On Saturday, 14 teenagers dressed as clowns and apparently carrying pistols, knives, and baseball bats were arrested outside a school in Agde, southern France.
It wasn't the only clown-based crime over the weekend. As The Guardian reported:
In Montpellier, a 35-year-old man was beaten with a metal rod on Saturday night by a man dressed as a clown who tried to rob him with two accomplices. They were arrested the next day.
The crimes were just two of the latest in a series of clown-based incidents that began in the north of the country, but have now been reported in the south too. In one case, a genuine clown was arrested by accident after being mistaken for one of the threatening pranksters.
Last week, a 19-year-old butcher's apprentice who had dressed as a clown to scare children in Douvrin, northern France, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence at a court in Béthune. He'd apparently terrorised children while holding a stick that resembled a long knife.
According to the Guardian, he told the judge:
I saw it on Facebook. At first it was a joke, to scare my friends by dressing up as a clown and shouting boo with a stick like on Facebook. On the video it was a knife, but I didn't intend to hurt anyone.
A 14-year-old boy was also arrested in Chelles, near Paris, on Monday, after attempting to assault a woman.
And in a separate incident a few minutes later, "a dozen people wearing the smiling, white masks associated with the Anonymous hacktivist collective attacked three youths at a station in Melun" and stole their mobile phones, The Telegraph reported.
Now a backlash has begun.
A number of "anti-clown" Facebook groups have already sprung up.
It's already led to arrests.
According to France 24, five teens were arrested and temporarily held by police in the eastern city of Mulhouse.
The station reported:
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.
The Police Nationale have called for calm.
The reasons behind this bizarre social phenomenon have not been properly explained.
According to this report, one of the teens arrested in Agde said he was following a social media craze he'd seen on American social networks.