You probably heard about the viral facebook event named 'storm area 51, they can't stop us all' where overnight a million people said that they'd be GOING. Well, I went.
As I drove across the desert, down the lonesome road known as Extraterrestrial Highway, I realized what I was doing. I was driving into the middle of nowhere, likely to stand around doing nothing... and I was excited.
I always wanted to go to area 51 since I first learned about aliens as a kid. At the library growing up, I would check out the same book over and over, about aliens and the search for extraterrestrial life . There was a page all about Area 51, a secret place where the government did mysterious experiments on alien specimen. I think we're all haunted by the idea that somebody powerful and established knows and is keeping the answers from us.
My plan was to go and maybe film something and if that didn't work out I'd put on an alien costume and hold a sign. I figured that there'd be a bunch of cameras and I could use it to collectively protest all sorts of wrongs in the world.
I had a sign and costume and figured that even if nobody showed up at least news organizations would be covering it. The sign I held said, Peace on earth ain't coming from outer space, and I really believe that. We shouldn't expect peace to come from somewhere else in the universe, it has to start right here at home, inside each of us. I wanted to get that message out.
One of the initial reactions to the playful event was, 'hey there are more important places to raid! why not raid the border detention centers, why not congress, why not the oil companies?' To which I say, hell yes... but that's not shitposting. That's being earnest and noble. This was about being ironic and part of a joke, a meme.
A meme is a shareable and replicatable thing similar to an inside joke. 'Shitposting' is when you share memes that you know are bad just to get a reaction. You share low effort content just for the sense of connection with others. "Shitposting because my life is in shambles," the pseudonym of the guy who posted the event suggests an anonymous statement of personal vulnerability, as if to say, I shall try and make a low effort attempt at connection. Millions shared memes online about going and raiding the base. Was it a joke or would people show?
2 million people clicked GOING online, so even if 1% came that'd be 10,000 people to a town with a population of 1000. The airforce released a warning about 'raiding' active military bases being a bad idea and the use of deadly force being a possibility. Lincoln County, one of nevadas sleepiest, had to call in enough police to potentially break up a neo-woodstock. This was about chasing an internet meme into the ground and disecting it until all that was left was the human connection.
If sharing bad memes is low effort, what is driving 7 hours cross country? A high effort meme?
There were two events scheduled. One hosted by the facebook Shitposting kid who decided to use his 15 minutes of fame to organize a rave in the desert at the local Little Ale'inn, a motel close to the gate. The other was set up by a filmmaker who made a movie about Area 51 at the Alien Research Center. Both locales are alien themed tchotchke paradises designed to sell the eager UFO tourist any manner of t-shirt, shot glass or Alien doll. These spots would be selling only sage and gems if not for being next to an infamous alien hotspot.
The dueling events were both hoping to capitalize on the rush of people to the desert for the raid. Alienstock was going to be a kumbaya style music festival. While, the Alien Research Center event was going to have an alien symposium with members of the ufo community speaking and some music performances.
I had half expected bumper to bumper traffic, but I saw very few people on the roads. Lots of cops. Whole swat command sites. The whole county had been preparing for at least 30,000 people. Alienstock had 200 port-a-potties lined up on it's edge. Which makes sense, if 1% of the people who claimed they were coming online came! The reality was that maybe only 1% of 1% showed up to these sleepy nevada towns on the edge of a fabled military base.
I pulled into the dusty parking lot of the Little Ale'inn to find a rag tag DIY music festival set up. People were tailgating on the side of the road. It was a dusty scene similar to the backlots at coachella. The immediate reality of the events was that they were extremely under attended, but that was also a blessing. it made everything a little bit more intimate and accessible.
All sorts of folks were jovially milling about, some in alien themed costume, many with cameras. I pulled out a camera and tried interviewing people, but found that everybody I talked to had the exact same talking points.
Do you believe in aliens? Duh.
Why are you here? Free them Aliens.
Do you really think they are in the base? Yes, but maybe now they've been moved.
Why? Too much publicity around Area 51.
What did you think would happen if we charged? We'd all get killed or arrested.
Most people were sure that, especially with the meager turn out, the military and police could stop us all. Everybody just wanted to see what would happen, expecting anywhere from fyre festival 2.0 to a bloodbath to nothing. Most people expected nothing, and as such everybody I met seemed pretty prepared. They had plenty of water and booze and camping supplies, so the idea that a humanitarian crisis was going to occur dissipated completely and reminded me of a group outing to the desert.
Most important was that everybody at the event seemed to be in on the joke. They might believe in aliens but had no plans of raiding the base in actuality. Aliens might exist but the might of the US government is way more certain. The police presence alone was insane, but they merely hinted at the military might behind the base's perimeter. The police actually became quite friendly once they realized it wasn't going to be a bloodbath. But the silent and hooded guards behind the gate remained terrifying with big guns and big dogs. There was definitely the threat of violence if you crossed. But we all joked that maybe if a million more people showed up we'd actually start Naruto running passed the guards.
After a while of milling around quasi-interviewing people I decided there were enough people with cameras that I should just put on my alien costume and go to the gate and get in front of the camera.
It was a blast and I made some friends while trying to get and give interviews. Evan and Kevin were two dudes I became super weirdly close on the day of the Raid. Each of us had come by ourselves from far away, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles, with a vague intention of documenting the event in some way. At the time, I had a vision of either a mini doc or article, Evan was a photographer and who took some insanely beautiful photos (featured here).
Kevin was a video creation guru who just wanted to make as much instagram content as possible. Kevin was by far the most successful, he's got that showman's knack to always get on camera with insanely high energy. There were a lot of cameras and each one he'd run up to and start lecturing about how the governemnt needed to release the secret documents! It was a great bit especially with his Boston Townie accent turned all the way up.
Evan explained how he was drawn to the site by a mysterious desire to see what would happen. He expressed it best as, 'this is like a reddit safe post.' People will find safes while remodeling or cleaning a house and say, 'hey reddit, look i found a safe, i'm going to open it and see what's inside!' Then people get excited trying to guess what marvelous jackpot could be in that old dusty safe. They wait desperately for the original poster to share an update. More often than not the poster never returns and people are left waiting for nothing.
Once and a while there will be an updated post to show what was found inside and sometime's it's a haul of trinkets and dubloons and rare items that were saved throughout time to be found by some internet user. But then most of the time it's like, wow a roll of coins from 1953! "so yeah i felt obligated to go and find out what was in the safe and share it with reddit even if there actually was nothing inside. reddit deserves to know.' evan said. Because sometimes those posts are just as important, the safe find coming back to say, 'hey we cracked the safe, but turns out there was nothing in it! here's a picture of an empty safe."
So I was beginning to realize that I was standing inside an empty safe. But wow, all of these people had also come to be here and that was something special. It's not often that we get to organically be around like minded strangers that all have such clear and immediate shared experience. Here we all were, because of a a meme, just to see what would happen. The gathering had a magical quality because we were an internet joke that had left the cyber space and entered the meat space. It was a silly idea that was reaching a physical end point.
We stood around the gate for a good while and chatted with everybody. I shook hands with the police guarding the gate, exchanged instagram handles and shared memes we'd read on the internet. You could tell people were really cutting loose. It seemed people there spent most of their time on computers . Hey, me too. We shouted 'clap them cheeks' and 'let them out,' which were references to saving the aliens and then making love to them.
We were all in on the joke. There were still mainly cameras and I got interviewed and photographed by dozens including history channels ancient aliens and the nytimes and countless youtubers and instagramers.
It all kind of culminated as we were getting cold and saying we should leave, I heard a distant 'clap them cheeks' chant as a person in a silver body suit came booty shuffling down the lonesome road to the infamous Area 51 gate. As she got closer, I realized it was Riley Reid! Pornhub's number 1 star and my personal favorite. She's somebody I have searched for all my life... on google.
Riley did a strip tease and pretended to rush the gate. She's an internet hero in the flesh, and she was in on the joke too! A perfect metaphor, eh?
The next morning, hungover from the excitement and extrovertism of the day before I was sitting in a diner scouring news websites for mentions of the raid and looking for photos of myself. I managed to get into a few articles in my green alien suit. A USA Today affiliate newspaper even printed a whole write up about me and my sign.
Behind me I heard some locals discussing, a gravelly voice said, "usually this town has 1 car every 10 minutes. this weekend we've got like 1 car every minute!"
On the way back, realizing I expected nothing, and found little more than nothing, I was completely satisfied. I had held my sign for peace and found a version of it, internet strangers, weirdos from all over had gathered peacefully to celebrate an idea. A silly and anti authoritarian conspiracy idea, but an idea none the less. I saw a virtual movement of memes enter into the meatspace as a gathering of nerds all in on the same joke.
I decided the reason I was drove all this way through beautiful american desert land, was because it's something I would have thought was cool as an 11 year old. A mission to see aliens and the people who wanted to meet them. Radical.