Since mid-October, police in towns across France have been warning about an unlikely threat: clowns. The recent arrest of 14 teenagers in Agde, in the south of the country, for harassing passersby while dressed as clowns is just one instance of this nationwide bout of circus-costumed criminality, which has spread from where it originated in the country's north.
While similar cases of clown-related aggression (carried out by what professional clowns in France insist are not real clowns) have also occurred in the U.S., England, and most recently Spain, the situation in France has led one French town to ban clown costumes altogether, not just for Halloween but for the entire month of November. And though many of France's evil clowns have been teenaged pranksters, their weapons⎯including baseball bats, knives, axes, pistols, and chainsaws⎯are often quite real. On Monday, a student in Besançon, in eastern France, cut his hand while apparently raising it to defend himself from an axe-wielding clown impostor. Other incidents have involved direct assault: In Montpellier, a clown and two accomplices beat a 35-year-old man with an iron bar in an attempted robbery.
The threat of neighborhood clown gangs has provoked a grassroots response of teenaged self-styled clown hunters (chasseurs de clown), who have organized vigilante resistance groups, both online and in the streets.