It all started when college student Matty Roberts posted a call on Facebook to everyone far and wide asking for help with raiding the military base commonly known as Area 51. Widely accepted throughout American culture to be where the U.S. government holds aliens as prisoners, Area 51’s real purpose is highly classified and not open to public knowledge. The covert military installation goes by many names, most commonly referred to as Area 51, but also known as the United States Air Force (USAF) facility which is located within the Nevada Test and Training Range. Officially, it is called Homey Airport (KXTA) or Groom Lake. However, it is known that the facility was originally used by the CIA to develop and test the U-2 reconnaissance plane in the 1950s. The aircraft supposedly spied on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which was part of the reason for the intense security and secrecy of the area.
On June 27th, Roberts posted a Facebook event planned for September 20th at 3:00am, saying: “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” The description reads: “We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry. If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.”
Originally intended as a pure and innocent joke, Roberts did not expect the viral attention his post has since received. Over 2 million people expressed that they were “going” to the event, while another 1.5 million people responded to being “Interested.”
This was widely accepted as a good-humored joke, with the general populace assuming that there was no way 2 million people from all over America were going to come to small ghost town of Rachel, Nevada. However, the U.S. Government did not take Robert’s post as a joke. Two weeks after the post went up, Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews spoke with the Washington Post saying, “[Area 51] is an open training range for the U.S. Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces …[t]he U.S. Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.” Another official at Nellis Air Force Base told KNPR that “any attempt to illegally access the area is highly discouraged.”
Due to the government’s warnings and the surprising amount of people that replied affirmative to attending the Facebook event, the creator changed gears from making the event an alien raid to branding it as a music festival. In an interview with KERO-TV, Roberts said he never wanted “anyone to actually get hurt with this … It started out as just from a pure stroke of imagination. It was meant to be funny. I want to do something cool out there, now that we have a bunch of people, but I don’t want anybody to get hurt.” Roberts wanted to use the event’s large popularity into a legitimate gathering and “make it like a festival of sorts. …I’ve had a lot of people … saying their bands want to play there, which would be super cool.”
In the end, there ended up being an “Area 51 Celebration” in downtown Las Vegas which reportedly started off slow but ended up being a reasonably successful event. No where near 2 million people attended, but it was still a success. The original “Alienstock” which was planned in the middle of the desert was not as successful. Out of an anticipated 5,000 people to come, only around 1,500 actually followed through and came out to Rachel, Nevada. Around 75 to 100 made the drive up to the gate of the Air Force facility. One person got arrested, another got detained.
Graphic: Ava Haberman