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The FBI's controversial decision in 2011 to label passionate fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse as a violent gang sprouted from a 14-month investigation by Salt Lake City's FBI field office.

According to documents published Thursday by the public information website, the Salt Lake City office supplied the bureau with information about the loyal fanbase of the Detroit-based duo, known as Juggalos. There's no indication in the documents the FBI investigated the musicians themselves. The documents were released after MuckRock requested all public documentation the FBI had on Juggalos and the Insane Clown Posse, and its most prominent document was an investigative memo coming from the Salt Lake City field office.

The memo, dated March 15, 2011, described Juggalos as a "violent street gang" whose members "paint their faces to look like wicked clowns. Some continue the dress by carrying small axes, like the cartoon hatchet man associated with the band."

The investigation was closed in May 2012, and the FBI would later label Juggalos as a "non-traditional gang" in its October 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.

The memo also states that some Juggalos in Utah have been associated with the local Crip gang known as the Salt Lake Posse and that criminal charges against Juggalos include discharge of a firearm, drug sales, drug possession and "many other crimes typically seen by gangs and gang members."

The Salt Lake City field office's purpose in investigating the group was to learn more about their organization and "identify all illegal activities which may constitute a pattern of racketeering activity ... and which may support prosecutions for federal violations."

The language of the memo seems to be laying the groundwork for federal prosecution of robberies. The memo also mentions an ultimate goal of getting a racketeering indictment against the Juggalos. Federal prosecutors in Utah have used RICO statutes to put gang leaders in prison in the past, most recently against high-ranking members of Salt Lake's Tongan Crip Gang in 2010.

In order to gather the evidence that division hoped could someday lead to racketeering indictment, the memo recommended that "investigators must start with and work at length at street level drug purchases or smaller amounts of drugs, surveillance, gang member debriefs, witness debriefs, confidential human source recruitment and other traditional or non-sophisticated techniques."

FBI Special Agent Todd Palmer of the Salt Lake City office declined to comment on the investigation, deferring to what had already been disclosed in the records release. Much of the investigation was conducted by members of the FBI's Violent CrimeSafe Streets Task Force, which includes members of the Salt Lake City Police Department. The department also declined to comment on the FBI documents.

The documents also include mostly-redacted e-mails from FBI agents to law enforcement in New Mexico, California, Texas and Illinois. Reports from other FBI offices also are included, as well as copies of news articles about Juggalos from across the country.

The FBI's designation of an entire subculture of music fans as a street gang was met with hostility by the band and its fans, who often said they simply were fans of music and didn't appreciate being called a gang based on the actions of other individuals.

People who have identified themselves as Juggalos have sometimes popped up in high-profile crimes in the Salt Lake City area. In 2009, two men who police described as Juggalos attacked a 17-year-old with a knife and battle-ax. They were later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to three years to life in prison.

However, Psychopathic Records, the Insane Clown Posse's record label, has started pushing back against the gang label leveled by the FBI and other states, including Utah. In January, the company launched a website called Juggalos Fight Back, which asks for accounts from Juggalos who say they obey the law but have been unfairly judged by police or others and includes a downloadable pamphlet called "We are Not a Gang, We are Family!"

The Insane Clown Posse and its record label have filed a lawsuit against the FBI, claiming the bureau "violated the rights of Juggalos on the mistaken belief that they are 'gang members,'" according to a statement on the website.

Twitter: @KimballBennion