A viral Facebook event created by Matthew Roberts called for a mass raid of Area 51, a highly classified United States Air Force facility outside of Las Vegas. College students have shown tremendous interest in the event, with many in support and many in disapproval.
Area 51 has long been a topic of discussion and mystery. The facility, built during the Cold War, received much backlash from UFO conspiracists who believe the base is experimenting with UFO technology.
The purpose of the test site was largely unknown until the CIA publicly acknowledged the existence of the facility in June 2013 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archives.
The CIA published releases about aerial reconnaissance efforts, relevant to the U-2 and OXCART programs, which were being performed on Area 51 grounds. The history of the U-2 program was only declassified after the Freedom of Information Act request had been approved.
During the Cold War, the CIA financed the secret U-2 program as apart of their defense contracts. The information released referenced maps which included the Area 51 grounds, codewords, operation details and flight accounts.
Despite the new information released in response to the Freedom of Information Act request, many conspiracists still believe the government is hiding information about the U-2 and OXCART programs.
Conspiracies continue to circulate which suggest the government has a role in reverse engineering UFO technology. Amongst the conspiracies, there is a long-standing air of mystery surrounding Area 51.
It’s no surprise that the allure of the facility has led to such an overwhelming public response.
Since the creation of the Facebook event, 2 million people have signed up to partake in the so-called “raid.” An additional 1.4 million people are interested in attending the event, according to the Facebook event titled “Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us.”
The raid rapidly gained traction in the media. Every social media platform has been flooded with content about the Area 51 raid – including both jokes and warnings.
Amidst the chaos, many have expressed conflicting views about the event. Junior computer science major Lyric Boone, of Springfield, Illinois, questions the legitimacy of the raid.
“I think for younger people this is all viral nonsense,” Boone said. “However, many young adults might actually be crazy enough to go through with it. I’m worried the attack may prove to be fatal for the students who attend.”
The threat of violence is certainly a concern for many of the students interested in attending the event. However, the event owner insists the government would be unable to stop all of the raiders if enough people go through with the attack.
Would the sheer number of people attending the raid outweigh the government’s ability to stop them? The answer may exist within legislation.
For individuals seriously considering partaking in the raid, the consequences of such an action should be kept in mind.
Signs on the outskirts of the facility cite section 21 of the International Security Act of 1950.
“[Violators would be] guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be liable to a fine of not to exceed $5,000 or to imprisonment for not more than one year, or both,'' the act said.
The act also said, “The use of deadly force is authorized for the misdemeanor offense.”
The mere act of trespassing on Area 51 grounds is enough cause for the government to exact a fatal punishment.
Upon reviewing the actions permitted by the government, many critics of the event have gone on to question how the government would respond to a mass raid, including Boone.
“Based on the current government climate, I have to wonder how the government would react to the attack,” Boone said.
Though the International Security Act of 1950 makes a relatively clear stance on how violators will be treated, many continue to wonder if the circumstances would alter the outcome.
Would the government enforce the maximum punishment of death, or would the government simply penalize offenders with fines? Regardless of the answer, many students disregard the threats.
Despite the threat of violence and fines, some college students still stand behind the cause. One of the supporters of the event is Chase Duvall of Wilsonville, Oregon.
“If they [the government] were to kill the people who will be there, they are martyrs for the greater cause. If they somehow survive, we might actually be able to see aliens,” Duvall said.
Duvall is interested to see how the event plays out, alongside many other students who continue to discuss the raid. Even if the raid is successful, Duvall insists conspiracists will never be satisfied.
“If they don’t find anything in Area 51, the next place they’ll look is the Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Ohio,” said Duvall.
The Wright-Patterson Air Force facility has also been a target for UFO conspiracies since UFO studies were conducted on the facility’s grounds. Project Sign was the first official U.S. government study to investigate UFOs. The most comprehensive study, Project Blue Book, succeeded Project Sign.
The Foreign Technology Division studied approximately 13,000 reported UFO sightings during Project Blue Book. The official 1968 report by the Foreign Technology Division concluded there was no extraterrestrial source linked to the sightings, despite 701 reports still being unexplained.
Regardless of the site of interest and the conclusions from the UFO studies, it’s clear that some of the public is still convinced of the government’s involvement in UFO concealment.
The general consensus is that the government has some explaining to do, but will the raid be the means by which an answer comes about? Looks like we’ll have to wait until September 20 to find out.
The psychological perspective on the Area 51 raid
According to Google Trends, the Area 51 raid began to popularize as a search term on July 7, shortly after the event was created by Roberts on June 27. The event radically increased in popularity after July 7 and became a viral sensation.
Facebook events are created on a daily basis. However, it’s rare for a Facebook event to have 2 million people with the intent to attend.
Thus, the psychology behind why content such as the Area 51 raid goes viral is important to consider.
The president of the Psychology Club at SIUE and junior psychology and sociology major Mario Diaz of Streator, Illinois believes the deindividuation theory may play a role in the Area 51 raid’s online popularity.
“The [deindividuation] theory has been linked to antisocial behavior seen within mobs and riots. What this theory basically tells us is that when people get into groups, they lose a sense of self identity within the group,” Diaz said. “Due to this disconnect with themselves, people may behave differently than normal, such as being more aggressive or losing [their] grasp on the consequences of an action they may perform within that group.”
With 2 million people planning to attend the event, attendees are particularly susceptible to the mob mentality described by Diaz. Many attendees might feel absolved of their personal responsibility to uphold the values and laws of the U.S. in the presence of others.
Individuals experiencing deindividuation are increasingly more likely to make decisions they would otherwise not have made, including potentially criminal actions.