The great Storm Area 51 event has come and gone, seemingly passing without major incident. This might come as a surprise if you were watching news coverage in the weeks preceding it. Yes, many outlets – especially local tv news shows – found great humor in the thought that UFO enthusiasts would be making the pilgrimage to the desert. But many others commentators had expressed great worry over what all this says about the “new reality” we live in.
Just about every report acknowledged that its “creator” Matty Roberts had announced it on social media only as a joke. But the fact that millions online claimed to plan to attend, worried local law enforcement and led critics to lament how social media could so easily turn pranks into serious security and humanitarian problems in the real world.
Historically speaking, however, there was not much that was terribly new in #StormArea51 outside of the platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Pranksters, jokesters, and tricksters have always been an integral part of the history of the UFO phenomenon. (Already starting in the fifties and sixties, Gray Barker and Jim Moseley come to mind -– check out George Hansen’s work on this subject). And holding large gatherings in the desert was something George Van Tassel began doing in the early-1950s out at Giant Rock in California.
In retrospect, however, commentators – unaware of the diverse history of UFO communities – also neglected to recognize something else. UFO researchers and aficionados have never really been marauders and raiders. Yes, some have been revelers, interested in meeting up with like-minded people and enjoying their company in welcoming, even slightly ribald, environment. But most have been curious, serious, engaged individuals interested in reading about and discussing UFO incidents, oftentimes in relative isolation. These are hardly the kind of people interested in orchestrating an assault on a military base.
In the end, it looks like #StormArea51 was little more than an excuse for some enjoyable, laid back parties. Fun, not disclosure, was the order of the day.