What started as a wildly popular Facebook hoax titled Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us back in June has since morphed into a real live event. That's right, the long awaited day is upon us.
As of Friday morning, people have begun to make their way to the secret U.S. military installation in the Nevada desert in search of answers to the questions that plague us all: Are we alone in the universe? Is our government secretly hiding a bunch of aliens? Just how fast can I "Naruto run" past the base gate? And how far can we take a joke with the U.S. military?
Though the original Facebook event drew millions, their numbers appear to have dwindled somewhat. According to CBS, roughly 75 people showed up at the Area 51 gate, which is located on Nellis Air Force Base's Nevada Test and Training Range.
As soon as the "raid" began on Friday it appeared as though those brave few were vindicated: If the government had nothing to hide, then why was there a tank and a helicopter deterring the crowd?
The image, which quickly went viral on Reddit, and Twitter, appeared to show a gathering of would-be Area-51-stormers being blocked by a tank as a military helicopter flies overhead with its searchlight scanning the crowd.
However, something about it seemed off, so Task & Purpose reached out to the public affairs office at Nellis, which handles media queries dealing with Area 51 – not exclusively, seeing as they probably have better things to do most days – to ask if the photo was real.
"We suspect it's a fake photo that's being circulated," Staff Sgt. Joshua Kleinholz, an Air Force spokesman, told Task & Purpose.
Well, of course it is.
Hmm... looks legit.Twitter/El Gatito
For starters, the helicopter in the background doesn't resemble any U.S. military aircraft I've ever seen, and upon closer inspection, the tank actually appears to be a Russian T-90, rather than an Abrams which is a tank the U.S. military actually uses. Add to it that Area 51 probably doesn't have a sign in front of it.
"The U.S. Air Force does not label or refer to any area on the Nevada Test and Training Range as Area 51," Lt. Col. Christina Sukach, an Air Force spokeswoman, told Task & Purpose. "The term 'Area 51' comes from declassified Central Intelligence Agency documents, which refer to the area around Groom Lake as 'Area 51.' Groom Lake is physically located within the borders of the Nevada Test and Training Range."
When pressed for details on whether or not there were any U.S. military tanks or aircraft near the Storm Area 51 event on Friday, Sukach told Task & Purpose that "while we regularly train on the Nevada Test and Training Range, we had no assets near crowds during these events."
"As a matter of practice, Nellis Air Force Base and Nevada Test and Training Range regularly coordinate with civilian, state and other federal government authorities to protect and defend the range and associated assets," Sukach said. "As a matter of practice, we do not discuss specific current or proposed security measures."
Based on the other – meaning real – photos circulating online, Storm Area 51 seems to have gotten off to a relatively tame start, which is good, because it's generally a really dumb idea to try to barge your way onto a U.S. military base.
So far, the event has had only a couple of incidents, with CBS reporting that one person was arrested and another was detained by Sheriff's deputies early Friday morning.
"Any attempt to access a federal installation illegally is highly discouraged," Sukach told Task & Purpose. "Those who trespass on a federal installation without proper authority will be apprehended until they can be turned over to the appropriate law enforcement authorities and are subject to local and federal penalties and prosecution."
UPDATE: This article has been updated with an Air Force statement clarifying that the service does not label or refer to any of it's testing areas as "Area 51."