Space invaders

Let’s see them aliens

<i></i>Matty Roberts talks on a Las Vegas TV station about “Storm Area 51.”

Matty Roberts talks on a Las Vegas TV station about “Storm Area 51.”

Before Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing, before the grassy knoll, before “Bush did 9/11,” there was Area 51. Perhaps the clearest indicator among believers that the U.S. military is hiding evidence of alien visitation, the top-secret Air Force base in the Nevada desert has been a subject of fascination and skepticism alike for decades.

In June, Matty Roberts, a college student from Bakersfield, created the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” event on Facebook with the intended goal to “see them aliens.”

He later said it was a joke, but the event took off, and more than 2 million Facebook users responded as “going,” prompting the Air Force to issue a formal warning to anyone seriously considering attempting to cross the hard border of Area 51, where signs authorizing “use of deadly force” have hung for years.

“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,” Air Force spokesperson Laura McAndrews told ABC News in July.

The base itself is part of the vast Nevada Test and Training Range in Lincoln County, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. People referring to “Area 51” often colloquially include the Groom Lake facility, a dry lakebed used as an airfield for experimental aircraft, the officially sanctioned Homey Airport, and an even more secretive site called S-4. (More on that later.)

In 2005, Jeffrey Richelson, a senior researcher at George Washington University, filed a Freedom of Information Act request about the CIA’s U-2 spy plane program and the SR-71 “Blackbird,” which were developed at Groom Lake. Eight years later, his request was granted in the form of an unredacted report called The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954-1974.

“This is a history of the U-2,” Richelson, who died in 2017, told The New York Times in a 2013 interview. “The only overlap is the discussion of the U-2 flights and UFO sightings, the fact that you had these high-flying aircraft in the air being the cause of some of these sightings.”

The report makes no mention of aliens or UFOs stored on site, but for the first time ever, it referred to Area 51 by name, confirming—unwittingly or not on the CIA’s part—the base’s existence.

“That was sort of a bonus,” Richelson told The Times.

According to that same CIA report, “Area 51"—its map designation by the Atomic Energy Commission at the time—was commissioned in 1955 by President Eisenhower, and experimental aircraft have long been the government’s unofficially official explanation for UFO sightings in the area.

The public’s attention waxed and waned over the decades, with various UFO-ologists occasionally positing theories about alien visitation. It wasn’t until 1989 that someone came forward with knowledge of not only the workings of Area 51, but the trove of extraterrestrial technology housed within.

“There are several—actually nine—flying saucers, flying disks … the propulsion system is a gravity propulsion system, the power source is an anti-matter reactor. This technology does not exist at all,” a man with his face obscured by shadow and identified only as “Dennis” said on KLAS-TV in Las Vegas in a May 15, 1989, broadcast.

The report generated international attention. In a follow-up interview months later, “Dennis” was revealed as Bob Lazar, a young scientist who claimed to have been tasked with reverse-engineering alien hardware in Area 51’s secret hangar at S-4, a few miles south of the base proper, for almost six months.

Lazar says he can’t prove his claims with hard evidence, but in a 2018 documentary by Jeremy Corbell called Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers, Lazar presents his case in greater detail, including home footage he claims to have filmed of flying saucer test flights above the facility.

On June 20, 2019, Lazar and Corbell went on the popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast and spoke at length about his experience. Rogan, himself a believer in aliens, is gracious to Lazar throughout the interview, making allowances for Lazar’s migraine that prevents him from answering succinctly at times, and not pressing him for specific times or dates in his account. The interview has close to 8 million views on YouTube.

One of those views, however, belonged to Roberts, the student who then created the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” event on Facebook. After national attention, Roberts came forward to explain that it was a joke, and implored people not to take it seriously. Still, the Facebook page became a repository for memes and internet jokes, with mock battle plans and images of thousands of internet denizens “Naruto running"—look it up—through a hail of machine gun fire to free the captive aliens within.

In place of the actual “raid,” set to take place on Sept. 20, Roberts and a few partners lent their name to an “Alienstock” festival planned in the tiny town of Rachel, Nev., near Area 51, promising live music, events and a place for believers to connect. But on Sept. 9, Roberts announced Alienstock was canceled, citing a “potential humanitarian crisis” on the website, in that none of the infrastructure or events promised by his partner in Rachel had been delivered. The event will be replaced with a one-night concert in downtown Las Vegas on Sept. 19.

Another event, “Storm Area 51 Basecamp,” is also scheduled for this weekend at the Alien Research Center in Hiko, with a panel by guest speakers including Jeremy Corbell and Bob Lazar.

Despite the confusion on the ground, Facebook users are keeping their hopes up. While one event respondent answered a message about her plans to attend the event with “I feel like you’re the government, so why would I tell you all this?” another, Steven Davis from Pennsylvania, responded with, “Hell yeah, I’m going.” Davis said he plans to fly out “real soon” and potentially camp on the outskirts of Area 51.

“In all honesty, if taxpayers fund the government, why can’t the taxpayers go see what’s up there? Why do they have such big secrets?” Davis said.

Davis cites his own belief in—and personal experience with—UFOs for his interest, and as far as the government’s official explanation of top secret aircraft at the base: “You’d have to be dumb to believe that.”