Area 51 'Raid,' Explained: How A Joke Turned Into a Viral Sensation

By now you've at least seen reference -- on Twitter, on CNN, even in newspapers -- to a plan for tens of thousands to converge in the Nevada desert to storm the U.S. military facility widely referred to as Area 51, to, um, see them aliens. However, it's not an honest-to-goodness nerd uprising, but instead a joke that's gone viral at breakneck speed.

To understand what's going on, all you need is passing knowledge of UFO conspiracies, Internet culture (namely, "shitposts"), a popular manga and anime, and, maybe, the Kyle meme.

What Is Area 51?

Officially known as Groom Lake or Homey Airport, what's more commonly referred to as Area 51 is a highly classified U.S. Air Force facility in the Nevada desert, abutting the little town of Rachel. Although not officially acknowledged as a military site until 2013, Area 51 has been used since 1955 for the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems. The 8,000-square-mile installation is at the center of countless conspiracy theories involving everything from alien bodies and spaceships to time travel and weather control to the activities of a shadowy world government.

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Obviously, if the theories are to be believed, there's a lot going down at Groom Lake. Enough to draw a steady stream of tourists, and true believers, along Nevada Highway 375 (also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway) to tiny Rachel in hopes of peering into Area 51.

How Did "Storm Area 51" Get Started?

The movement began, as so many thing do, on Facebook, albeit as a joke -- with a tip of the headband to Naruto. Yes, Naruto.

Early this month, someone going by the name "Shitposting cause im in shambles" teamed with Twitch video game streamer SmyleeKun and an event planner to organize "Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us." It's stated aim is for like-minded people from across the globe to converge on Area 51 at 6 a.m. on Sept. 20: "If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens." Come on, you know what Naruto running is.

The stated (joking) intention is for those interested -- the number of RSVPs has ballooned from 300,000 just last week to now 1.5 million -- to show up at Area 51, a highly classified U.S. Air Force facility, devise a way to slip past security (fencing, cameras, armed guards), and ... see aliens. As a pinned post on the event page reads, "The basic idea is that the Kyles form the front line, if we feed them enough psilocybin and monster energy and say that anyone in camoflague [sic] is their step dad, and the entire base is made of drywall then they will go beserk [sic] and become an impenetrable wall. Then the Rock Throwers will throw pebbles at the inevitable resistance (we dont want to hurt them, we just want to annoy them enough to not shoot the kyles as often)."

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However, in case you somehow didn't realize, a postscript clarifies that this is event was created just for laughs: "Hello US government, this is a joke, and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan. I just thought it would be funny and get me some thumbsy uppies on the internet."

Will People Actually Show Up?

Almost certainly, although (hopefully) nowhere near 1.5 million, or even 300,000. And it seems unlikely anyone will Naruto run onto government property. But here does appear to be genuine interest; enough for event organizers to launch a website to sell merchandise, like T-shirts proclaiming "I Survived Area 51" (which may be a bit premature; see below), and, yes, "I Saw Them Aliens."

What Will Happen If Someone Actually "Storms" Area 51?

Nothing good. The Air Force released a statement to The Washington Post confirming it's aware of "Storm Area 51," and discouraging anyone from actually doing that: "The U.S. Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets."

According to TMZ, local Nevada law enforcement is also prepared stop any Naruto runners in their tracks, using "non-lethal force, such as tear gas and pepper spray." That would, of course, be followed by arrests for trespassing on government property. The site also notes that it's the Nevada desert, so there's also the possibility of running afoul of snakes and scorpions.

Wait, Is the Raid Catered?

Not as far as we know, but TV host and restaurateur Guy Fieri got in on the fun with the Twitter post, offering up Radioactive Ribs.

However, It Does Have a Soundtrack, of Sorts

On Tuesday, Lil Nas X released his third remix of his ubiquitous hit "Old Town Road," this time with an animated video that depicts Area 51 invaded by a Naruto-running Keanu Reeves. Oh, plus there's a Thanos ... bird? And the Infinity Gauntlet, buried in the desert sand. It seems like the perfect video to have on loop while you're packing your bags for Groom Lake.

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