How Clowns became a Security Threat

How Clowns became a Security Threat

I have three younger siblings that are still in school. My sisters are sophomores in high school and my brother is in the 4th grade. Recently, whenever I get a chance to ask them how their school day went, the conversation always veers to clowns. They aren’t bringing up clowns because we are interested in hiring one for the next birthday party, instead they are scared. They are scared they might see one roaming the neighborhood, or even worse, their school might be next on a clown’s list.

Since August, children around the United States, mostly in the south and southeast, have been plagued by clowns. The children’s entertainers have been showing up in the woods outside apartment complexes, seen roaming around neighborhoods and have even sent threats to schools forcing lockdowns.

The phenomenon has sparked social media accounts such as, “ClownSightings” on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. These accounts have spread the sightings of clowns like wildfire, prompting copycats in almost every state in the country.

In order to understand the Clown Phenomenon, you need to look at a couple things: pop culture, social media and a timeline of events that lead to the wide spread panic that a clown could attack at any moment.

Pop Culture

For as long as there have been clowns, there have been people who are afraid of clowns. The entertainment industry has played up this phobia, creating starring roles in horror and thriller films for clowns. Movies like IT and Poltergeist have given us all images for our nightmares, feeding the frenzy and convincing some that killer clowns, do in fact, exist.

Most recently, the FX television show, American Horror Story, introduced a character in their fourth season titled, “Freak Show,” that embodied the killer clown image. The character, aptly named, Twisty, used increasingly twisted methods to regain his position of a children’s entertainer, often killing those who got in his way.

These characters helped to fuel the fire when clowns were sighted on August 29.

Timeline of the Modern Clown Epidemic

August 29 The first sighting of a clown happened at an apartment complex in Greenville County, South Carolina. Police received reports that a person wearing a clown costume had been spotted lurking around the area trying to lure children to come into the woods.

September 4 Police in Winston-Salem, North Carolina receive calls of a clowning lurking around town. These reports also included the words, “luring children into the woods.”

September 14 Two children reported being chased by men in clown costumes while trying to walk to their bus stop in McDuffie County, Georgia.

September 15 Two schools in southern Alabama were placed on lockdown after receiving threats on social media sites. The so-called “Flomo Klowns” posted to Facebook threatening students with gun emojis. Clowns were spotted on both campuses shortly after the postings.

September 25 A fourth incident of clowns emerging from the woods in Phillipsberg, New Jersey is reported to police. No one in the town has been injured but residents plead with those plaguing the town to stop their antics.

September 27 Two fast food restaurants in Phoenix were robbed by suspects wearing clown masks.

September 30 Threatening Facebook posts from the account “Aint Clowning Around” threatened the safety of students and teachers at three separate schools in Houston. The posts said, “"We will be at all High schools this Friday to either kidnap students or kill teachers going to they cars ..."

Reaction to Events

On Sept. 30, the New York Times reported that false reports or threats in connection to sightings of “creepy clowns” led to the arrest of 12 people in over 10 states. Schools around the country have begun to ban clown costumes during October and especially on Halloween which falls on a school days this year.

Just in my area alone, (Dallas, Texas) there have been several lockdowns of high schools as a direct result of threats from clowns. For example, JJ Pearce High School was on lock down for most of the day on Monday, October 3, after images and writing was discovered on the windows of the school building. The writing appears to say, “We coming,” “10:30” and “We here,” with an image of a clown.

Dallas Independent School District and Dallas Police said on a social media account that they were aware of the threats and that they were “under control.”

Attempt to go Viral or Security Threat

As soon as the first local news station reported the first sighting, social media caught onto the clown story and took over. Users on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are using their accounts to share photos of “sightings” in their areas. Many concerned parents post to their profiles status updates of the most recent sightings in their neighborhoods, asking others to stay vigilant of their surroundings.

@ClownSighting on Twitter is being used to combine all the photos and videos into one feed. While scrolling down the feed, it is hard to discern which videos are real, and which ones are manufactured to go viral, which is the internet’s most prized trophy these days.

As of this writing, there has not been any validity to the threats at schools around the county, the majority of the reports end up being false, or a troublemaker in a mask. The hard part is that police, school administration and parents cannot just dismiss the clowns altogether, because there is no way to  decide which clowns are teenagers trying to get 100 likes on an Instagram and which clowns have malicious intent.

Posted on Oct 11, 2016

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