McDonald's benches Ronald McDonald until scary clown activity quiets down

McDonald's iconic clown mascot will stay out of the public eye until the trend of menacing-looking clown pranks goes away. Some communities are concerned Halloween could invite more vicious pranks.

Andres Kudacki/AP/File
Ronald McDonald waves to the crowd during the 2015 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. McDonald’s says Ronald McDonald is keeping a low profile because of reports of creepy clown sightings.

Ronald McDonald is the latest fallout in the crackdown on clowns as creepy clown sightings continue apace in the United States.

"McDonald's and franchisees in the local markets are mindful of the current climate around clown sightings in communities and as such are being thoughtful in respect to Ronald McDonald's participation in community events for the time being," spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in an emailed statement to NBC News on Tuesday. 

The fast food chain decided to keep its famous red-haired, floppy-shoed clown mascot out of the public eye after menacing clown sightings have been reported across the US since August, causing some arrests and school shutdowns.

While many of the cases have been pranksters dressed in clown suits trying to capitalize on the media trend and terrify community members, there have been cases involving weapons and threats. In August, several residents in South Carolina called authorities to report a clown trying to lure children into the woods. Some clowns have been reported to be brandishing knives. 

Professional clowns have taken to social media to voice their concerns about how these prankster clowns affect their honest clown business.

"Fear mongering and hate mongering seem to be all the rage these days. Can we get some love? Real clowns want you to know that those scary creeps out there are part of the hate. Real clowns are real love. Spread the word. Defend our kindness! #realclownsareaboutlove," wrote one professional clown on Facebook. 

Amid the scare, costume companies that sell masks and clown suits are the ones who are gaining a profit. As reported by Reuters, online retailer HalloweenExpress.com said it has seen a three-fold rise in clown masks this year, with eight of the top 10 sellers being evil or scary clown masks this season.

"There has been a bit of an uptick," Leigh Wendinger, the inbound marketing manager for Minnesota online retailer HalloweenCostumes.com, told Reuters.

In a bizarre twist of timing, best-selling author Stephen King's 1986 novel "It," a story about a town terrorized by a supernatural being who appears as a clown, is being made into a major motion picture for release in 2017. The studio told Reuters that it has nothing to do with the scary clown sightings.

Mr. King took to Twitter to call for calm.

But the clown sightings are not a laughing matter for the police, or schools, who deal with these reports.

As The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reported, the social-media fueled "performance crimes" leave authorities wondering how they should deal with the culprits, who often are alienated teenagers

"I take it absolutely seriously," Gallatin County, Ky., Sheriff Josh Neale told the Monitor. His department arrested a middle-schooler recently for using clown images to make vague threats against the school district. "It's something that caused our community to get very alarmed and things have not really settled down."

Some police have arrested those who dress up as clowns to "make examples of pranksters that scare communities and waste taxpayer dollars," while several schools in Ohio either closed down following scary incidents or added extra officers, the Monitor reported.

With Halloween approaching, authorities may be ever more vigilant about people committing crime in clown suits.  

This report includes material from Reuters. 

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