In an age when the zeitgeist synchronizes closely with Internet trends and viral social media hashtags, the most improbable and zany of memes can become obsessive movements virtually overnight. The newest example—a facetious campaign to “Storm Area 51” and unseal its alien secrets—originated as a playful Facebook event and has since ballooned into a pop culture phenomenon with nearly 2 million enlistees pledging to take part.
While the majority of the group members are unlikely to ultimately sojourn to the middle of the desert 75 miles north of Las Vegas, if even a small percentage of them turn up, it could flood the town of Rachel and create a tense scene for local and federal government officials.
The event’s creator, Matty Roberts, says it started as a “pure stroke of imagination” and that it was simply a satirical joke. He had no idea that his idea of a legion of UFO fanatics “naruto run[ning]” toward Area 51 to breach the top secret base and “see them aliens” would go viral in only a few weeks. In recent interviews he has admitted he now fears things have gotten out of hand and that there will be “slaughter.”
The engineering student said in an interview:
“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.
“A few people are really serious and I’m kind of worried about that. I’ve had a couple people DM the page where they’re like, ‘I’m willing to die for the government. Let’s do this.’ And I’m just like, ‘Oh my God.’ They’re all like hardcore strength in numbers, that kind of thing, but if there’s only like two of those guys out there, I think we’ll be OK.”
There are signs the joke is being taken seriously by government officials as well. Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews stated:
“The Nevada Test and Training Range is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft. Any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous.”
Despite warnings, local owners of hotels and campgrounds say their properties are filling up with reservations. Matty says he now hopes to turn the event into an educational festival.
Area 51, long a staple of conspiracy theories and fringe pop culture, has resurfaced frequently in recent years. The CIA didn’t even officially acknowledge the existence of the base until 2013.
And while officials maintain the base is the home of experimental aircraft, weapons systems and logistical support for the USAF, some conspiracists insist there is more going on. Bob Lazar, who in the 1980s claimed he had worked on alien technology inside the base, recently appeared on the Joe Rogan podcast to reiterate his claims. A few years back, a fairly mainstream journalist named Annie Jacobsen, claimed in a book on Area 51 that the crafts which crashed in Roswell had actually been piloted by the victims of a Soviet eugenics experiment and were intended to introduce disinformation and confusion into the American imagination.
It is highly unlikely—bordering on impossible—that a critical mass of civilians could infiltrate a highly secure military base. The U.S. military almost assuredly has advanced technologies for non-violently neutralizing large groups of people, including sound beams, electromagnetic pulses and directed microwave energy.
The success of Storm Area 51 could lay more in presenting a proof-of-concept showing the impact of tens of thousands of people assembling in one area. The event states: “they can’t stop us all.” While this view is patently wrong, it is only because they’re talking about sabotaging the defense of a major top-secret military asset.
While we have seen mass protests and marches, very rarely have we seen over a million citizens converge in one spot demanding the truth. The sentiment behind storming Area 51 may strike many as juvenile or absurd, but if this same principle—mobilizing the populace to numerically overwhelm law enforcement and elites—were to laterally shift onto, say, storming the border detention centers, it might be taken more seriously.
Storm Area 51 has the potential to be a transferable movement that graduates from a giant party to a disruptive new form of mass civil disobedience… or more.