Though the Area 51 Raid turned out unsuccessful, the grand scope of the event calls into question the potential of memes to threaten our national security.
The “Storm Area 51” event, created on Facebook by college student Matty Roberts on June 27th, encouraged millions to infiltrate the American military base in Nevada — rumored to conceal alien life — on September 20th. Its description stated, “We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry. If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Let’s see them aliens.”
The event became an internet sensation, sprouting over 1.8 million RSVPs and hundreds of memes, which stayed relevant for nearly three months, and which were enjoyed both by those excited to enter a restricted zone and those who simply enjoyed the memes. It garnered so much attention that the U.S. Defense Visual Information Distribution Service released a warning on Twitter: “The last thing #Millennials will see if they attempt the #area51raid today” and displayed a photo of a B-2 stealth bomber. Although it was removed and an apology followed, this warning suggests that our internet culture has more power than we thought – and not in a good way.
Imagine what could have happened on September 20th: millions of excited individuals from all over the country flocking to an American military base and fighting their way past the guards, all so they could look back on it in the future and say “I was there”. What if Area 51 had become the site of the largest mass shooting of the decade – or even of the century? How would we explain the tragedy of September 20th, 2019 to our children? What if another incident like Storm Area 51 occurs, kickstarted by anti-Americans who use the influence of meme culture to incite internal conflict?
Now that the world knows the power of a single meme, how likely is it that others will scheme to use this power against us? Will the United States government attempt to reduce these expressions of free speech if they become a genuine threat to the safety of our nation? The Area 51 raid may be over, but the long-term consequences aren’t something to poke fun about.