The United States is currently weathering a clown outbreak the likes of which has not been seen in recent memory or, safe to say, ever. People across the country have reported seeing creepy clowns lurking in the woods, loping down streets, wielding knives and terrorizing innocents from behind their creepy clown makeup — or masks, as the case may be.
But this is a free country, right? A person can dress however they damn well please, right? We are free to wear our clown masks out in public without getting arrested because 'Murica, right?
While wearing a clown mask, specifically, is not against the law, it can be an arrestable offense — some states, like Virginia, still prohibit wearing masks in public. According to civil rights lawyer and law blog contributor George Khoury, anti-mask statutes "are rooted in public safety," and, in Louisiana's case, as a strike against the Ku Klux Klan. Exceptions are made for minors and holidays like Halloween — and according to the Washington Post, for Virginia's balaclava wearers. Additionally, wearing a mask into a bank could get you into some serious trouble.
Aside from those specific instances, wearing a clown mask in and of itself is not going to get you arrested — it's whatever you're doing in that mask that counts. If you're arrested while wearing a clown mask, it'll likely be because you've committed some other crime — not because of your poor choice of facial gear.
That said, clown chaos is catching, having spread as far as Europe and the Philippines. It's also resulted in at least one death in Pennsylvania, when a man allegedly stabbed a 16-year-old boy in a clown mask to death.
Police departments are urging caution: Please don't incite panic by dressing up as a clown.
"Our citizens are frustrated with everything going on in society and this is another issue to address," Christopher Nacco, sheriff of Pasco County, Florida, told NBC News. "We are warning teens and young adults not to get involved in this fad, of dressing up as clowns to cause fear."
There's something to that warning: Over two weeks in September, law enforcement agencies in Georgia, Alabama and Virginia arrested 12 people for making false clown reports or chasing people while dressed as clowns. Because given the current environment of rampant clown fear, it's not outside the realm of possibility that your innocent prank — dressing up as a clown — could translate into a legal transgression, like assault, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, stalking or harassment.