Collin Anderson
A group poses with Lincoln County Sheriff deputies at the Nevada Test and Training Range gate near Rachel in the early morning hours of Sept. 20.

In June 2019, Matty Roberts’ post jokingly inviting people to descend upon Area 51 en masse went viral, garnering upwards of two million replies. Such was the response that the rural Nevada communities near Area 51 were uncertain as to what the ultimate turnout might be for the event.

In the end, the massive crowds didn’t come, and Matty Roberts himself backed out of a planned Alienstock music festival, staged right outside of Rachel, Nevada.

“It’s like, it was his thing that he created,” said Brian, one of the many people to visit the gates outside of Area 51, “and he just backed out. It’s not cool.”

Starting Sept. 19, some showed up in busses and cars painted with the common theme of aliens and Area 51, ready to have a fun weekend.

A few hundred people flocked to the music festivals in both Rachel and the Alien Research Center just outside of Hiko, while dozens of others congregated at the gates near Rachel and at the base of Tikaboo Peak. The first night was somewhat subdued, with one exception being the arrests of two people trying to cross the line, while another was taken in for indecent exposure when he attempted to relieve himself on a pole right next to the Rachel gate.

“It got tense for a while there,” said one of the officers brought in to help defend the gates from any would-be raiders, “but the whole thing was over in, like, 20 seconds.”

Other than that exception, people treated the gates and their guardians solely as a chance to take pictures. Between Naruto running and blogging about their time in the Nevada desert, many visitors ended up talking to the guards at length about their experiences. One sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Tikaboo gate even reportedly participated in one of the mass Naruto runs, showing just how cordial the two groups were by the time the event came to a close.

The Alien Research Center reportedly shut down its operations before sundown Friday, Sept. 20, while the main party in Rachel continued. By 3 a.m. Saturday morning, the only people congregating at the gates were a few tourists, the guards and the media.

Members of multiple news organizations attended the event, from Fox 5 out of Las Vegas to Reuters, and even a small crew for “Ancient Aliens.” Also in attendance were many streamers and YouTubers trying to make a name for themselves.

The media was only outnumbered by the number of law enforcement officials also at the event. With representatives from more than 20 branches of law enforcement on alert, the state was prepared for any eventuality. At the center of this was Sheriff Kerry Lee, who was directly involved in the response. Twice daily, the sheriff and his team met up with members of the media at mile marker 33 just outside of Rachel. Lee went over arrest numbers, projected/estimated attendance and anything else he deemed necessary including a missing person (soon found), four trespassers and several road accidents.

All in all, “The crowds have been good. No law enforcement negativity,” said Lee.

The sheriff’s department estimated there were 3,000 people between the two main sites, many of which never made the pilgrimage out to the well-guarded gates. This was a far cry from the expected 30,000, and between the law enforcement agencies brought in to supplement the relatively small numbers of the local police, along with the resources needed to support that many people, some groups within the county are extremely upset at the way the situation was handled. Others are upset that the event was even permitted to begin with.

The visitors to the area seemed uninformed of this, with one member of Vice Media saying, “Isn’t this good for the community? Having this many people come in at once? That’s gotta help bring in the money, right?”

With the events now over, the question that will be discussed at county commission meetings will be whether any benefits chipped away at the high costs.