Shawn Wolf is a Juggalo -- one of countless fanatics of rap outfit Insane Clown Posse. But outside of his punk appearance, there isn't that much that's unusual about the 31-year-old. Sure, he sports a three-inch goatee and his hair is buzzed into a slicked-back mohawk, but he's a remarkably normal guy: He's currently enrolled in online classes at Full Sail University, he encourages his kids to participate in sports, he likes to grill with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, and he likes dogs (cat dander makes his tear ducts swell up).
Like any other Juggalo worth his salt, Wolf and his wife Esther made the trek from their home in Cottonwood to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, two weeks ago for the annual Gathering of the Juggalos. The 1,545-mile drive proved to be extra-special as Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope unveiled "probably the biggest announcement of our career."
At the festival, the duo declared that they would be launching a lawsuit against the FBI for branding Juggalos a hybrid gang last year and aiding fans who have been adversely affected by the classification. Spin Magazine caught Wolf breaking down after the announcement, reporting, "He'd lost custody of his young son solely because of his ICP fandom." But that's not exactly accurate. "The magazine got it wrong," Wolf says. "They said I lost custody of my son. I did not lose custody of my son. Basically, I never had custody."
Wolf was only 15 years old when he found out Tammy Baxter was eight months pregnant. The two went to high school together and had hooked up at a party. "I ran into her when she moved back to Cottonwood, and I saw that she was pregnant," Wolf says. "She let me know that it might be mine, so we did a paternity test and confirmed it." For the first six months after the birth of his son, he tried to fill the role of teenage father, until Baxter decided to leave Arizona for California. Without much warning, she made the move, claiming she had a better job lined up.
The immediate years following the sudden disappearance of his son and his mother proved to be pivotal for Wolf. In that time, he stumbled onto the world of the Insane Clown Posse and their rabid following, and he battled a brief addiction to meth. When he was 21, he was arrested for possession of a stolen vehicle, a marijuana pipe, and a crack pipe. He claims the resin found in the pipes was used against him, but that he didn't actually have drugs on him at the time. He's been sober for 10 years now.
"As far as my criminal background goes, that made me who I am today," Wolf says without remorse. "I am a much better person now because of it."
Eventually, he tracked down Baxter's address, and began writing letters to his boy. The letters went unanswered. He even sent Christmas gifts, only to have them returned. Finally, Baxter reached out to him out of the blue asking for help and in the summer of 2008, Wolf was reunited with his son, now 12 years old. The visit went well and the parents agreed to have him visit again the following year. Instead, Baxter sent him to a boys' home and disappeared again shortly thereafter.
After that, Wolf remained in constant contact with the home and attorneys in an attempt to gain legal custody of his son. That meant succumbing to a background check and scheduling a visit with a social worker from the state of California. "I was all up for them looking up my criminal background, and knowing my criminal past," he says. "I'm trying to get custody of a kid; I knew all that stuff needed to be disclosed. Before their visit I put all of that on the table, and suddenly after their visit, my criminal background became an issue."
We followed the same path as the social worker that came out to visit Wolf at his home in July 2010, meeting his family in his living room to talk, staying for lunch, and inspecting his bedroom. As part of her case study, the social worker had to look at every room in the home to make sure it was a safe and nourishing environment. The assessment seemed to go off without a hitch, until they walked into his bedroom.
"We go into my room and I start to explain what ICP means to me, because my room is totally decked out in ICP gear," Wolf says.
He's been a die-hard fan of the crazy clowns since he was 16 years old, falling in love with the group at his first show at the old Club Rio venue in Tempe. "I think I've missed two shows since 1996," he says. Over that time, he has amassed an entire wardrobe of ICP clothing and wall-to-wall Juggalo paraphernalia, including body art. Everything from set lists to bloodstained jerseys and bottles of Faygo dot his room. "I start to tell her what it means to me, and she starts saying how it might not be a good environment," Wolf says about being a Juggalo. "To me, it means to respect life and realize the miracle of life every day, to have your eyes opened to things and to be open-minded."
But like the FBI, the state of California saw something dangerous in the graphic nature of the band's music and image. His request for custody was denied, but custody has been temporarily bestowed to Wolf's mother and the child is living in Arizona once again. He sees it as a partial victory but plans to keep on fighting.
"I do not want help on my case from ICP," he says. "I want to help Juggalosfightback.com, and I hope to get us all off of the gang list. I'm not expecting ICP to come to Arizona to fight for me personally. Simply by us being off of the gang list, that's what's going to help me.
"There's a criminal element to just about anybody," Wolf explains. "You go to a biker rally and people get stabbed there. Is there a criminal element to church? What about all of these priests that are child molesters?"
Unless the FBI removes Juggalos from their list, Wolf will continue to be "gang-affiliated," but he'll keep calling it what he has for most of his life: family.