In late June, Matty Roberts posted a Facebook event titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” The event called for the raid of the top-secret American military airbase in Lincoln County, Nevada, scheduled at 3:00 a.m. on September 20th, 2019. The event description noted, “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.”
Roberts did not expect his Facebook event to have two million RSVPs (followed by the FBI arriving at his home to investigate). History was set in motion.
Tacticians from all corners of the internet shared infiltration plans in collaboration and thousands of strategies were posted on the Facebook page. Usage of Kyles, Naruto Runners, Crack Heads, Furries, and Anti-Vaxx Kids was a commonality. Attention was caught by the media and other online communities, resulting in bemusing news coverage and an inordinate volume of memes. In response, the US Air Force issued an official statement: “[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces. The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”
Despite the warning, the internet increased its fervor. Companies, such as Funyuns and Kool-aid, in attempts to connect with the Zoomers, produced mediocre raid-related advertisements. A GoFundMe started to have Lil Nas X perform live during the raid; the performance didn’t happen, but Lil Nas X uploaded an Old Town Road animated music video depicting the Area 51 raid with an assortment of caricatures such as Naruto Keanu Reeves and Thanos Bird (I think?). Close enough.
A popularly cited motivation for the raid was to “clap those alien cheeks.” The claim appears to have supportive data. A popular adult video streaming website shared statistics showing interest in extraterrestrials spiked on their site following the viral spread of the raid meme: “As the Area 51 memes made their way around the internet, the popularity of ‘alien’ searches increased by +217% on July 2nd, and then again by +199% on July 15th.”
The days counted down as summer came to a close. There was a period of uncertainty: was this ending with an anticlimactic whimper like many online movements before? An example of slacktivism that pervades our digital society? Another meme to die quietly in the night?
The events of September 20th were mostly anticipated: not much happened, and, thankfully, no one got hurt. Nevada authorities estimate over 150 people got within selfie distance of the gates, fewer than the million or so who pledged as attendees on Facebook. Forty managed to gather at the gates before being dispersed by law enforcement. One arrest was made for public urination. No aliens were liberated from the base.
However, KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas uploaded a video in which a person can be seen performing a Naruto Run behind a reporter. The “Runner” has been immortalized as a universal hero in numerous online communities, earning the prestige of dragging out the meme a little further for a well-deserved last laugh.
We didn’t get to see or save the aliens – the travesty of this whole saga, of course. The Area 51 Raid meme may finally rest and receive the death it deserves. Given the sensationalism and magnitude of the meme, the longevity achieved is rather remarkable. I have no doubt the raid has distinguished itself in the annals of internet history – an everlasting testament of “for the meme.” God bless the godforsaken wilderness that is the internet and humanity itself.