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Standard Deviations: Clowns gripping the country in panic

By Mark Saal - | Oct 9, 2016
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Not a scary clown: Rhineheart the Clown, also known as Richard Johnson, entertains the crowds during the Ogden Pioneer Days Parade along Washington Blvd in Ogden Thursday, July 24, 2014.

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Reports of creepy and threatening clowns have been made all over the U.S. in the past couple months.

I’ve never understood this irrational fear of clowns.

America is currently in the grip of a full-fledged clown panic, and I’m struggling to comprehend it all.

Clowns have never seemed scary or evil or even slightly unhinged to me. They just seem sad. And a bit off-putting. Maybe even a little creepy, but not at all in a frightening way — it’s more of a “creepy like that guy in accounting with the comb-over.” Mostly, you just feel sorry for them.

Now, mimes? That’s a different story, what with their constant fighting against imaginary windstorms and getting trapped in boxes the rest of us can’t see. If this were a widespread mime panic we were staring in the face right now, I think we could all agree it would be time to call up the National Guard.

• RELATED: Clown threats — “people freaking out over nothing” or serious crimes?

Still, plenty of people are afraid of clowns. So many, in fact, that there’s even a name for the phobia. It’s called “mentally unstable.”

Naw, I’m just messing with you. The fear of clowns is actually called “coulrophobia,” which I’m sure is derived from the Latin for something — possibly “mentally unstable.”

But whatever you call it, this unreasonable fear of clowns has, in recent weeks, erupted into a full-blown clown hysteria that’s sweeping the nation. If we’re to believe the news reports, it all seems to have started in South Carolina, where people have reported — how’s this for a poetically creepy phrase? — “clowns whispering in the woods.”

And Utah hasn’t been immune to this dead-serious silliness. Two Ogden schools were placed on lockout after “clown threats” were made on social media.

•RELATED: Student arrested for making clown threats against school

Of course, go-getters that we are, Americans refuse to take this clown nonsense lying down. Hundreds of college students across the country have taken to the streets, looking to rid their communities of the white-faced menace.

These “anti-clown mobs” are even wielding the modern-day version of torches and pitchforks, as described by the Associated Press: “Carrying golf clubs, shovels and hockey sticks, several hundred University of Connecticut students gathered just before midnight in a cemetery, ready to do battle with menacing clowns they had heard might be lurking among the headstones.”

The most depressing part of that story? These are college students we’re talking about — the best and the brightest our nation has to offer.

Ah, but at least these college students are doing something. Unlike law enforcement, which isn’t even willing to coordinate efforts in the fight against these good clowns gone bad.

• RELATED: Lockout ends at Roy High, Sand Ridge Junior High after threat was received

Case in point: A recent story by Standard-Examiner reporter Loretta Park highlighted a Chicago Tribune story that said an Indiana teenager may have posed as a clown on social media and made threats to Clearfield High School students. But when Clearfield Police Lt. Kelly Bennett called Indiana police to get more information about those threats? Nothing.

“I did talk to an officer, but they would not elaborate how this was connected to Clearfield High,” Bennett told Park.

So much for cooperation between public safety agencies, eh?

• RELATED: Indiana boy arrested after clown threats against Clearfield High students

And this lack of a coordinated clown response goes all the way to the top. Because what’s really frightening is how totally unprepared our government is in the event this turns into the impending zombie clown apocalypse. Take the recent White House press briefing, wherein a reporter asked press secretary Josh Earnest about “creepy clown sightings” around the country.

“I’m wondering if the president’s aware of this phenomenon,” the reporter asked, “and if the White House wants to say anything to discourage these types of pranks?”

Came the reply: “I don’t know that the president’s been briefed on this particular situation.”

Not been briefed? The most clear and present danger to our way of life since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the President of the United States isn’t even up to speed? You can bet your floppy Size 18 shoes if Donald Trump were in the Oval Office, he’d be all over this clown crisis like orange on Bozo’s hair tufts. And probably railing against “illegal Clown Town immigrants.”

We conclude with what is officially my favorite headline of 2016, brought to you courtesy of the Atlas Obscura website: “Police in Utah Recommend Against Shooting Random Clowns.”

The story was based on a Facebook post by the Orem Police Department, dated Oct. 3. Police say they answered more than 40 questions on Facebook and a few dozen calls through their dispatch center that day, all asking about clowns.

The most commonly asked question: “Can I shoot or take action against someone that is dressed up like a clown?”

And Orem Police responded: “That’s not a simple yes or no question. It has a lot of variables to it.” They then listed the state law on the use of force against another person.

So, what does that law say? Well, if you shoot an unarmed clown, you’re probably going to jail. But what about shooting an armed clown — one who’s holding, say, a cream pie or seltzer bottle?

That clown is going down.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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