Send out the clowns.
Target will stop selling clown masks amid a rash of reported clown attacks — real and fake — that have terrorized parts of the United States in recent months, a company spokesman said.
"Given the current environment, we have made the decision to remove a variety of clown masks from our assortment, both in stores and online," Joshua Thomas, the spokesman, said in an email.
The Minneapolis-based retailer has 1,799 stores in the United States. The company did not clarify Monday whether the decision would affect all of its stores.
But Target seemed to have quietly stopped selling clown masks on its website entirely. On Monday morning, searches for "clown masks" on Target.com turned up nothing. Links from search engines to clown masks that Target previously stocked simply led to a message that said, "Product not available."
Clown costumes for children, oversize clown suits and "sexy clown" outfits are, however, apparently still available for sale.
The retail giant's decision, just two weeks before Halloween, comes as the frenzy over "creepy clown" sightings and threats has reached a fever pitch.
Across the country, scary-clown rumors have led to school lockdowns and arrests.
As the Washington Post's Ben Guarino reported in early October:
"South Carolina was creepy clown Ground Zero in August, when emergency calls from residents of Greenville County prompted deputies to search an apartment complex and the nearby forest for criminal clowns. A clown, or someone dressed like one, was 'trying to lure children in the woods,' warned the property manager of Fleetwood Manor Apartments in Greenville. ...
"What began as reports from concerned parents to police mutated into memes, pranks and, in some cases, felonious hoaxes. Although there is little evidence that clowns are stealing children or planning attacks, clowns (or at least clown images and paraphernalia) have been associated with a recent rash of mischief and violent threats."
The madness reached such a height that renowned horror author Stephen King had to step in on Twitter and, of all things, try to soothe people's fears. He tweeted, "Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh."
Target is not the first corporate retailer to hit the brakes on mask sales this year because of the clown scare.
In Michigan, Crypt Keepers Halloween Emporium boxed up all of its less expensive clown costumes, lest customers get hurt — or try to hurt someone else — while wearing them, the Detroit News reported.
"It's not worth the sale," owner Dave Douglas told the newspaper. "These people are causing an epidemic."
That has not stopped people from buying clown masks wherever they can. Sales of clown masks, especially "evil" or "scary" ones, have spiked 300% this year, Halloween Express operations manager Brad Butler told the Wrap.
"As to why we're selling more clown masks this year than last, I could speculate, but frankly my opinion doesn't matter," Butler told the site. "Truth is, I don't know."
The creepy-clown craze has unnerved professional clowns, who say the pranks and threats have harmed their image. World Clown Assn. President Randy Christensen recently addressed the reports, saying that "whoever is doing this crazy stuff is not a clown."
"We try not to focus on the negatives but try to provide a positive image of clowning," Christensen said. "If somebody dresses like a doctor ... and comes at you with a chain saw, he is not really a doctor."
A few weeks ago, a woman in Tucson scheduled a "Clown Lives Matter" march in response to the social media frenzy, the Arizona Republic reported.
Organizer Nikki Sinn told the paper that she wasn't a professional clown but was worried about the recent clown scares.
"We want to make it be a fun, safe, upbeat night," Sinn told the paper. "I'm just trying to make it a little bit light so it isn't scary for anyone."
But the march, scheduled for Saturday, had to be canceled after the event's Facebook page was bombarded with "numerous death threats and harassment," Sinn said.
Wang writes for the Washington Post.