Writer: Sarah P.
Editor: Norbu D.
Visual: Somya D.
“Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us”. This was the title of the Facebook event organized on June 27, 2019 by Matty Roberts. The event invited people to carry out a raid on a United States Air Force facility that was rumored to be hiding secrets about extraterrestrial life or even possibly containing it. Originally it was created as a joke, but the event soon went viral. Videos, memes, threads, and various methods of mainstream media were quickly spread on social platforms such as Reddit, TikTok, and Instagram. Within two months, 2 million people had marked that they were “Going” to the event, and another 1.5 million were “Interested”.
Although this inadvertent incident may be the first time that some people heard about Area 51, it had garnered the public’s attention decades prior in a government conspiracy. Around the time the military began running test flights of CIA U2 spy planes in the late 1950s, civilians reported seeing Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) at the base. This resulted in a spark of theorists claiming that UFOs, aliens, or information on them were being stored at Area 51. Roberts paid homage to this, adding in the details of the event, “Lets see them aliens.”
The media certainly had their fun with this affair as evidenced by the page being bombarded with satirical posts, including detailed plans about the best way to break into the base. The majority of plans included a multitude of references, with one plan incorporating “Kyles” and “naruto runners” to storm the base in separate waves. With the question of getting past the military, Roberts even claimed, “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets.” While we were having a laugh, the military and authoritative forces in America had some things to say of their own.
The United States government issued various warnings and statements in their attempts to dissuade the public from carrying out the raid. “[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,” said official Laura McAndrews. They even went as far to add that “[t]he U.S. Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets”. A public information officer was also documented saying that “any attempt to illegally access the area is highly discouraged”.
Millions of people on the Internet had voiced their support of this plan, and thousands attended festivals with alien themes or ones that were near the base. However, when the time came to raid the base on Friday, September 20, mere dozens of the millions who were “Going” to or were “Interested” in the event actually showed up, certainly not enough to overpower a military base. The buzz that had been created online had even provoked the government to try and intervene, but in reality, the raid fell entirely short of expectations.
In retrospect, much of the government’s actions now seem like overreactions. While it’s true that a threat may have seemed plausible from the level of online involvement, the government greatly overestimated the number of people that would actually get involved in real life. The Internet, on the other hand, was undoubtedly the sole cause of the government’s responses. Unpressured by the easy task of simply clicking a button, millions of people expressed their interest in the event of “[storming] Area 51”. However, we saw millions of the same people flake out when they were expected to show up. Both sides made their own mistakes and miscalculations, but in the end, I think everything that happened can teach us all a valuable lesson: you can’t always trust what you see on the Internet.
“Storm Area 51.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/storm-area-51.
“There Were (Thankfully) Fewer Alien Enthusiasts than Authorities Expected. There Were Arrests and a Naruto Runner.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Sept. 2019, edition.cnn.com/travel/article/area-51-raid-weekend-event-trnd/index.html.