Coulrophobia Ethics: The Irresponsible Clown Dad

There has been an outbreak of coulrophobia (fear of clowns) for some reason, heightened by pranksters and web satirists taking advantage of one of our periodic societal freakouts as Halloween approaches:

  • Hundreds of students at Penn State set out to hunt clowns this week after rumors that clowns were loose on campus, chanting”Fuck the clowns!”
  • A dorm was evacuated at Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, after the “Clown Watch” Twitter feed reported a sighting of a scary clown with a rifle. It was a hoax. 
  • In Portland, Oregon, police arrested David Dahlman, 55, for wearing a clown mask and boxing gloves and threatening middle schoolers. This clown charged an assistant principal who intervened.
  • A 13-year-old girl was arrested in Hampton, Virginia., for trying to get a person posing as a clown online to kill one of her teachers. 
  • A 14-year-old boy in Houston was charged with making terrorist threats toward his school using an online clown image.
  • Also this week, several hundred University of Connecticut students  gathered in a cemetery near midnight, ready to do battle with the evil clowns they had heard were hiding among the headstones. Police had to respond, and were not amused.
  • Police in  Lancaster, California warned that men wearing “ugly-looking clown masks” were using kitchen knives to frighten people and then videotaping their reactions.
  • Menacing clowns sightings were also reported in Modesto,  prompting police there to issue a warning to residents saying, “If you see anything or anyone suspicious, including individuals dressed as clowns, to avoid contact and report the circumstances to us immediately.”

Fear of clowns has been a cultural joke for decades. “Seinfeld” had whole storylines based on Kramer’s coulrophobia.Why is this happening now? I have no idea, and neither does anyone else, though CNN came up with five equally unsatisfying theories. Why? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near? Why do fools fall in love? Why isn’t Hillary ahead by 50 points?

As long as the fad and its manifestations are in good fun and don’t endanger anyone, there’s nothing to be concerned about, though Stephen King felt compelled to try to calm the madness:

king-tweet(This is rich coming from King, who created the creepiest clown in literature as the villain of his novel “It.”)

Unfortunately, there are always those whose ethics alarms don’t ring. In Auburn, Massachusetts,  a father who followed his child’s school bus from the bus stop, wearing a scary clown mask. The middle school students in the bus were reportedly terrified. He was charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.


The question remains, however: what was he thinking? Why this seem like an appropriate thing to do to children?

I can understand why this guy would want to wear a mask, though:


And speaking of ethics alarms not ringing, Prof. Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, defended the father’s conduct. After noting that the police said that the father was facing the charges because “there was no legitimate purpose for his actions (which) could have caused a potentially hazardous situation to these children,” Reynolds wrote,

So now you have to have a “legitimate purpose” to do entirely legal things? Besides, in today’s America, mockery is always a legitimate purpose.

Mockery that takes the form of disrupting a school bus and frightening children is not a “legitimate purpose.” I’ve driven school vehicles full of kids, and when they go nuts, it’s dangerous.  Calling the Clownfather’s actions disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace is appropriate. Would Reynold register the same objection if the buss had crashed while being pursued by this jerk?


Sources: LA Times, Boston Herald, CNN

12 thoughts on “Coulrophobia Ethics: The Irresponsible Clown Dad

  1. I never got the point of having clowns show up at kids birthday parties and such. Maybe I’ve watched too many Stephen King movies but they’ve always struck me as creepy. Anybody that terrorizes kids by chasing kids in a scary clown outfit belongs in a mental institution or alcoholic rehab.

  2. There have been a few “scary clown” incidents in the greater Chattanooga area recently, and I can only say, knowing my neighbors as I do, that if anyone tries this foolishness in my neighborhood, he’d better be dressed as “Krazy the Kevlar Klown.”

  3. If dad was trying to scare the children on the bus, and he apparently did, then traumatizing children is not a legitimate purpose.

    • Reynolds is right that legal actions do not require a legitimate purpose, but terrifying children is also a form of assault by placing them in fear of their lives. It’s certainly disorderly conduct, or a good case to try applying that law.

  4. The whole clown silliness isn’t that surprising or outlandish – it seems to me like a textbook mass hysteria: initial reports (whether real or fabricated) set off copycats and pranksters (such as this dickhead), until people sincerely start to believe it, and then it feeds off itself until it either fades away (like satanic ritual abuse rumors) or becomes part of the zeitgeist (like the belief in penis-stealing sorcerers in sub-Saharan Africa).

  5. Also this week, several hundred University of Connecticut students gathered in a cemetery near midnight, ready to do battle with the evil clowns they had heard were hiding among the headstones. Police had to respond, and were not amused


    Despite being right next to one of the rowdiest dorms, I had never heard or seen anyone cause mischief in that cemetery. It was always a quiet spot, as it should be, even with the gates wide open all night long.

    At least I finally graduated from this place….

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