WASHINGTON, October 2, 2016 — Increasingly, creepy clowns are being sighted across America, and sightings have multiplied in recent months. Maps show sightings concentrated across America’s eastern seaboard, especially in the southeastern states, but there have been sightings across the country as well.
A number of sightings are the results of pranks, such as high school kids trying to scare their friends and neighbors for a lark. Some people have dressed up as creepy clowns as a publicity stunt or performance art. In a more extreme form, these pranks are turning into sinister instances of stalking, targeted against specific individuals.
Other sightings, especially those involving young children, are imaginary. These “phantom clown” sightings are the product of frightening stories and active imaginations.
Not all these incidents have been harmless—at least one young man was killed by a clown—and the resulting fear of clowns could lead people to behave in dangerous ways. It isn’t illegal to be creepy or to dress as a clown. But people have shot at clowns, and it could prove catastrophic for clown and shooter alike if the marksman actually hit the target.
This country’s steadily building clown panic is not an isolated event in American history. In the 1980s, America was swept by panic over satanic rituals involving young children. At the time, there were reports that children were being ritually abused, even sacrificed, all over the country, despite the fact that there was no mounting count of young corpses.
By the mid-1990s, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect surveyed over 11,000 psychiatric and police professionals to learn more about the 12,000 reported cases of sexual abuse during satanic rituals. In this panic, children were manipulated by police and mental health professionals to accuse adults of heinous crimes. Remarkable among these were the McMartin preschool trial in 1987-90 and Little Rascals Day Care trial in 1992.
The McMartin case in Los Angeles was at the time the longest and most expensive criminal case in American history. The different trials associated with that daycare facility lasted for six years and resulted in no convictions. The Little Rascals case resulted in convictions that were eventually overturned with most charges dropped, though in order to avoid trial and imprisonment, a couple of defendants pleaded “no contest” to lesser charges and were released for time served.
In both cases, adults working at the daycare facilities were accused of ritual sexual abuse. Robert Kelly of Little Rascals was accused by children of ritualistically killing babies, throwing children from boats, and taking them up in hot-air balloons. He was sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms before his conviction was overturned and the charges dropped.
The satanic ritual-daycare panic has been compared to the Salem witch trials in the 1600s and the red scare of the 1950s. Those incidents all had specific targets who were hanged, blacklisted or imprisoned. But the fear factor was that anyone could be a witch, a communist, or a child-sacrificing Satanist.
And anyone can be a clown.
Like the other cases of mass panic and hysteria, the clown panic will fade. On the positive side, while it was a serious crime to be a witch, a communist agent, or to sexually abuse or sacrifice children, it is not a crime to be a clown. People accused by children and their distraught parents of being evil clowns will face little more than social disapprobation—unless they are punished by extrajudicial means.
And as with other episodes of hysteria, this one will be followed by another. We are already terrified of people who wear headscarves or speak Arabic on airplanes. Currently, two truly terrifying clowns—one with orange hair and one with a Joker’s rictus who’s taken to wearing vacuum cleaner bags—are trying to convince America to be terrified of everyone on the opposing side, those who favor one clown over the other.
Clowns thrive on fear. It is well and fully true that the thing we most have to fear is fear itself, for fear makes us stupid, gullible and dangerous to each other.
And where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother. They’re here.