The Area 51 raid: more than just an internet joke

Shop near Alamo Nevada, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Crystal Earl

On June 27 of this year, popular video game streamer, Matty Roberts, created a tongue-in-cheek Facebook event proposing a raid of Area 51, the highly classified United States Air Force (USAF) facility located within Lincoln County, Nevada. For decades, The installation has been the focus of numerous conspiracies involving extraterrestrial life, though it’s only confirmed use is as a flight testing facility. Unbeknownst to Roberts, the post attracted widespread media reaction with more than 2 million facebook users reportedly “going” and 1.5 million users “interested.” 

Despite humorous intentions and government efforts to discourage people from attempting to enter military property, over 2,000 people showed up to “raid” Area 51. Beginning September 19, enthusiasts of the event began to set up camp near Rachel, Nevada, a remote desert town of 56 people, about 12 miles outside of the base. Fearful that the city could not sustain an invasion of possibly 40,000 people, Lincoln county officials and local business owners began making preparations weeks before the event. All 184 hotel rooms in the county were booked, and campsites outside of the city were swamped. Small businesses near the cities of Reno and Hiko set up shop within miles of the military base, profiting off of the flood of extraterrestrial visitors. Connie West, co-owner of the Little A’Le’Inn restaurant and inn, planned to open up 30 acres for camping and even attempted to create and sell her own merchandise. 

To everyone’s surprise though, the day passed by rather peacefully. A majority of the people who swarmed to Nevada that Friday night were only there to attend either of the two planned music festivals: Alienstock in Rachel, Nevada and Storm Area 51 Basecamp in Hiko, Nevada. Only a couple hundred people rallied in front of the various Area 51 entrances, and even then, nobody attempted to enter, excluding a select few, such as Dutch YouTubers Ties Granzier and Govert Charles Wilhelmus Jacob Sweep. 

 A music group called Wily Savage erected a stage on Thursday near the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel and began playing after dark for several hundred campers who braved overnight temperatures of about 44 degrees Fahrenheit. The entertainment kicked off weekend events that also feature a gathering Friday and Saturday at the Alien Research Centre souvenir store in Hiko. It focused on music, movies and talks about extraterrestrial lore. 

Despite a small handful of arrests, it was mostly an invasion of friendly humankind. Most people came to the gathering in peace. Children, couples, and families were there, just looking to have a good time. It was a good atmosphere considering the earlier plight surrounding the well-being of the travelers, as well as the safety of nearby residents. Danny Philippou, a 26-year-old YouTuber from Australia who attended Alienstock, reported that even the authorities were laughing and enjoying themselves. 

“They were really just there to act as a deterrent. They were having just as much fun as us,” Philippou said. 

Much to our surprise, the Area 51 raid turned from an internet meme and governmental concern into a community-building activity. Aside from the inconvenience the huge event did to neighboring cities, small businesses profited and people from all over were brought together under common interest. At the end of the day, extraterrestrial life may not have been uncovered, but the measure of just how far an internet joke could stretch displayed the significance in social gathering and pure, nonsensical joy.

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