What started as a joke that went viral almost turned into tragedy. Let’s go behind the scenes of what happened when we tried to storm Area 51.
Matty Roberts, at 20-year-old from Bakersfield, started a Facebook event in summer 2019 and called it “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” He wasn’t serious about it, and probably most people of the million+ people who clicked “Going” or “Interested” in response to the event invitation, scheduled for September 20, 2019, do not actually intend to show up at the Area 51 border with the intention of rushing the camo dudes.
Rushing the camo dudes: that would be a supremely stupid idea. Most people who cross the border into the restricted zone are not shot; they’re merely arrested and handed over to the Lincoln County sheriff’s office for processing and some jail time.
But the camo dudes are authorized to shoot if they think they should. In January 2019, a man was reportedly shot dead by camo dudes after breaking through security checkpoints and driving some eight miles into the restricted zone. He was carrying a “cylindrical object” when he was shot, according to reports.
“The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told reporters.
Storm Area 51? Not Everyone Got the Joke
Matty Roberts has publicly urged the public not to actually show up with the intention of rushing the base: “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he said. People have direct-messaged Roberts on Facebook, telling him things like, “I’m willing to die … let’s do this.”
Disturbingly, the motel closest to Area 51, the Little A’Le’Inn (“little alien”), is completely booked for the day of the proposed base invasion. “Apparently, people are taking it seriously,” the inn’s owner, Connie West, told NPR. “I think they’re stupid if they think they’re going to get to the test site.” Reports say that over 60 people have also paid to set up campsites in the area around the inn.
According to West, “My poor bartender today walked past me and said, ‘I hate to tell you, but every phone call I’ve had is about Sept. 20.’ … It’s insane … They’re pretty serious. They’re coming. People are coming.”
Could They Really Get Inside Area 51?
If a million or so Area 51 zealots actually stormed the base, would they stand a chance of making it inside?
Here’s why we say that: the base itself is miles from the secured border—between 13 and 20 miles, depending on where you start. It’s high desert country, ice cold at night, inhospitable. There is no water, and there are no facilities nearby. And, to make matters much worse, there are the infamous camo dudes, private contract security guards whose sole purpose in life is to find people trying to get to the base—and stop them. Deadly force is authorized.
There are cameras (undoubtedly with night vision), hidden microphones, hidden sensors. The military is not fooling around when it comes to top security bases like Area 51. Aliens aside, we’re talking about the place where super high-tech weapons and craft have been developed and tested—YF-118G Bird of Prey, anyone?
The camo dudes have a reputation for being punitive—if you ever wondered what happened to the rule-happy bastards who worked as hall monitors in high school, well, they work at Area 51 now. In 2012, a BBC film crew was held at gun point for three hours after being caught trying to sneak past the border at night. Oh, and they were forced to lay face-down for that entire time.
So no, the stunt wouldn’t work. The desert isn’t as easy to cross as it’s been portrayed in bad found-footage movies. Even if you had a million people rushing the restricted zone all at once, the best they could hope for is to be arrested en masse. The worst? The camo dudes have some serious weaponry, especially since the Air Force is now prepared in case the “storm” really happens. Things would get very ugly. They can stop all of us.
He Did It for the Memes
The original reason for this ridiculous #StormArea51 phenomenon: memes. Jokes in pictures. “Shitposting”—ridiculous, low-effort silliness on the interwebs.
That part of the plan—to screw around and be silly—has worked spectacularly, if we judge by the volume of jokes that have drenched the internet since the event’s announcement. Talk show hosts pretend to take it all seriously—just so they can make jokes. An entire universe of otherwise clueless GenXers and Baby Boomers have now became familiar with “Naruto running.”
And now it’s a marketing stunt, too. Bud Lite’s Twitter feed has seized the opportunity to seem fun and hip, for the sake of selling some more beer of questionable quality. “Whether you’re from this planet or another galaxy, nothing says ‘welcome to our planet’ like a few beers,” a Bud Lite spokesperson told the media. On Twitter, @budlight promised followers that they would be able to buy the stylized alien beer cans seen here if they get 51,000 retweets (51, get it?).
Meanwhile, back at Storm Area 51 “HQ,” ringleader Matty Roberts is now working on plans to host a music festival on public lands outside Area 51 on the appointed day, September 20. (This may be a wise idea, for two reasons: first, they may as well take advantage of the storm they’ve created, but also, a concert may distract those who were otherwise thinking of actually crossing the border.) An official “Storm Area 51” website has appeared, mainly to sell t-shirts, but with a teaser headline: “SOMETHING BIG IS COMING.”