the eyes of other Juggalos.

"It honestly surprised me a little bit when I told them I was going to church. I thought they'd write me off, but they haven't, and I appreciate that."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Kris Tarnow, right, with his puppy, Mishka, holds court at his Puyallup home, otherwise known as "Juggalo Central" among members of his pcjuggalos.com Web site. The site operates as a virtual gathering spot for local Juggalos. The Juggalo insignia hangs on a banner on Tarnow's porch. From left are fellow Juggalos Daniel Doll, Michael Smith and Robert Nixon. (SCOTT COHEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)
Juggalo Kris Tarnow next to the "hatchetman" emblem of the die-hard fans of "horror-rap" group Insane Clown Posse. (SCOTT COHEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

How insane?

A couple of white guys from Detroit — Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope — paired up 10-plus years ago as the Insane Clown Posse, with a hardcore rap/rock/metal sound. J and Shaggy perform in clown facepaint. They coined the term "Juggalo" for their fans. ICP's "Hell's Pit," according to the band's Web site, sold 75,000 copies in its first week of release in 2004, and ICP became the biggest act in Detroit, as well as an undisputed darling in a genre of music called "horror rap."

In 2003, Len Righi, music editor for The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., described ICP's music: "Endless string of repugnant murder and revenge fantasies, necrophilia tributes and sex anthems, which, truth be told, occasionally raise a sickly smile."

Each year, ICP fans flock to a weekend music fest dubbed the Gathering of the Juggalos. It took place last weekend in Ohio.

The Juggalo insignia, featured on T-shirts, jewelry, even as vehicle decals, shows the outline of a guy with an Afro running with a cleaver. Truth be told, the hatchetman looks like a Keith Haring figure/Kokopelli coupling; just add knife.