Clowns are notoriously creepy.
Like something from a nightmare (or a Goosebumps novel), clowns have been popping up all over the country, and it’s not even Halloween yet.
The sightings first started in August in Greenville, South Carolina, when several children told authorities that a group of clowns offered them money to follow them into the woods. The suspects were never found.
Since then, reports of clowns have surfaced in almost every state across the US — and in Canada too. As a result, arrests have been made, and schools have been put on lockdown.
The phenomenon has spread to Australia, with sightings in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney over recent weeks. Over the weekend a 19-year-old man dressed as a clown reportedly chased a group of girls in Perth, while in Brisbane a woman almost drove over a clown after it approached her car holding a knife.
While mysteries abound about the clowns, most incidents come in two forms: threats on social media, often directed at schools, or sightings of people dressed as clowns, some of which have turned violent.
Now, police departments are cracking down on people across country for dressing as clowns and posting threats on social media.
For example, a 15-year-old girl in Hopkins, Minnesota, was arrested last week, with charges pending, for creating a Facebook account under the name “Kroacky Klown” and posting threats online.
Some teenagers are even getting arrested for perpetrating “clown hoaxes,”NBC reported. A 14-year-old girl in New Jersey was charged with fabricating a story about being chased by a knife-wielding clown.
And on Wednesday, two 18-year-old women in Roseville, Michigan were arrested in “full clown regalia” for jumping out of a truck and chasing two 14-year-olds down the street, The Detroit Free Press reported. The Roseville police chief, James Berlin, called the perpetrators “two idiots.”
It’s not just teens though. An Arkansas man was arrested for driving around in a clown mask police described as “very scary looking … with large teeth … and a very creepy smile.” And California police are still searching for a person in a clown suit who tried to kidnap a one-year-old girl.
While some police departments, citing free speech, have expressed hesitation over arresting someone simply for an outfit, state laws vary. For example, wearing a mask for the purpose of concealing your identity is illegal in Virginia.
A number of police departments are also posting warnings to parents and teenagers that dressing like a clown could land you in serious trouble.
“If someone wants to do this to purposely scare people, we will handle them accordingly,” the Orono, Maine police department posted on Facebook.
A Greenville, South Carolina police chief promised to arrest anyone dressed like a clown, even for “politely terrorizing the public.”
The map below, compiled using media coverage in various states, shows founded clown sightings across the country.
All this clown hysteria, however, has made some actual clowns — who just want to have fun — upset.
A group is planning a “Clown Lives Matter” protest in Tuscon, Arizona, on October 15. People are invited to show up in full clown costumes, and march down a main street.
“[T]his is a peaceful way to show clowns are not psycho killers,” reads a flyer for the event, per ABC. “We want the public to feel safe, and not be afraid. So come out, bring the family, meet a clown and get a hug!”
Some have speculated the clown sightings, at least initially, were part of a movie promotion. The reboot of “It,” based on the famed horror book by Stephen King, is set to hit theatres in 2017.
For his part, King wants everyone to chill.
Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria–most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 3, 2016
Even Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, had to address a question about clowns at a recent press briefing.
“I don’t know that the president has been briefed on this particular situation,” Earnest responded to a reporter, according to NBC News. He also deferred to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
In some states, the FBI has even become involved in finding and prosecuting these clowns. In Detroit, the FBI is offering $1,500 for a man accused of a string of robberies while dressed as a clown. And across the country in the Bay Area, the FBI is investigating a series of clown-related threats made to schools.
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