My wife and I passed through South Carolina several weeks ago. Wholly by coincidence, it was on the very day that state became ground zero for the Great Clown Invasion of 2016.
“Dearest,” I said as the hotel room TV blared, “Scary clowns are attempting to lure the innocent children of Greenville into the woods for nefarious purposes.”
“How horrible,” she replied. “I put your meds in the bathroom.”
But it was true. At least, in a presidential politics sort of way.
One Greenville mother told police she saw several high-tech clowns among the trees, flashing green lasers. Another local said she had been walking home when she spied, according to WLOS-TV, “a large clown with a blinking nose standing under a light near the dumpster.” The clown did not approach her.
That portion of social media that has no conscience – in other words, the largest part of it – quickly chimed in. Clown sightings quickly spread to North Carolina, then New Jersey.
Last week, the viral clown panic finally reached Georgia. Via the Internet, of course.
“Everything had been on Facebook, with people creating these names like ‘LaGrange Clown’ or LaFayette Clown’ or whatever. Pick a city and put clown on the end of it,” said Sgt. Stewart Smith of the Troup County Sheriff’s Department. “All of that was over social media. We never had any direct contact – any vehicles, anybody ever dressed up like a clown, or anything like that.”
Even so, two local schools had put themselves on a “soft lock-down.”
Law enforcement officialdom said that Brandon Jerome Moody, 26, knew all this when he dialed 911 on Wednesday and reported seeing clowns gathered around a white van in the area. His sister-in-law, Rebecca Moody, 26, also phoned in a clown sighting, according to the resulting paperwork.
“There was actually a van there, but the driver indicated that he was out of gas – or the vehicle was disabled. He gave us consent to search the vehicle, and there was no clown or costume suits or anything,” Sergeant Smith said.
Moody and his sister-in-law were arrested and charged with obstruction and unlawful conduct during a 911 call. That’s a misdemeanor.
Smith, speaking for his law enforcement agency, pronounced himself puzzled at the pair’s behavior.
“They were aware of the social media clown stuff, and that two of our schools had been placed on a soft lockdown – they were aware of that. They still felt it incumbent on themselves to make that false claim,” he pondered.
On one level, Smith’s bewilderment is natural. Many, if not most people, would think it unconscionable to hijack essential pathways of communication in order to tell lies and spread panic among parents. But these are the people who haven’t been paying attention to the 2016 presidential campaign.
As one who has watched it very closely, let me offer this analysis of Brandon and Rebecca Moody’s sad situation: Their lie – their delusion, if you’re their lawyer – simply wasn’t big enough.
For years, a certain orange-haired entertainer with very large hands and feet has attempted to lure an entire nation of adults into a deep, dark forest – by implying that President Barack Obama had been born in Kenya and thus was not the legitimate leader of the U.S. government.
He had no evidence – nothing nearly as strong as laser-guided clowns in South Carolina. But for better than five years, Donald Trump personally pushed this falsehood on willing believers who were uncomfortable with the fact that the nation had elected its first black president. Only on Friday, with fewer than eight weeks to go before the election, did the Republican presidential candidate decide that his longstanding storyline had become inconvenient.
From a platform within his new hotel in Washington D.C., Trump declared his attempt to undermine the foundations of American politics to be not just inoperative, but noble. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” Trump said. “I finished it.”
Two sentences, two lies. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign never touched that meme, though a spare few of her supporters did. And Trump continued to push “birtherism” for at least three years after 2011, when Obama finally released his long-form birth certificate that was always on record in Hawaii.
But now that we are all deep within the orange-haired entertainer’s forest, there was no harm in confessing his ruse. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.” said the businessman, who then strode offstage.
Make no mistake. The Great Clown Invasion of 2016 is far from over. But only the small ones are behind bars. Or in horror novels.