Washington (AFP) - Wearing piercings and horror makeup, a thousand fans of controversial US rap group "Insane Clown Posse" descended on Washington Saturday, alleging discrimination since the FBI labeled them gang members in a 2011 report.
With its extravagantly dressed participants, many adorned with tattoos and piercings, the "Juggalo March" was an offbeat addition to the regular political rallies staged in the capital.
Saturday also saw a rightwing demonstration by supporters of President Donald Trump, dubbed the "Mother of All Rallies," as well as a leftwing protest by a group called "Protect American Democracy" against alleged Russian interference in last year's election.
The introduction of the third event was seen as potentially adding fuel to an already combustible mix -- though apart from a brief interruption of the pro-Trump rally by Black Lives Matter activists all three demonstrations came off without major incident.
Assembling near the Lincoln Memorial, the "Juggalos," as they are known, spoke of the difficulties they have faced since the law enforcement agency's decision: losing jobs, custody of their children, and excessive police attention.
"We do our things. Live and let live man, I'm a regular citizen, I pay my taxes," said Scott Creel, an imposing figure with a long beard who was pierced from head to toe and who had traveled from the southern state of Arkansas.
Participants took to the stage in turns to denounce the FBI's decision, interrupted by chants of "family" and rap performances.
"Some juggalos may have been as individuals part of gangs, but they were not in a juggalo gang," said another protester, Rob Sinning from New Jersey, adding: "We work hard, we clown hard."
- Hatchets and soda -
The term "Juggalo" is derived from the lyrics of one of the band's songs. Founded in Detroit in 1989 by duo Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, Insane Clown Posse performs a brand of hip hop known as "horrorcore," which is influenced by supernatural themes and violent horror movie imagery.
The band has sold millions of records despite a lack of exposure on national TV or radio.
Fans are known for their esoteric behavior, sometimes wearing clown makeup in homage to the band, as well as chains or tattoos featuring a silhouetted man running with a hatchet. Many profess a love for Faygo, a little known soft drink that is also produced in Detroit.
In a 2011 report, the FBI classified Juggalos as a "loosely organized hybrid gang" -- which are defined as having a nebulous structure or being mixed-gender and multi-ethnic.
The group is said to have a strong presence in the Midwest but the report noted it was expanding in New Mexico "because they are attracted to the tribal and cultural traditions of the Native Americans."
Like Trump supporters, many come from lower-income families -- but being a follower of the group gives them a sense of belonging and purpose.
"These people come from broken homes, split families, drugs, poverty, discrimination and they found an outlet to come together," explained Scott Donihoo, who runs a website dedicated to the movement. "We identify with this music because it literally saved our lives in one form or another."
Logan Wolfe, an LGBT activist said he was bullied as a child but found acceptance with the group, since "Juggalos are more accepting than the rest of society." And, he proudly notes, a recent beauty pageant for "Juggalettes" -- female Juggalos -- featured a transgender contestant.