A rash of violence by a bunch of decidedly sinister clowns is turning France into a nation of coulrophobes: Cops arrested a gang of 14 teenagers dressed as clowns outside a high school in southern France on Saturday, reports the Guardian; the teens were carrying pistols, knives, and baseball bats. That same night in Montpellier, a man dressed as a clown tried to rob a 35-year-old man, beating him with a metal bar in the process. A suspect has been arrested, but three drivers elsewhere complained of "scary" clowns making threats. And a man in northern France was last week sentenced for threatening people while, you guessed it, dressed as a clown.
The evil-clown trend cropped up earlier this month, reports AFP, and it's particularly mystifying in a nation where Halloween hasn't taken hold. The fakers are "mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square. Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults," a police source says. And they're sparking backlash, largely driven by social media and taking the form of vigilantism. Bordeaux police arrested a dozen kids armed with sticks, metal rods, and even a dagger—not for dressing as clowns, but for hunting them. National police are downplaying the trend, notes AFP, claiming "only a few sightings of people dressed as clowns having fun scaring passers-by." (Earlier this month, the "Wasco clown" was running amok in a California town.)