Approximately midway through Stephen King’s monster opus, IT, a mob scene breaks out.
The novel’s “Third Interlude” section (another entry in Mike Hanlon’s journal of Derry’s dark history) details the very public execution of the Bradley Gang (King’s fictionalized version of the Brady Gang, who met a grim fate in Bangor) in October 1929. Previously identified when attempting to purchase ammunition at Machen’s Sporting Goods store, the fugitive group of bankrobbers ride into a barrage of gunfire that makes the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde seem like a roll-out of the old welcome wagon by comparison. It’s a case of bloodlust run amok, of community-wide vigilante violence (“There were men everywhere, men with guns, standing in doorways and sitting on steps and looking out of windows”). With “fifty, sixty men firing all at once,” the scene “sounded like the Battle of the Marne.” Overkill is undoubtedly the order of the day, as the criminals’ vehicles are obliterated (“By the time the firing stopped, those cars didn’t look like cars at all anymore, just hunks of junk with glass around them”), and the members of the Bradley Gang themselves brutally dispatched (Arthur Malloy has his throat torn “wide open” by a bullet; George Bradley’s gun moll, Marie Hauser, has “one of her eyes shot out”; as for Bradley: “someone pulped the back of his head with a shotgun blast”). This bloody massacre right in the center of Derry’s streets precipitates a wave of shame and denial–most of the perpetrators are loathe to admit they were even present in Derry that grim day.
In and of itself, the gunning down of the Bradley Gang is a perfect example of the ugly results when hotter heads prevail. There is a further turn of the screw to this particular mob scene, though: Mike identifies the incident as another “monstrous sacrifice” that served to stir It from a quarter-century-long hibernation period and thus unofficially initiated Its next feeding cycle. Appropriately enough, various vigilantes report seeing a clown (none other than Pennywise It-self,Mike knows) gleefully joining in on the shooting spree. Noting a nearby county fair operating at the time, the recounting Norbert Keene speculates to Mike: “Maybe one of them [clowns from the fair] heard we were going to have our own little carnival and rode down because he wanted to be in on it.” The macabre irony of such statement is that Derry’s carnival of violence has been heavily influenced by the town’s own long-resident clown. Malignancy, as Mike’s recurring journal entries illustrate, is deep-seated in Derry’s body politic, and is anything but excised by the execution of a gang of designated outsiders.