Creepy Clown Epidemic: Crime Wave or Hoax?
Since the end of August, there have been reports of creepy clowns stalking, threatening, chasing and assaulting people throughout multiple states, including New Jersey. The New York Times recently reported that 12 people in different areas of the country face charges related to these events. However, there is still no clear answer as to whether we are facing a genuine threat or a series of hoaxes. Nevertheless, crimes are being committed, and unwitting pranksters may find themselves facing consequences they hadn’t anticipated.
The commotion seems to be coming from three main sources:
- Hoaxers — Folks who are bored and have nothing better to do make up stories to get a rise out of others around them. Like the fabled character in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, they make false reports and stand back to watch how others react. It may seem like just a practical joke, but filing a false police report is a crime.
- Hysterics — Stories of creepy clowns terrorizing neighborhoods spark the imaginations of some impressionable people, who may begin to see things. They earnestly believe that they see clowns who aren’t there — or the clowns they do see mean them harm. Because of their genuine belief, these folks are not committing any crime.
- Copycats — Some bored individuals would rather live the hoax than create it. They dress in clown costumes and go out at night seeking adventure, while others get on the phone or social media and threaten devious clown attacks. It’s all fun and games until someone is arrested for making terroristic threats. Or, as happened in Wisconsin, two parents leave their four-year-old child alone for hours one night while they run around town in clown regalia trying to scare strangers. The 26-year-old woman and 29-year-old man were arrested and charged with child neglect; their child was removed from the home by the Department of Human Services.
What there does not seem to be is any evidence of coordination among groups of clowns to create a conspiracy to terrorize the populace, which could give rise to federal charges under the RICO statute.
There are three dangers to this ongoing hysteria:
- First, this continuing nonsense diverts law enforcement resources from actual crime, leaving the public exposed to real threats.
- Second, a deranged individual might react violently toward an innocent clown or be emboldened to dress as a clown to act out a sick fantasy.
- Third, people who dress in costumes for perfectly innocent reasons, to celebrate Halloween or attend a theme party, might become the targets of irrational complaints or overzealous law enforcement.