The truth is out there — or at least that's the belief the viral, and farcical, Facebook event "Storm Area 51" is peddling.
Late last month, an event named “Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us” popped up on the social media platform, searching for recruits to meet in Amargosa Valley and rush an area named Area 51, part of the Nevada Test and Training Range, where conspiracy theorists allege the U.S. government is engaged in extraterrestrial research.
The group was started by a public meme page and a Twitch video game streamer who goes by the screen name SmyleeKun. Over the ensuing weeks, 1.6 million people RSVPed to claim they’re attending the event, scheduled for Sept. 20 at 3 a.m., and another 1.2 million have said they’re interested.
“If we naruto run,” reads the event page, referencing an anime meme of running with your head forward and arms back, “we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.”
"Hello US government, this is a joke, and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan,” reads a disclaimer on a pinned post outlining a strategy for storming the base. “I just thought it would be funny and get me some thumbsy uppies on the internet."
Classification policy and national security expert Steven Aftergood said the idea of storming Area 51 was a “social media concoction” and cast doubt that droves of people would show up to the site, for reasons not least of which is the base’s isolated, arid location.
“Those that try to reach it will find that it is remote, rugged and quite far removed from public roadways,” Aftergood told Yahoo News. “People will need plenty of water, good health insurance, and possibly a lawyer.”
While those in the group are having a laugh about the idea of investigating extraterrestrial activity, the military says it’s aware of the event and is taking it seriously.
“The United States Air Force is aware of the Facebook post,” said an Air Force spokesperson in a statement to Yahoo News. “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.”
“Any attempt to illegally access the area is highly discouraged,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Kleinholz of Nellis Air Force Base, which oversees the area that includes Area 51. “Just like any military installation, there are different levels of security, depending on what has been picked up and what has been detected. And, obviously, the degree of response may escalate depending upon the perceived threat.”
Retired U.S. Army Col. John Alexander, who wrote a book investigating myths and conspiracy theories surrounding UFOs, believes that the threat may not register with some who buy into the conspiracy of Area 51. Alexander said that naivete within the UFO community may render some vulnerable enough to forgo official warnings in pursuit of some intangible “truth.”
“While 95 percent of the people signed up won’t go, the real danger is that a few might,” he said. Alexander speculated that any potential intruder would be nabbed by the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department before things got violent.
Still, in the unlikely event an individual was able to skirt local authorities, things could get ugly — fast. “If somebody got far enough, that’s a PR nightmare for everybody,” added Alexander. “Any physical attempt to get in will be disastrous.”
The 2.5 million participants in the group appear to be mostly in it for the memes, but there are at least some people inquiring about a visit that weekend. Connie West, co-owner of the Little A'le'Inn in Rachel, Nev., has said she’s received an unusually high level of interest for the night of Sept. 20, and that she hasn’t seen this much excitement in 31 years of ownership.
Other non-alien-themed hotels in nearby Pahrump, Nev., told Yahoo News they hadn’t seen any increase in demand for that night. An employee at Motel 6 in Beatty, Nev., said the property had recently received inquiries about rates that night but still had plenty of vacancies.
Conspiracy theories about the U.S. government covering up alien activity dates back to the 1947 crash of a high-altitude balloon in Roswell, N.M. The government didn’t reveal until decades later that the crash was of an unmanned craft that was part of a top-secret program to monitor Soviet weapons tests. In the meantime, UFO theories grew up around the incident.
Adding to the conspiracy was that the government for decades denied even the existence of Area 51. In 2013, a Freedom of Information Act request by George Washington University confirmed the Mojave Desert facility’s existence.
The university posted the declassified CIA report showing the U-2 spy plane was tested and operated at the base. According to the report, President Dwight D. Eisenhower “approved the addition of this strip of wasteland, known by its map designation as Area 51, to the Nevada Test Site” in 1955.
There has been a steady trickle of new UFO-related information released by the government in recent years. In May, the New York Times reported that the Navy had updated its protocols for reporting “unexplained aerial phenomena” after a series of mysterious sightings off the East Coast. In 2017, the same reporters published a story about how former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had pushed for funding for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which from 2007 to 2012 investigated unexplained aerial sightings. And documents showing the British military had a UFO desk tracking sightings were released in 2013.
“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this thing going,” said Reid in a 2017 New York Times interview. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”
Those stories have only fueled interest in the search for answers, according to Jan Harzan, the executive director for the Mutual UFO Network, known as MUFON. The nonprofit volunteer group has tracked alleged sightings over the past 50 years, similar to the work of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, a classified program that started in 1952 and counted more than 12,000 UFO sightings over its 17-year existence, with hundreds still unexplained.
Harzan told Yahoo News that membership has ticked up since the New York Times revealed the Pentagon’s investigation unit, along with the calls from production companies looking for the next popular cable series investigating extraterrestrials.
While Harzan is happy with the increased interest, he advised that attempting to rush Area 51 “would be about the dumbest thing you could do,” foreseeing the most likely potential results as needing a lawyer and spending some time in jail.
“I wouldn’t even touch the fence because my understanding is even if you touch the fence they’ll come haul you away,” said Harzan, who was skeptical many people would actually show up. “I do think it’s good in the sense that it’s telling our leadership — the president, Congress — that the U.S. citizenry really wants to know what the heck is going on,” he said.
The belief in a cover-up about UFOs and extraterrestrials goes beyond the recent interest in the Facebook event, as large number of Americans have said they think the government is hiding something about UFOs. A YouGov poll released earlier this month found 28 percent of Americans said it was "very likely" the government knows something about UFOs that is not being shared with the public, while another 26 percent found it "somewhat likely." A 2016 survey from Chapman University found that 42 percent of Americans thought the government was covering up what it knows about alien encounters.
In addition to Reid, other powerful politicos have expressed an interest in Area 51. John Podesta, who served as Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, has long been interested in the government releasing what it knows about extraterrestrials, having reportedly “been known to pick up the phone to call the Air Force and ask them what's going on in Area 51." Podesta also served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman in the 2016 presidential election.
When Hillary Clinton was asked during the campaign if she would, if elected president, disclose government files on Area 51, she said, “I want to open the files as much as we can.”
“I don’t know,” said Clinton when asked if she herself believed in UFOs. “I want to see what the information shows. There’s enough stories out there that I don’t think everybody is just sitting in their kitchen making them up.”
President Trump, on the other hand, appears to be far more skeptical.
"I did have one very brief meeting on it," Trump told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired last month. "But people are saying they're seeing UFOs. Do I believe it? Not particularly."
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