It seemed like a cute meme. Almost funny.
“Hey you out there in Facebook Land—let’s storm Area 51 and get in there. They can’t stop us all!”
Of course, Area 51 is the top-secret military base, a key in conspiracy theories about downed flying saucers, back-engineering and aliens. Fun stuff.
But the meme went viral.
Unexpectedly, millions have said they’ll show up September 20. Now, two businesses are hosting three-day music fests out there.
Here’s the thing: The place everyone is supposed to go is Rachel, Nevada, with a population of 53. And if even 5,000 people show up, that will immediately double the size of Lincoln County.
This, in a county, where the total budget is less than $20 million. And every penny is watched carefully.
So Lincoln County just approved a plan to declare a state of emergency if needed—that means, help from the state.
And all because of a joke-meme on Facebook.
Lincoln County Commissioner Varlin Higbee explained to KNPR's State of Nevada how he first about the idea.
“Somebody said, ‘Hey, you need to look at Facebook. See what’s going on. Some kid has posted a rush-51 thing on there and it’s starting to get really serious. There’s like a million hits on it.’”
Within a few weeks, there were two million people saying they're coming to Area 51. That is when Higbee and his fellow commissioners decided to get involved.
“We decided rather than wait and see, we had better get out in front of it,” he said.
One of the problems is no one is exactly sure how many people are going to show up, or if people are going to actually storm the military base.
“We can’t allow 20,000 or 30,000 people just to show up out at Rachel or Tikaboo Valley and start walking towards the military base -- it would be a horrible mistake for anybody to do that,“ Higbee said.
It was actually a relief for Higbee when the Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel decided to hold an event -- as did the Alien Research Center in Crystal Springs.
It gave a name and face to the event and it allowed people to be in one spot, which is why the county approved the permits for the event, Higbee said. Allowing the permits means the county has some kind of control over the events.
Now, the state and Clark County are involved. They're providing resources for Lincoln County because, as Higbee admits, without their help his county would be in a lot of trouble.
“Having to provide that kind of infrastructure would collapse our tax base,” he said.
Now, the county is working on establishing medical helicopter service, a separate communication system, law enforcement assistance, garbage services and a lot more.
Higbee admits he hasn't slept much over the past few weeks and he's not sure what to expect.
One thing he does know is people should not try to breach the base because the military is not treating this as a joke.
“The military is always dead serious -- trust me," he said, “The sign out front says they are authorized to use lethal force."
(Editor's Note: This story originally aired August 2019)
Varlin Higbee, commissioner, Lincoln County
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