Prairie Lights: Crazy country swept by clown panic


Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I have been seriously out of touch lately.

We let our subscription to the dead-tree edition of the Billings Gazette lapse a few weeks ago and haven’t renewed it because we get sticker shock every time we see how much they want to charge us for the damned thing.

I know I’ll go crawling back one of these days, though, because I belong to that dwindling tribe of dead-tree loyalists whose morning doesn’t feel quite right if it doesn’t involve a newspaper next to my cup of coffee.

Without a subscription, I quickly exhausted the number of times I could read the online Gazette for free. Some helpful people say I could “clear my cookies” and read for free anyway, but come on: “clear my cookies” is the most ridiculous of all the phrases accompanying the Age of the Internet. I might lose my cookies, but I won’t clear them.

I have tried to make up for the loss of the Gazette by reading other online newspapers, in Montana and elsewhere, but I just get sucked into the latest explosion of the Trump dumpster and don’t read anything else.

Did you happen to hear what Trump said about women? My immediate impulse was to call him a pig, but what has an actual pig ever done to deserve such a comparison?


Ed Kemmick

Anyway, thanks to the isolation I’ve found myself in, it wasn’t until this weekend that I first heard that the United States is undergoing what has been referred to as a “clown panic.” I was aware that a disturbingly large number of my fellow Americans lived in fear of “illegal aliens” and Muslim immigrants, which suggested that we had gone pretty soft, and more than a little crazy.

But clowns?

The first thing I read on this subject was a Montana story, which I believe was brought to my attention by Facebook, that sum of all fears and crazy trends, and which happens to control the world in a way that V. Putin could only dream of.

The story, reported by KRTV in Great Falls, began so absurdly that at first I thought it was a joke:

“A string of ‘scary clown’ sightings—whether real, imagined, or hoaxes—continues to plague communities across Montana.

“Police in Great Falls recently responded to such reports by stating that there have been no confirmed sightings of clowns in the community.”

The story went on to say that there had been an incident in Butte: “Kennedy Elementary was temporarily on lockdown after some students reported seeing what they thought was a person dressed as a clown near the school at about 12:30 p.m. Police searched the area around the school and later determined there was no clown, but just a woman taking a walk in the area.”

If the woman in question was being followed by a person dressed as a Trump, I can see where there might have been cause for alarm, but a person dressed as a clown?

The Onionesque nature of the KRTV report got even thicker when the TV station reprinted an entire press release from the Great Falls Police Department, which included this remarkable paragraph:

“In the absence of suspicious or unlawful behavior, there is nothing illegal about someone walking down the street, riding in a vehicle or hanging out at a public park dressed as a clown. Some are even reputable, professional entertainers. Dressing in a costume is not a violation of any city ordinance or state statute.”

I went looking for more information and ended up on a website called The Verge, which had a long article on the Great Clown Scare of 2016. If you enjoy dressing up as a clown and were reassured by the Great Falls cops’ press release, please note: The Verge reported that “a man in Kentucky was arrested for dressing up as a clown and hiding in the woods.”

Maybe it’s legal to dress as a clown and legal to hide in the woods, but illegal to do both at the same time?

Speaking of which, The Verge also reported that the so-called panic started in South Carolina where, back in August, “there were reports that clowns were lurking in the woods outside the town of Greenville.”

That’s what it takes to start a panic in the United States of America these days: One paranoid person calls the cops, then social media swoops in and spreads the deranged virus nationwide in a matter of minutes.

And everything circles back to Trump. How can anything be brushed off as absurd or outlandish if Donald Trump has a chance to win the presidency?

No clown sightings? If only.

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