What's different about this year's Gathering of the Juggalos in Thornville, Ohio? Well, the cops for one thing.
During last year's coverage of the event, set in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, we encountered minimal security. The gatekeepers and patrol staff, which were seemingly just exceptionally large juggalos in "SECURITY" shirts, peered into backpacks to eliminate glass bottles and fireworks. Aside from that, they pretty much did nothing except hang out and then - only after someone died of a drug overdose -- reactively shut down the Gathering's infamous drug bridge.
This year, however, we encountered a different scenario. While there remains a stock amount of bleary-eyed "security" volunteers to direct traffic (both vehicular and human), there were absolutely no searches. We just walked right through the front entrance, past a Deadhead-looking fellow with a beard, and straight into a clown-themed metropolis of chaos without nary a single question -- or even a glance. Predictably, glass bottles and fireworks abound.
Yet, this year's security force is a departure from the past in that it includes a small armada of uniformed police officers on golf carts loudly labeled "SHERIFF."
Understandably, the presence of police this year has created apprehension within the juggalo community. In the months leading up to this year's Gathering, many ICP fans took to message boards and Twitter to voice concern about the anticipated police presence. In response, the official website for the Gathering of the Juggalos provided a pre-emptive and reassuring statement from Psychopathic Records co-owner, Robert "Jumpsteady" Bruce. In part:
"Now I am not sure if ninjas new to the scene realize this, but there have been more than a few Gatherings that have had a sheriff's presence before. In fact, the Gathering of the Juggalos at Frontier Ranch back in 2006 had the exact same sheriff's department on the grounds that will be at this year's Gathering. I have recently talked to the colonel of the sheriff's department and he told me he is not expecting any problems at the Gathering this year because he had none back in 2006. He fully understands that juggalos are coming to have fun and his people are not there to arbitrarily give ninjas the bone."
Despite those assurances, those planning to attend the Gathering remained leery. An entire forum post on juggalo website Faygoluvers.net remains dedicated to the subject, and its most recent posts lament the experience of Twitter user/lady juggalo @Dani2Dope77, who reported that she had her phone broken as cops searched her car somewhere in Ohio while en route to the Gathering -- though it should be noted that that search not conducted by the same police force that is on the grounds this year.
Curious about the realities of the situation, we decided to go straight to the police themselves once we landed at the Gathering.
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"We're here to keep the peace," stated one of the officers. When pressed as to how he was recruited to work one of the most notoriously lawless events in the nation, the answer was simple: "money." He also noted that the owner of the property had a "very good relationship" with the local authorities (echoed in Jumpsteady's statement) and that they understood that juggalos were a self-contained group with their own court system (the hilarious Juggalo Night Court).
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Still, the open-air drug market, infamous in days of yore, has largely dried up at this year's Gathering. While there are definitely still drugs being passed around -- and probably for sale somewhere -- there is no "drug bridge," no heroin being sold over megaphones and no giant canisters of medical-grade nitrous oxide (loudly present last year, and reportedly smuggled onto the grounds weeks before the event and buried in the earth to be retrieved when needed).
By our estimation, though, this is a good thing for the Gathering. The drug-dealing scene last year was obnoxiously pushy and often downright predatory -- "I'm gonna rape your mom if you don't buy our drugs" was one sales pitch we overheard last year.
As things stand, we hopefully won't see another drug-related death, and maybe the Gathering can find Thornville, Ohio, to be a more permanent home without the illegal activities running rampant on the grounds. The police seem to think so -- as of now, anyway.