Storming Area 51-The Great Raid That Never Was
On June 20th, 2019, in his 1,315th podcast, Fear Factor star Joe Rogan interviewed renowned conspiracy theorist Bob Lazar and filmmaker-artist Jeremy Corbell about their experiences with the extra-terrestrial and the Groom Lake U.S. Air Force facility, more widely known as Area 51. Inspired by the podcast, Matty Roberts, a college student from Bakersfield, California, came up with the idea to make a satirical Facebook post poking fun at the extreme and mysterious nature of Area 51. On June 27th, Roberts posted a Facebook event to his meme page titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” with the accompanying caption “If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens”, alluding to the popular anime series Naruto, wherein the main characters run with their arms thrown back and their heads down. Aware of the countless ridiculous Facebook event memes such as “Go to Minnesota and Steal Their 11,842 Lakes,” “Sacrifice Trump to Hurricane Florence” and “Why Don’t We Just Push Florida Somewhere Else?,” Roberts believed his creation to be a light joke; that it would gain a dozen or so signatures and nothing more would come of it. He couldn’t’ve been more wrong. By July 1st, the post had about 3,000 RSVPs. Within two weeks, it had over 300,000 signatures. By the end of the month, it had over two million. The event had garnered attention on the national stage. The U.S. Air Force issued briefings to its personnel, as well as various warnings to people who actually intended to raid the base, with a spokeswoman for the Air Force saying: “[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.” (The Washington Post) Even Matty Roberts had cautioned against attempting to raid the base, and, after removing the original post and a personal visit from the FBI, shifted attention to a new alien-themed music festival that he’d co-created dubbed “Alienstock.” Despite this, the event continued to grow.
The raid was everywhere: on the news, in music videos, in memes; Businesses in the area started selling raid-related merchandise; Hotels were completely booked for the weekend. For a moment, it seemed like the raid might actually happen. The date was set, and everyone was watching. Millions of people were going to raid the most secretive and heavily guarded military facility on the face of the Earth. On September 20th, 2019, the world would see them aliens. Only that didn’t happen.
Instead of the dramatic, anime-inspired war that had been promised by the thousands and thousands of Facebook users who had signed up, only about 150 actually showed, most of them dressed in costumes or holding signs which read things like “Save E.T. from the government!” or “Clap alien cheeks.” Some recorded videos and live-streamed the experience. Others were simply there to have a good time. After all was said and done, no one was seriously injured, and no one had successfully entered the base. In fact, only two people were arrested throughout the raid, and neither were for trespassing. So, one has to ask: What went wrong? What happened to the millions of people who had promised to join the raid? Well, several things.
For one, the raid was originally intended as a joke and was not to be taken seriously. This was immediately obvious to anyone even remotely involved in internet culture. Additionally, the date that the raid was set to take place was several months past its original posting, and during the school season. Younger people, who made up a majority of the signatures for the event, likely either didn’t have the funds or the spare time to invest in travelling out to Nevada, even if for the sake of a meme. Lastly, as is the nature of the internet, no one who signed up to attend the raid had any sense of duty or obligation to go. The internet is a place where anonymity and isolation are valued, and just because someone clicked the “Interested” or “Going” options on a Facebook event doesn’t mean that they were ‘interested’ or ‘going’. The internet will always be the internet. Trolls will be trolls. Memes will be memes. Perhaps, too, some users were only interested in being a part of the hype; the momentary flash of fame and respect that comes with saying “Oh, yeah, the Area 51 raid? I RSVP’d” Others still might’ve just wanted to follow the story more closely; to see just how far others would go for that social currency we call memes. Regardless of intent, the way in which the raid panned out says a lot about the unpredictable, ephemeral nature of the internet and society as a whole. Under just the right conditions, any idea, no matter how ridiculous, can blow up to national proportions. Moreover, like so many memes and outrageous happenings before it, the Area 51 Raid of 2019 will become little more than a passing phase in the annals of internet history. One day, we’ll all be looking back on this: On the time shortly after that one kid fell into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo…when a businessman-turned-reality TV star had become President of the United States…when a meme had gotten so out of hand that the Air Force had to issue a statement telling citizens not to rush the gates of one of the most heavily guarded military facilities in all of history…to the Great Raid of Area 51 – the raid that never was.