WASHINGTON — Federal officials are bracing for a possible influx of people headed to Nevada next month to storm Area 51, a classified area controlled by the Air Force and frequently the subject of conspiracy theories about UFOs and otherworldly spacecraft.
A social medai post on Facebook has spiralled into a craze, with 2 million people indicating they were “going” to the Sept. 20 event to storm the boundaries of Area 51, located on the Nevada Test and Training Range used by Air Force fighter jets. Another 1.5 million have said they are “interested.”
Pentagon officials are not taking the matter lightly.
“The United States Air Force is aware of the Facebook post,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews said from the Pentagon.
McAndrews said the Nevada Test and Training Range “is an area where the Air Force tests and trains combat aircraft.”
“As a matter of practice, we do not discuss specific security measures, but any attempt to illegally access military installations or military training areas is dangerous,” McAndrews said.
A spokesman at Nellis Air Force Base, Staff Sgt. Joshua Klinholz, said the installation would not comment on the details of any security measures, including whether the Air Force had increased security manpower in preparation with an event.
“We are not going to discuss security measures,” Klinholz told the Review-Journal.
The Air Force warned anyone about crossing into marked U.S. grounds near that area.
Air Force personnel with Nellis often work with local law enforcement officials on incidents surrounding the installation. Klinholz said he could not confirm whether the Air Force was working with Nevada or local law enforcement in this situation.
Small, rural Nevada communities north of Las Vegas took part in the good-natured spoof until it appeared that a massive influx could appear, with some people declaring they were intent on breaching federal boundaries.
Earlier this week, Lincoln County commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a disaster declaration before the hordes of UFO enthusiasts show up. The action allows the state to prepare for the crowds with stocked supplies and aid kits.
The county is home to tiny Rachel, the proclaimed UFO Capital of the World, a former mining town that had 54 occupants, according to the 2010 Census. It is along the “Extraterrestrial Highway” that is part of the lore that lures enthusiasts to the desert outpost.
Conspiracy theorists claim the government is hiding alien aircraft and documents at the remote Nevada site near the central part of the state. The base has actually been used to test military aircraft including the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance airplanes, as well as the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, according to the 2014 book “Area 51 – Black Jets: A History of the Aircraft Developed at Groom Lake, America’s Secret Aviation Base.”
Organizers of the Facebook phenomenon did not return a call requesting a comment.
Meanwhile, nearby Nye County officials voted against a planned music festival tied to the Sept. 20 event that was proposed to take place there with the bands Cypress Hill and Sublime.
The Nevada Test and Training Range contains 5,000 square miles and is used for various live ammunition bombing and target drills by the Defense Department.
Nearly the size of the state of Connecticut, environmental groups have opposed Pentagon plans to expand the training area, citing the habitat of desert bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise.