It is 20 September. Months ago, that was the date that a college student typed into a joke Facebook event, before writing the words that would go on to make it become a day of angst for the US military and residents who live near Area 51.
Next to that date, a bored young man called Matty Roberts writes an event description that would propel the page to viral fame.
“Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” it read.
Now that the day has arrived, the mission to “storm Area 51” looks very different than it did during that moment of excited viral fame. It went from an online joke, to something that prompted action from both the US military and Facebook, to a potential disaster for the people who are intending to turn up after all.
How did this all happen?
The event began as a joke. That much was clear from the description, which referenced an anime character and suggested people would be able to outrun bullets.
“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” it read. ”If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens.”
The page developed in the same comedic manner, playing host to a variety of jokes and memes that sarcastically riffed on aliens and the secrets of the government.
But it very quickly became very serious indeed. As interest in the Facebook page grew, so did anxiety that some people might really try to break into the base – and US Air Force spokesperson Laura McAndrews was one of a number of officials who gave a stern warning to anyone who did.
“[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” she said.
Ms McAndrews added: “The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets”.
Last month, the event disappeared from Facebook. It wasn’t clear exactly why, and at the point it was removed more than two million people had indicated they would take part.
It was particularly frustrating for organiser Mr Roberts because he had attempted to parlay the interest into a real event: the equally ill-fated Alienstock. Rather than raiding Area 51, that woud be a festival devoted to the culture that surrounds it, attempting to harness people’s interest in the moment into something organised and profitable, rather than potentially lethal.
What’s the plan now?
There are now three different major events planned, with a number of others likely. It’s not clear how many people will be arriving in Nevada to take part in them.
Two of the main ones are now called Alienstock, after some confusion and disagreement between the people organising them. One will happen in Las Vegas, and appears to be something like a more traditional EDM festival; the other is taking place in the tiny town of Rachel, Nevada, in the heart of Area 51-country.
It’s that event in particular that has led locals to “prepare for the worst”. Rachel is a tiny town, with a population of around 54, which is only about twice the number of musical acts advertised as performing at the event.
Last month, the town’s official website posted a warning indicating that the event has a “high potential to get ugly”. The town and the harsh desert that surrounds it has few places for anyone to stay, is subject to wildly fluctuating temperatures, is home to dangerous animals and the local area has no internet, phone signal or credit card facilities.
Those warnings are still continuing as the weekend begins. This week, local Joerg Arnu said that people did not know what they were getting themselves in for.
“Those that know what to expect camping in the desert are going to have a good time,” Arnu said. “Those who are looking for a big party are going to be disappointed.”
He predicts people showing up in the desert in shorts and flip-flops.
“That doesn’t protect you against critters, snakes and scorpions,” Arnu said. “It will get cold at night. They’re not going to find what they’re looking for, and they are going to get angry.”
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