On February 3, 2009, Michael Goucher, 21, met Shawn Freemore, 19, on a deserted backwoods road in the rural Pennsylvania town of East Stroudsburg. The two had first interacted in an online chat room and arranged to meet for a sexual encounter on this same road a month earlier.
This time, however, Freemore was not alone. He brought along Ian Seagraves, 18, a friend from the local charter high school. While further details of that night are unclear, it seems that the two had planned to attack and rob Goucher. While the impetus may never truly be known, what is known is the means by which Michael Goucher was murdered — with a knife and a cleaver.
The circumstances of Goucher’s murder are indicative of many problems. Intolerance of homosexuality in rural communities explains why Goucher and Freemore were forced to enact their desires and actions in an unsafe, clandestine nature — on a deserted country road. Seagraves and Freemore were also both part of the Pennsylvania Treatment and Healing education system, designed to provide schooling for disruptive youth.
There are a number of factors that brought these three people together. The press covering the murder and its subsequent trials focused, however, on one specific motivation for the atrocities committed that night. It was not Freemore’s internalized homophobia, the behavioral patterns of troubled youth, or the morally condemned and thus superstitious practices of rural homosexuals. What the press found most interesting is that Freemore and Seagraves are Juggalos.
The term “Juggalo” refers to fans of the horrorcore hip-hop band, Insane Clown Posse (ICP). It was formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1989 by duo Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Since then they have crafted a multimedia empire and fan base to rival that of more famous musicians.
It began with the founding of their own record label, Psychopathic Records, which represents famed rapper Vanilla Ice and several other ICP-inspired groups. They also boast a massive annual music festival, The Gathering of the Juggalos, which takes place in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. The Gathering is a temporary community space for fans and allows the showcasing of other ICP-approved artists: Busta Rhymes, Lil Jon, Vanilla Ice, Coolio, Ying Yang Twins, Andrew W.K., Ice Cube, and others.
Beyond this, the ICP has produced twelve albums through which they have constructed a complex pseudo-religious mythology called The Dark Carnival. They also started a wrestling federation; have been the subject of documentaries, books and articles; and, most interestingly, in the view of the FBI, they are gang leaders.
In its 2011 threat assessment, the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), a department of the FBI, classified Juggalos as a gang in 18 states; they were listed amongst other infamous gangs: Bloods, Crips, Hell’s Angels, Latin Kings and the Aryan Brotherhood. The NGIC was created in 2005 to track the growth and migration of interstate gangs, and, since around the same time, there have been several high-profile cases of vandalism, violent attacks and murders committed by self-proclaimed Juggalos. The most prominent of these attacks is the Michael Goucher murder case.