On Friday, deranged mimes and magnetism experts Insane Clown Posse announced their misguided intention to sue the FBI. They told the Village Voice that they're "doing the American thing" by suing, but they're really just turning down the priceless cachet that comes with a federal rap sheet.
Last year, the FBI added ICP's rabid fan base, the Juggalos, to their National Gang Threat Assessment report under suspicion that they might be "a loosely-organized hybrid gang." Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope responded by launching JuggalosFightBack.com and getting mad litigious. Bad approach, guys. ICP should've counted themselves lucky to warrant FBI attention. By quietly embracing their FBI file, Insane Clown Posse could've joined the likes of:
In the early '60s, the FBI launched an investigation to determine whether or not the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" contained obscene lyrics. Of course, "Louie Louie" didn't have any dirty words, but a moral panic spread throughout America, with parents insisting that the sloppy garage rock anthem had turned their children into sex-crazed heathens. The FBI spent years analyzing the record at various speeds, and some of the lyrics they postulated are unintentionally hilarious. (For instance, what is actually "Three nights and days I sail the sea," was rendered by "Every night and day I play with my thing" by a G-man with impure thoughts.) The FBI's official laboratory eventually concluded that Jack Ely's garbled delivery was completely unintelligible, and anything that can't be heard clearly can't be prosecuted. In rock 'n' roll, bad publicity is the best publicity, and the Kingsmen's notoriety lives on in rock legend to this day.
The Grateful Dead
"It would appear that this is a rock group of some sort," the FBI file on the Grateful Dead helpfully informs readers. The band came under FBI scrutiny due to their alleged involvement in drug trafficking. The majority of their FBI file has been redacted, as shown on the right. But the few remaining sentences portray Jerry Garcia and company as the Pablo Escobars of hallucinogenics. "LSD originates from San Francisco, California through a renowned rock group known as Grateful Dead," the file reads. "The Grateful Dead is well known to DEA, San Francisco."
Long before the '60s made subversion chic, jazz musicians were being probed by the FBI for supposedly anti-American activities. The bureau opened a file on Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington after The Daily Worker reported on the bandleader's 1938 performance at the All-Harlem Youth Conference. The file deems the organization to be "among the more conspicuous Communist-front groups in the Racial subclassification." The FBI kept tabs on Ellington into the '70s, just a few years before his death.
Ol' Dirty Bastard
In the gangsta rap era, having an FBI dossier was like having a diamond chain or 20-inch rims. The mythic biographies of rappers like Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Eazy-E took on larger-than-life dimensions when their FBI files were finally disclosed. But the mother of all rapper rap sheets belongs to Russell Tyrone Jones, aka Wu-Tang Clan member Ol' Dirty Bastard. In it, we learn that Wu-Tang ("a well know [sic] musical group from the Staten Island, New York area that specializes in Rap type music") may be "heavily involved in the sale of drugs, illegal guns, weapons possession, murder, car jackings, and other types of violent crime." Over the years, ODB was charged with attempted murder, possession of body armor, and a host of other crimes. He was also frequently besieged by jewelry thieves. Dirty took a bullet during one of these robberies. The most harrowing part of this file deals with the homicide of Robert "Pooh" Johnson. The file identifies the murder weapon as one that passed through Wu-Tang's supposed gun-running operation. "Johnson was an associate of the WTC who had a falling out with the group," reads the report, "and it is believed that his murder was ordered by someone within the WTC."
John "Country Roads" Denver doesn't exactly scream badass, but the singer-songwriter's FBI file does lend him a bit of an outlaw image. In 1990, the bureau looked into Denver's alleged drug use. A source alleges that "Denver was pretty well strung out on cocaine" at a benefit concert. The FBI couldn't prove this, but still, the mention of La Cosa Nostra in their report complicates our view of this soft-rocking folkie.
Again, The Monkees aren't the kind of group we normally associate with illicit activities. But, plumbing the FBI archive, you have to wonder what these mop-topped pretty boys were really up to. The band appears in two separate case files, according to the FBI's website. One is a pretty routine memo on anti-Vietnam war activities, but the second file is shrouded in mystery. According to the FBI, it has been "redacted entirely."
Shortly after John Lennon moved to New York in 1971, the FBI put him under surveillance. Lennon had been under the FBI microscope two years earlier due to the borderline-obscene cover of Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, which depicts "Lennon and 'his latest flame' Yoko One [sic, again] ... both completely nude." Lennon and Ono obtained visas to live in the US, but when they expired, the INS quickly tried to deport the vocal Nixon critics and Vietnam War protestors. UC Irvine historian Jon Wiener spent fourteen years fighting the FBI for these documents, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court, until the FBI relinquished the files in 1997.
If this brief dip into FBI history teaches us anything, it's that the FBI sometimes totally misses the mark. The Kingsmen weren't smut-peddlers, Duke Ellington wasn't a communist, and the Grateful Dead probably weren't the only LSD connects during the Haight-Ashbury's heyday. So, as much as it hurts to admit it, Insane Clown Posse might have a legitimate reason for beefing with the FBI. Juggalos may be despicable people, the sort who pelt MySpace celebrities with rocks for fun—but are they an actual gang? It seems highly doubtful, and surely the FBI has bigger fish to fry. However, by channeling their frustration into such a concerted, public fight, ICP has ended up looking very petty. Relax, Juggalos. Crack open another Faygo and get back to collaborating with Jack White.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.