It's a menace stalking America — a menace called "clowning."
In something like a dog chasing its tail, more clowns are being sighted across the country as news organizations (NBCNewsamongthem) have chronicled sightings of clowns — invariably described as "creepy."
So many, in fact, that the website Atlas Obscura has launched a useful interactive map to help you keep track of them.
It's not as if the fears are anything new — think of Batman's nemesis the Joker and serial killer John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown," after all — but the recent wave of creepy clown sightings appears to be a form of what cognitive scientists call confirmation bias — the likelihood of noticing information that tends to support your preconceptions over information that tends to contradict it.
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In a new book, appropriately titled "Bad Clowns," urban legend debunker Benjamin Radford finds that there are only about a dozen confirmed accounts of actual evil clowns on record.
"Statistically you'd be more likely to win the lottery than to encounter an evil person who also happens to be a clown," writes Radford, a regular contributor to Snopes.com, the handy site that investigates urban legends.
"Professional clowns, either with a circus or a hometown clown who does birthday parties, try hard to protect their image as being family friendly," Mike Becvar, who works as Sir Toony Van Dukes in Northern Virginia, told NBC News last month.
No less an authority than Stephen King — whose 1986 novel "IT" depicted a supernatural being that takes the form of a clown — recently felt compelled to weigh in:
Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria--most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.
Albuquerque, N.M., where police said Monday that three juveniles wearing clown masks were issued a citation Sunday for brandishing an air gun near a Babies "R" Us store.
Lockport, La., where police said Monday that a 29-year-old man wearing a clown mask was chatged over the weekend with frightening the public by "wearing a mask outside of certain holidays."
Green Bay, Wis., where police beefed up security Monday at Brown County schools after a threat was posted on social media with a photo of a clown.
Kenasha, Wis., where police said Monday that a 4-year-old child was placed with Human Services after the child's parents were arrested for allegedly chasing cars in the street while wearing clown masks.
South Sioux City, Neb., where police said Monday that they'd cited a juvenile for disturbing the peace for allegedly scaring children by wearing a clown mask.
Milford, Pa., where school officials said Monday that two middle school students will be disciplined for sending a text claiming that a clown would attack Milford Middle School at 1:14 p.m. on Tuesday.
(And it's not just an American phenomenon. The BBC reported Monday that as many as 50 "creepy clowns" were reported to police in Wales over the weekend.)