Creepy clown phenomenon pops up in France
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After making headlines in the United States earlier this month, pranks consisting of scaring people while wearing creepy clown costumes have now become a security concern for French law enforcement.
Five French teens were arrested and temporarily held by police on Wednesday in the eastern city of Mulhouse near the German and Swiss border.
They were detained not for posing as threatening clowns or scaring residents, but after they formed their own “anti-clown” vigilante group. Police took them into custody for wielding weapons – including a baseball bat, a night stick, brass knuckles and mace – around the picturesque town.
They told officers they were hunting for a clown that was allegedly terrorizing Mulhouse, a story they claimed to have found out about on Facebook.
While the five teens were eventually released, news of their arrest came only three days after a 19-year-old Frenchman was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for chasing minors in the northern town of Béthune while wearing a clown outfit and flailing a stick that looked like a sword.
That conviction came after wave of fake-clown pranks swept through northern France last week.
“The phenomenon began in the southern part of the [Calais] department and took off by the end of last week. It’s a bad joke that got started on social networks,” Didier Perroudon, head of public security in northern France, told a press conference on October 20.
“Fortunately there has yet to be any serious incidents, but we are not taking these pranks lightly,” he added.
Old joke in Britain
Similar incidents grabbed headlines in the United States earlier this month, with sightings of menacing-looking clowns spurring 911 calls to police from California to Indiana.
While French and US police have only recently had to cope with the jokesters, UK law enforcement has been dealing with the phenomenon for several years.
According to the website Citylab.com, London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents last year.
While most of them were harmless pranks, they also included “many assaults and robberies involving clown disguises,” Citylab wrote.
France may only be witnessing the beginning of a larger trend, especially a week before Halloween.
Social networks in the French city of Dijon have been widely circulated rumours of an impending chain of clown attacks, even if local police have not received any complaints so far.
An anonymous Facebook page titled “The attack of the clowns in Dijon” was created this week, displaying an image taken from a popular video on YouTube.
The video, which has been viewed more than 30 million times, shows a person dressed in a psychotic clown outfit, pretending to smash a person’s head in with an oversized sledgehammer and pursuing panic-stricken passers-by.