Image Credit: PXHERE/VICTOR TANGERMANN
Lincoln County, Nevada is breathing a sigh of relief this week. For months, the county with a population of just over 5,000 residents in southeast Nevada has been anticipating the happenings of the “Storm Area 51” event.
Lincoln County is home to a top-secret U.S. Air Force installation commonly known as Area 51, which has been the topic of a Facebook event that quickly went viral; it called for the masses to descend on the base to uncover evidence of alien life and government conspiracies.
What is Area 51?
The Nevada Test and Training Range, affectionately known as Area 51, is located more than 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and is the world’s largest peacetime military air and ground training area. The installation is massive — occupying 2.9 million acres of land, 5,000 square miles of restricted, military-only airspace, and another 7,000 square miles of Military Operating Area that’s shared with civilian aircraft. The Nevada Test and Training Range is also home to the Department of Defense’s only Space Test and Training Range.
Area 51 has long been the subject of extraterrestrial conspiracies and perceived government secrets. The CIA began using the Area 51 site in 1955 to develop the U-2, a high-altitude reconnaissance plane, and later the A-12. In 1959 the site was established as a radar test facility, and in 1978, management of Area 51 was transferred from the CIA to the U.S. Air Force.
Three years later, the first F-117 Nighthawk was delivered to Area 51 by Lockheed Corporation’s Advanced Development Projects. Then in 1989, Bob Lazar was interviewed saying that he was working with physicists to “back-engineer a downed alien spacecraft” that was supposedly recovered from Roswell, which piqued public interest in the secretive installation.
In 2013, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from 2005, the CIA published declassified documents that for the first time acknowledged that Area 51 is a secret military base, despite their former denial of the base’s mere existence. However, the documents claim the secretive nature of the site was to keep information from the Soviets, not to cover up evidence of extraterrestrial life. According to the CIA, the actual names of Area 51 are Homey Airport or Groom Lake. In the same year, President Barack Obama used the term “Area 51” in public and was the first president ever to do so.
Storm Area 51 Facebook Event
Suspicion and doubt continue to surround Area 51, and in June of 2019, the public rallied behind Matty Roberts with the intent to maybe, possibly, or probably not really storm the infamous top-secret military base.
The Facebook event, titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” was created in June by Roberts, a 21-year-old from Bakersfield, California. Matty was a pretty regular guy when he created the Facebook event that would change his life. He was attending community college, working at a vape shop, and played World of Warcraft in his spare time.
Although the event was intended to be nothing more than a joke, Roberts was surprised at how quickly it took off. In a shockingly short amount of time, the page gained momentum and the interest of more than 3.5 million people globally. Roberts told the BBC, “I posted the Area 51 Facebook event at about 2am on June 27. It was totally a joke from the get-go. There was just a ton of attention out of nowhere and it was awesome.”
Storm Area 51 Response
Not only did the event get the attention of alien enthusiasts worldwide, it also garnered the attention of the U.S. Government. Although the Facebook event was intended to be a joke, the federal government thought it was no laughing matter. Roberts was paid a visit by the FBI and the U.S Air Force issued a statement on the event saying, “The United States Air Force is aware of the Facebook post.”
Air Force spokesperson Laura McAndrews said in a statement, “The Nevada Test and Training Range is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft. As a matter of practice, we do not discuss specific security measures, but any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous.” McAndrews’ warning about the dangers of attempting to access the installation is not an empty threat. Access points and the perimeter fence of Area 51 are dotted with signage that indicates deadly force is authorized against trespassers.
But alien enthusiasts were not discouraged. “We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” according to the Facebook page. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets [sic] see them aliens.”
“Naruto” refers to the unique running style of the anime protagonist Naruto Uzumaki in the Japanese series Naruto. The character is often depicted sprinting with his arms outstretched behind him.
Most of the people who responded to the Facebook event were there for the overload of memes and jokes surrounding the event. But there were a few who were seriously invested in the event and were determined to uncover something unearthly. There was no real plan to invade the top-secret base to expose the government and “see them aliens.”
Alien Stock and Storm Area 51 Event
However, there was a bit more of a plan for alien-seekers to gather for two festivals — the Alien Stock music festival, and “Storm Area 51 Basecamp.” For local authorities, the worry of people actually storming Area 51 was the least of their concerns. They were faced with the possibility of thousands of people flocking to the surrounding towns of Rachel and Hiko, Nevada for the festivals. With a combined population of just 173 people, an event of this magnitude could prove to be catastrophic.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee told the BBC that the entire 10,000 square mile county was only equipped with 26 officers. In preparation for the event, the area was receiving support in the form of an additional 150 officer and 300 paramedics from across the state.
Since no one was entirely sure just how many of the 3.5 million people would show up, panic started to set in. Alien Stock, which was set to be hosted in Rachel, Nevada, was chalked up to be the next Fyre Festival. Fyre Festival was one of the biggest scams of 2017, in which rich, young festival-goers paid for an exclusive weekend getaway in the Bahamas and were promised luxury accommodations, meals by celebrity chefs, and bands. Instead, they ended up staying in water-logged tents and eating sandwiches with no entertainment in sight.
Due to a lack of facilities, logistical support, safety concerns, and to avoid a comparable catastrophe, Matty Roberts called off Alien Stock. However, not everyone was ready to pull the plug. Connie West, the owner of the Little A’Le’Inn, claimed she had already paid for security, toilets, and paramedics, and that the festival was still very much on. She said to a KTNV reporter that, “No matter what it’s going to happen, there’s nothing I can do to stop it.” Although people still showed up in Rachel to celebrate Alien Stock as close to Area 51 as they could, the main event was moved to the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center where the infrastructure could support a larger influx of people.
Storm Area 51 Basecamp organizers were confident that they had the capacity to support up to 5,000 people at the Alien Research Center in Hiko. They were worried that if attendance was in the tens of thousands, there was no way the existing infrastructure could support such an event.
Storm Area 51 Flops
Luckily for the towns of Rachel and Hiko, “Storm Area 51” didn’t draw nearly as many people as were originally anticipated. Many of the attendees were vloggers, reporters, and Instagramers ready to live-stream the raid. Others were there to capitalize on the influx of tourists to the area, and included vendors selling everything from bottled water to alien-themed souvenirs.
Ali Alshehri told BuzzFeed News, “Look, I don’t believe in aliens…All I believe is we have a bunch of privileged kids who are going to the middle of the desert and they don’t have food, water, or anything.” Some drove from as far as Texas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania out of pure curiosity.
According to the Facebook event, the raid was scheduled for 3 a.m. on the morning of 20 September, but it became clear fairly quickly that there would be no invasion of Area 51. With Matty Roberts bowing out and distancing himself from the event, there was no clear plan on which gate people would meet at or what the plan was after they got there, and the internet in the desert is scarce at best.
Despite the lack of attendance compared to the initial interest online and virtually no organization, attendees still gathered at the gates throughout the day to take selfies, taunt the armed guards, joke with local law enforcement, and live out the internet memes of their dreams. According to an officer, the crowd at the back gate to Area 51 was 50 strong at one point during the “raid.” Only one person was reported to have been arrested but not for storming the gate—it was for urinating on the fence.
The Lasting Aftermath
Eric Holt, Lincoln County Emergency Manager, said that at Alien Stock’s peak, there were about 3,000 people camping at the festival in Rachel. But now that the hype is over, the county is left to settle a nearly $200,000 bill for the costs of bringing in additional officers and supplies to support the potential influx of Storm Area 51 attendees.
The county was operating under a declaration of emergency and local officials say they had been prepared for up to 30,000 people to descend upon Lincoln and Nye Counties. Lincoln County commissioner, rancher Varlin Higbee, told the Associated Press the commission may sue to recover some of the costs after signing the emergency declaration earlier this month. Higbee commented, “Think about it, here’s an illegal event, supporting an illegal activity — storming the gate. We’re not sure what we’re going to do at this point.”
Why do people want to storm Area 51?
While some are dealing with the fallout of the threat of such a huge event, local businesses and residents are hoping that the festival-type events like Alien Stock become a repeat occurrence. Even though the actual “storming” didn’t draw a huge crowd, festival attendance wasn’t non-existent. Alien Stock attendees were also hopeful to return next year.
James Barker told Fox News that he originally thought he was just going to pull up his truck on a hill with some binoculars to check out the mysterious site. “This is better than I had imagined. Everybody, we all just came here and made some friends. I hope this is a yearly thing from now on.” Connie West, owner of the Little A’Le’Inn and defacto Alien Stock host was even open to hosting the event on her property next year. She told the AP that although no one found any aliens, they made an even more meaningful discovery.
“We found peace. And friendship.”