It was supposed to be a fun joke. Create an event on Facebook that was so absurd, everyone would have a laugh, share a meme and then move on with their lives.
Instead, Matty Roberts got a visit from the FBI, the Air Force has warned it is ready for anything, and rural Lincoln County, Nev., is preparing to declare a state of emergency.
In late June, Roberts, a 20-year-old from Bakersfield, posted his Facebook event: “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.”
The idea was simple. Overwhelm the top-secret Nevada military site with people — a mass of humanity that would storm the gates in pursuit of long-hidden truths that have long fueled conspiracy theories and television shows including “The X-Files.”
It would all happen on Sept. 20. Finally, alien autopsies, UFOs in hangars and other off-the-books government research would be exposed. Vindication, Mulder and Scully!
The post got little attention at first, but a few days later it started to go viral, and by mid-July more than 1 million people said on Facebook they were planning to attend.
“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” wrote a video game streamer with the handle SmyleeKun. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets.”
Naruto run is a reference to anime ninja Naruto Uzumaki, who runs with body and head leaning forward while keeping his arms straight behind his back.
Good luck with that.
The authorities soon heard about the plan and, unsurprising, weren’t amused. It wasn’t long before Roberts began backpedaling.
Interviewed by ABC News, he had a simple message for those who planned to carry out a raid on Area 51: “Please don’t.”
But it was too late. As of Wednesday, more than 2 million people were signed up to attend.
Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews issued a statement to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday suggesting any attempt to rush Area 51 would be an ill-fated endeavor.
“The United States Air Force is aware of the Facebook post. The Nevada Test and Training Range is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft,” she said. “As a matter of practice, we do not discuss specific security measures, but any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous.”
Not to worry. Roberts told the “Today” show this month that the event was no longer a wholesale raid on Area 51 but instead a gathering dubbed “Alienstock.”
A website for the event describes it as a festival “aiming to establish something unique here, a meeting place for all the believers ... a place to freely discuss Aliens & the Unknown!”
It would take place in the 50-person town of Rachel, pending a formal permit approval by the Lincoln County Commission on Sept. 3. The application came from a local inn owner, who estimated the crowd would number between 5,000 and 30,000. Humans, that is.
Lincoln County has a population of about 5,000 and covers 10,000 square miles of high-desert mountain landscape.
Commissioner Bevan Lister says the county gets its biggest crowds for the Pioche Labor Day Weekend Celebration, when about 1,400 people come for food, games and festivities.
He said for that event, they staff up on volunteers to help coordinate the heavy traffic that comes via two-lane state highways.
The county, he believed, could deal with 30,000 visitors. But 50,000? Or 100,000? Or more?
“There will be some serious challenges,” Lister said.
The governor’s office is aware of the situation and has been monitoring it, according to a spokesman. If the county follows through with its plan to declare an emergency, the state would help with the costs of resources used to maintain order during the event.
The National Guard could be deployed, if needed, but Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said his department had already contacted law enforcement in Reno to assist with large crowds.
The town of Rachel is already gearing up for large numbers to arrive.
The city’s only lodging — the Little A’Le’Inn — is booked, according to its website. There is no gas station in town. No grocery stores either.
The town of Rachel put on its website a caution to those planning to arrive anyway.
“If you plan on attending the event you must be experienced in camping, hiking and surviving in a harsh desert environment and have a vehicle in good shape,” the website reads. “You must be prepared to be completely on your own for food, water, gas, etc. We expect cell service and the internet in Rachel to be offline. Credit card processing will not work, so bring enough cash.”
Then came this ominous warning: “Law enforcement will be overwhelmed and local residents will step up to protect their property. It will get ugly.”
The town website also urged people to attend a different event scheduled for the same day a few hours away in Nye County: Peacestock 51.
Tickets are advertised for $51, with 18 bands scheduled to perform in the town of Amargosa.
Or at least they were. The country commissioners voted Tuesday to deny a permit. An organizer said in an email that he was “still trying to save the event in one form or another.”
Area 51 is a military base in use since the 1940s that is primarily used for testing military aircraft and has been cloaked in secrecy for decades. One of the more notable aircraft to be tested there was the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s.
It has been the subject of many conspiracy theories. In 2017, the New York Times and Politico revealed the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which the Pentagon ran to study unidentified flying objects and unexplained phenomena.
It was also revealed that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid had helped push through $22 million in funding for studying UFOs. In 2017, after the publication of the stories about the Pentagon’s studies, he tweeted: “The truth is out there.”
This year, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, the Pentagon declassified documents showing it funded projects that examined wormholes and alternate dimensions.
The big questions now are how many people will show up in the Nevada desert and what will they do.
The Facebook event page has remained active, with a steady stream of posts that remain mostly sarcastic.
“Has anyone consulted Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum about this?” said one post, referencing the 1996 blockbuster film “Independence Day.” “I feel they are the Leading experts for Area 51.”
Art Frasik, who signed up to attend, said in a Facebook message that he had been interested in aliens since he was a kid and saw “Independence Day.”
Frasik, a 33-year-old real estate investor from Ohio, said he was looking for transportation to get to Area 51 for the storming event and that he believed the site contained “extraterrestrial related stuff.”
“There’s more people who are serious about it than what you think,” he wrote. “We understand that there is more power in numbers and the only way this is going to work is to show up.”
Grant Fielder, a delivery truck driver in Arkansas who posted that he wanted to storm the mysterious site, said in an interview that he believed Americans had a right to know what was going on at the base.
“There is something out there,” he said.
But the 24-year-old said he wouldn’t be able to make it for a more terrestrial reason.
“I have to work,” he said.