Former FBI Profiler: Fame-seekers Fuel Clown Hoaxes

WASHINGTON — A former FBI profiler said the rash of creepy clown sightings locally, and across the country, is likely being perpetuated by fame-seeking young people, but he worries the fear being generated could result in tragedy.

Former FBI special agent Clint Van Zandt said the sightings and threats related to clowns are “young people and adults making up stories, simply seeking their 15 minutes of fame.”

“People will participate in something like this — dressing up as a clown, driving with a clown mask, or standing on a bridge holding a BB gun with a mask on,” said Van Zandt, founder of Van Zandt Associates. “They want to foster this phenomenon, they want to be part of something larger than themselves.”

Van Zandt believes the interest and anxiety connected with evil clowns is rooted in society’s fascination with entertaining horror scenarios.

“Stephen King is one of the great kings of horror books. He wrote ‘It,’ with Pennywise, the terrible clown,” said Zandt. “That was the equivalent of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws,’ — the movie that scared us out of the ocean for years.”

“We like to be scared, sometimes,” said Van Zandt.

Although some people want to be part of a hoax by scaring people, Van Zandt said the other half of the equation is many are receptive to being victims.

“They see something like this and report it, or they hear about the story and then falsely report it,” said Van Zandt. “They’re looking for their 15 minutes of fame, ready to raise their hand and say, ‘I saw this terrible thing too. Come interview me on radio or television’.”

Van Zandt said he is concerned that the hoaxes could result in someone being killed or hurt. Gunshots have been reported being fired near a South Carolina apartment complex where people dressed as clowns had been seen.

“If the wrong clown comes to the wrong door at the wrong time, we may have somebody who shoots first and takes off the mask second,” said Van Zandt. “So, this could result in some type of a tragedy if it’s not stopped.”

The Loudoun County’s Sheriff’s Office has reminded residents in most cases it’s against the law to wear a mask in public.

With Halloween approaching, “this is the season when people wear masks, and go out and try to scare,” said Van Zandt. “There may be some confusion about who are the legitimate clowns, and who are the scary clowns.”

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