Clown Scare

We Have a Clown Crime—But It's Not That Kind of Clown Crime

Media hysteria 101



Two months into the Great Clown Panic of 2016, we finally have a clear-cut case of a "clown" committing a violent crime. It isn't really the kind of crime that people were worried about, and the perp wasn't really dressed as a clown, but…

Actually, there's no need for a but. This is an ordinary crime committed in a not-all-that-unusual way. Some journalists are treating it as a sign that the Clown Threat is real, but that says more about media sensationalism than it does about anything else. What we have here is a lesson in how crime-trend narratives are constructed.

Some background: For about two months now, people have been reporting encounters with mysterious, malevolent clowns, sparking rumors that the jokers plan to kidnap children, molest children, shoot up a classroom full of children, or otherwise victimize people, especially children. As is often the case during these phantom-clown scares—yes, this isn't the first one—the incidents generally fall into four categories:

1. Someone, usually a kid, reports that he spotted a clown lurking or that a clown attacked him. No one finds the clown. The episode never gets resolved, but it probably didn't really happen.

2. Someone reports that he spotted a clown lurking or that a clown attacked him. No one finds the clown. The episode does get resolved, because the person who made the report confesses to making it up.

3. Someone circulates a clown threat or clown sighting or clown something on Facebook or another social media platform. No clown actually shows up.

4. A prankster decides to take advantage of the fear spread by #1-3 by dressing as a clown and scaring people. He does not kidnap, molest, or shoot anybody.

In other words, the scare is almost entirely a mix of hoaxes and hysteria. There are a couple of cases out there where police are taking reports of clown attacks seriously, but even then no one has been able to locate the alleged attackers. The "suspect wearing a clown costume" who reportedly grabbed someone at Texas State University has not been apprehended, for example. And while the headline-writers at SFGate took an alleged kidnapping attempt in Concord, California, seriously enough to write this credulous hed


…when you read the actual article, you find that (a) yet again, only one witness has supposedly seen the clown; and (b) even if the incident did happen, the so-called kidnapping attempt consisted of the suspect pulling once on a child's arm while conversing with her mother. Strange things happen every day, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that a crook isn't likely to try to snatch a child right in front of her mom, especially while dressed in a costume that could only make it harder to avoid everyone's attention as he slips away.

So what's the bona fide violent crime that I mentioned at the beginning? On Tuesday night, a man wearing a clown mask robbed a Walgreens in Brownstown Township, Michigan.

He did not try to kidnap or molest anyone. He did not announce his intentions in advance on Facebook. He wasn't even "dressed as a clown" in any meaningful sense of those words, though I've heard that phrase in the subsequent press coverage. He was wearing dark pants, a hoodie, and a mask to cover his face; he just happened to pick a clown mask, as robbers sometimes do. In short, his crime has virtually nothing in common with the phantom-clown scenarios that have been floating around the noösphere since August.

Yet eight seconds into the Detroit TV station WDIV's report on the robbery, the anchor calls the stick-up "just one of what seem to be a string of clown attacks." And almost two minutes in, a reporter declares that there's a "growing concern about the escalation of violence in these clown-related attacks," as though armed robberies were the next stage in some sort of spiral toward Armageddon:

Since then, two more robberies in southeastern Michigan have been committed by a man wearing a clown mask, a hoodie, and dark pants. I will not be surprised if it turns out to be the same guy.

Are there any other solid crimes to report? Well, some clown-scare roundups have also included a stabbing in Reading, Pennsylvania. That incident doesn't seem to have much in common with the larger clown rumors either; details are hazy, but it appears to have been a fight over a clown mask. The mask was being worn (on top of his head, not over his face) by the victim, not the stabber.

So no, we're not in the middle of a wave of clown attacks. There's just one clown-related crime that has seriously taken off in the last couple of months, and that's the crime of filing a false police report.


NEXT: What is the intent requirement of the Fourth Amendment?

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  1. Canadian going to spend life in a Philippine prison for what amounts to weak acid. Fuck that sorry son of a bitch Duterte. I hope when his time comes it’s something like what happened to Gaddafi, only more painful.

    1. That sucks, but that’s also why you don’t visit third-world shitholes. You particularly don’t set yourself up to be made a convenient example of for other tourists from rich countries.

      1. I’m pretty sure there was even an entire tv series dedicated to things like this.

        1. +1 Return To Paradise

  2. NPR just jumped the shark. They’re discussing Trump=Hitler and playing old recordings of Adolph.

    1. They shouldn’t be meddling in politics. Defund them.

    2. Funny, I believe there was a group recently that were doing a Nazi salute on video. They also hate Jews, gays, and most other minorities, commit mass atrocities such as rape and genocide, etc. But they generally aren’t compared to the Nazis by the likes of NPR.

      Yes, Trump is a fascist (a democratic fascist, mind you, and we all know that evil ideologies are okay if you prepend “democratic”), but so was FDR. Doesn’t mean he’s a Nazi.

      1. Trump is not a fascist.

        Trump is a political enigma.

        Why do so many seek to apply definitive labels to a man who has held no political office, who speaks in vagueness, and who seems to hold to no cohesive ideology whatsoever?

        1. Trump does talk like a fascist. He says things that fascists said before they rose to power.

        2. Based on Trump’s pronouncements, he is a Mussolini style fascist. Fascism isn’t monolithic. Any political system can be fascist; it merely has to be reactionary and insist that all institutions should be guided by the state. The French and Turkish republics, for example, are fascist ones. Under FDR, the U.S. became a fascist state for a time.

          Trump is the quintessential reactionary. He alters his stated policy positions, sometimes in the same interview. He sees the state and the country it manages as being a giant business. He takes pride in this quality, considering it to be pragmatic. He’s no Hitler, and the stupid and baseless attempts to shove him in that box are clouding people from seeing what he truly is.

        3. The Trumps are the ultimate “bluebloods,” and I’m convinced that Donald Trump is far more interested in immortalizing the family name than he is in doing anything good for the country. He has Trump Tower, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump THIS, Trump THAT. Now all he needs is a Trump White House.

          It’s a pity he’s such an obnoxious braggart of a man. I couldn’t vote for him if he was a Democrat. He is everything I find utterly repugnant in a human being.

  3. Let the clowns pay the clown tax.

  4. Jesse, thank you for using that Quick Change poster as your image. It’s one of the great unheralded movies of its era.

    1. Isn’t it fun? It’s probably the most underrated movie in the Bill Murray canon. It deserves a much bigger cult following.

      1. +1 Flores para los muertos

        *i don’t know why, but that’s the only line that i retain from the film

        1. I sure couldn’t tell you what it means buddy.

        2. “Say, what kind of clown are you?”

          “The crying on the inside kind, I guess.”

          1. Here take my watch, it’s a timex with twist band. I appreciate this damn thing more and more every year.

        3. “I saw a sign, Phyllis.”

          For whatever reason, that’s the line that always sticks in my head.

      2. “It deserves a much bigger cult following”

        But if the following was “much bigger”, then it wouldn’t be a “cult following” anymore…

        1. Sadly, I’m not sure a 26-year-old movie that wasn’t a big hit the first time around has any chance of breaking out of “cult” status, no matter how big its following gets.

          1. Jesse, Hollywood will re-make anything.

          2. Meh. Cult films generally do not do well as first-runs but continue to be steady earners in the home viewing and second-run theatre markets. Like “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (original). Remakes are not neccessary for cult status.

      3. Randy Quaid before the mental break was very good. Also Gina Davis is a good actor.

      4. One of the really great things about that movie is that Tony Shaloub improvised his whole role. There was no dialogue written for him at all.

        1. Blufftoomi

    2. Yes. One of the few movies that I quote all the time, but no one ever gets. And yet I go back to watch it more than any of Murray’s other works save for Groundhog Day.

    3. “Nude women…! Nude women…! Clowns welcome…! Clowns welcome!”

      1. In fact, imagine the panic if this happened in post-9/11 NYC!

        1. “Those darn terrorists made it tough on us bank robbers.”

      2. I still call buses “bluff-toonies”.

    4. The bank robbery scene is wonderful, as was Jason Robards. That movie also had at least two scenes of uncomfortable handholding.

  5. Grimm: Can you tell me anything? A direction? North? South?
    Worker: Hey, this isn’t our part of town, ya know?
    Phyllis: Grimm, you have a gun. Shoot them.
    Grimm: I’d love to. But they’re ferbering. I’d need some kind of permit.
    (To workers)
    I want to thank you. You could have helped us, but instead you’ve given us so much more.
    Worker: Hey! That’s what we’re here for, right?

    1. Fur-bearing, as in animals which are taken for their pelts, ie beavers?

      1. The Ferber method, or Ferberization, is a technique invented by Dr. Richard Ferber to solve infant sleep problems. It involves “baby-training” children to self-soothe by allowing the child to cry for a predetermined amount of time before receiving external comfort.

        1. You know how I prefer to self-soothe?

          1. These masturbation euphemisms are very euphemistic any more.

  6. As a libertarian, I applaud the idea of clowns being taken more seriously than politicians but I must say this wasn’t quite what I had in mind.


    Judge Napolitano is back with the questions!

    1. What if the Judge just made his point instead of asking all the questions?

      1. I’ll ask the questions here.

        -Judge Nap

        1. Doesn’t sound like Nap. Nap would say something like “Will I be the one to ask all the questions here??”

    2. Holy shit Nap, there’s literally not a single period in that entire article (apart from “by Judge P. Napolitano”).

      It’s ALL QUESTIONS. Okay, at this point he’s just trolling us.

      1. Yeah, I saw his article posted on reason late last night, and I was gonna rip him for all the questions. But then I stopped myself, because for some reason I don’t feel right ripping on him. He has some strange aura of respectability that I cannot penetrate.

  8. we finally have a clear-cut case of a “clown” committing a violent crime.

    What about all those people who have been murder-droned by the clown in the White House? *rimshot*

    On a different but somewhat related note: I heard something on the radio this morning about the woman in Ohio who claimed to be attacked and threatened by a knife wielding clown who also threatened a school, made the story up. *Shocked face* Apparently because she was late for work. Because logic…

  9. I woke up with clown make around my privates yesterday. It wasn’t even a full moon.

    1. Pro tip: Don’t get black out drunk in the back lot of Barnum and Bailey’s.

      1. Not following. Why not?

        1. There’s a risk you’ll wake up to find you’re the bottom guy in a honka honka.

  10. But are any of the OD’ing on heroin?

    1. Heroin Clowns, coming soon to a special police alert near you.

      Also, my new band name

      1. I think they’re called “Juggalos”

      2. OMG, that is brilliant.

      3. Heroin is so pass

        1. Kratom Clowns doesn’t have the same ring to it. Maybe K-Hole instead.

  11. floating around the no?sphere

    Another believer, yay!

  12. This clown nonsense is just another indicator that this nation’s populace has devolved into a bunch of goddamned infantile morons. It’s really, really stupid.

    1. Exactly. And it’s glorious.

  13. I would love to see some of those fear-mongering media outlets sued into oblivion.

  14. S T A N D A L O N E C O M P L E X

    Does this remind anyone of the laughing man incident back in 2026? The crime was perpetrated by a lone actor but then dozens of copycats followed. The media fueled it by adding hype and intrigue. I doubt we’ve seen the end of the killer clown crime wave.

    1. Remembering the future?

      1. Roadkill on the Warty Hugeman highway. The continuum will right itself soon and you won’t even remember this.

  15. Reporters are total fucking idiots. Speaking in three part harmony.

    And those the “good” ones…the rest are just total fucking liars.

  16. my friend’s mom makes $67 an hour on the internet . She has been fired for five months but last month her pay check was $20360 just working on the internet for a few hours. view….

  17. I can’t beleve I just got an awesome Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon by working parttime online from home.
    see more at———–>>>

  18. And while everyone was busy looking for scary clowns under their beds, a scary clown captured the Republican Presidential nomination! We need more vigilance, not less, people!

  19. OT: Dear Reason Tech Team.

    This is one of a number of reason articles today where embedded videos are not showing up, and the space they should be is just blank. In Firefox and Chrome, all up to date, on Windows 8.1, also up to date (other than not being Windows 10.0

  20. my friend’s mom makes $67 an hour on the internet . She has been fired for five months but last month her pay check was $20360 just working on the internet for a few hours. view….

  21. Bryce . even though Samuel `s story is unbelievable… on tuesday I bought a great Peugeot 205 GTi after making $4790 this – four weeks past an would you believe $10k last month . it’s definitly the most-comfortable work Ive ever done . I actually started 4 months ago and right away startad earning more than $85 p/h . find more info


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