What it was like hunting memes outside Area 51

Sep 27, 2019, 3:24 PM | Updated: May 24, 2021, 1:59 pm
A group of people "Naruto Run" towards the gates of Area 51 on Sept. 20, 2019

Photo: Colby Walker...
A group of people "Naruto Run" towards the gates of Area 51 on Sept. 20, 2019 Photo: Colby Walker

For all but a very few select individuals, everyone who’s ever lived on earth has spent their entire existence has on this small blue speck hurtling around the inky blackness of the universe at nearly 70,000 miles an hour. Every morning, the sun comes up in the east, and every night, we look at the same moon and the same stars that our ancestors did — and sometimes we wonder whether or not we’re alone.

British sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, who among other things helped co-write the screenplay “2001: A Space Odyssey,” said that there are only two possibilities about whether we have any galactic neighbors.

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying,” Clarke wrote.

What actually happened at Area 51?

So are we alone? That’s at least part of the reason that I ended up standing outside a top-secret government base just after 3 am on a random Friday in September.

The Storm Area 51 event

Nearly 100 people gathered at what’s known as the “back gate” of Area 51, 10 miles outside the small Nevada town of Rachel, on September 20, 2019. They were there because of a viral Facebook post that went live on the internet 85 days earlier.

People came from as far away as France and as close as Las Vegas, hoping to “see them aliens.”

Some were dressed up as astronauts, others as aliens. Many held signs calling for the freedom of imprisoned extraterrestrials or hopes to find an alien girlfriend.

“We’re trying to find aliens,” Brennan Streader told me. He, along with a few of his friends, had made the drive to Rachel from Provo, a distance of 385 miles.

From those I talked to, very few of them had any hopes of seeing any aliens or actually storming the base, though. Most of them were just there for the memes.

For the memes

In a lot of ways, memes are like germs. They start out when one person gets infected by some sort of idea. Then, it can spread from person to person and from timeline to timeline. For the most part, those memes stay on people’s timelines and don’t make it past the screen.

But this Storm Area 51 meme didn’t just stay behind a screen. It passed, person to person, until thousands of people drove out into the remote Nevada desert — and around a hundred or so of them gathered to chant “Set E.T. free” at 3 in the morning.

“It looks like the whole internet showed up,” Ashley Rookstool, a student from Utah, said.

“It’s definitely not been something that I expected,” she continued. “It’s just funny to see the different kinds of people that are here and how different and weird everybody is. It’s fun.”

That’s really the thing that I took away from the whole raid. Those who decided to brave the cold desert night weren’t just the conspiracy theory people or the anti-government crowd. They were meme-ers, and the whole reason they rolled out of their sleeping bags that early to end up at the end of a partially paved road outside the gates of a top-secret military base some over 50 miles away from the closest gas station was because someone got bored at 2 am.

So those 100 stalwart meme-ers showed up in the desert to be a part of that inside joke and live the meme. People want to be included. Over the last few months, the internet has churned out Area 51 memes in bulk. It was a shared joke, and it made people happy.

The bright side of the Internet and social media

Far too often, we hear about the dangers of social media and how it tends to bring out the worst in us. It leads us to compare highlights or say nasty things while we can hide behind a keyboard, critics argue. The anonymity we gain can lead us to forget about our shared humanity. But for that weekend in late September, there were just a bunch of meme fans that showed up to make memories.

“Why would you want to miss this?” one of the stormers said, wearing a bright orange spacesuit. “A bunch of random people in weird costumes standing outside a government base. That’s a once in a lifetime experience. It’s like Halloween but we are just annoying people.”

Even if there weren’t any aliens found or government bases raided, one Reddit user summed up the weekend well: while they didn’t actually raid Area 51, “at least we got 3 months of good memes.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Arts + Entertainment

The prison term for Jen Shah has been reduced by one year. Shah, one of the stars of the reality te...
Kate Davis and Simone Seikaly

Prison sentence reduced for ‘Real Housewives of SLC’ star Jen Shah

Shah was sentenced to more than six years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Her release is now set for August, 2028.
1 day ago
riders are pictured on a lagoon rollercoaster, lagoon announced primordial will be its newest ride...
Elizabeth Weiler

Lagoon Amusement Park delays opening weekend

Utah's continuing winter weather has pushed back opening day for Lagoon for at least one week.
6 days ago
The Twilight Concert Series organized by the Salt Lake City Arts Council will feature both national...
Elizabeth Weiler

Twilight concert series announced, includes The Head & the Heart and Lord Huron

This summer, the Twilight concert series is back for its 36th year with shows featuring nationally recognized and upcoming artists.
7 days ago
The Hollywood sign is seen as it is repainted in preparation for its 100th anniversary in 2023, in ...
Oliver Darcy, CNN

Hollywood braces for potential strike as writers begin high-stakes talks with studios

  (CNN) — Hollywood is holding its breath. The Writers Guild of America commenced high-stakes negotiations with studios on Monday over a contract set to expire on May 1 — which could lead to the first strike in nearly 15 years, a prospect that would cause massive disruption to television and film projects across the industry. […]
8 days ago
Bruce Willis and Emma Heming (Photo by Michael Buckner/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images)...
Alli Rosenbloom, CNN

Bruce Willis’ wife Emma Heming marks his birthday with moving message about grief

Originally Published: 19 MAR 23 15:46 ET Updated: 19 MAR 23 19:04 ET     (CNN) — As Bruce Willis turned 68 on Sunday, his wife Emma Heming marked the day with a candid message about caring for someone living with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Related: Bruce Willis is diagnosed with aphasia. A USU expert explains what that […]
9 days ago
Festival of Colors in Spanish Fork, UT...
Waverly Golden

Spanish Fork Holi Festival of Colors, coming soon

On Saturday, March 25, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on the 26 from 11 a.m. til 4 p.m. Spanish Fork Holi Festival of Colors is taking place.
11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...
BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.
Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a new winter activity? Try skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.
Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five common causes of Cervical Cancer – and what you can do to lower your risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get ready for fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 easy Christmas dinner ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
What it was like hunting memes outside Area 51