‘No little green men here’: How Area 51 became associated with UFO and alien sightings

A guard Gate at Area 51.

caption
A guard Gate at Area 51.
source
Barry King/Getty Images

  • Area 51 is a highly classified area in Nevada.
  • Currently, over 1 million people are actively plotting to “storm” the base in an attempt to see aliens.
  • It’s likely a joke, but it’s brought up some serious questions about what goes on at the base.
  • The US Government didn’t acknowledge Area 51, also called Groom Lake, until 2013.
  • From test planes to top-secrecy, here’s what to know about the base that’s become associated with aliens and UFOs.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Area 51 is highly classified, mysterious Air Force base in Nevada. It’s been at the center of numerous conspiracy theories pertaining to aliens and UFOs.

Over 1 million people have responded to a Facebook event to “storm” the site. The event is supposed to take place on September 20 with the end goal of getting the group to “see them aliens.”

The event is likely a joke, but it’s also led to memes. From spy planes to tourist attractions, here’s how the military base became associated with the theories.


Area 51 is an active Air Force base in Nevada.

caption
A guard Gate at Area 51.
source
Barry King/Getty Images

Very little is known about the highly classified, remote base, making it the perfect object of fascination and conspiracy.


It’s unclear why the base is even called Area 51.

According to the CIA, Area 51 is its map designation. But it begs the question – are there other “areas?”

As National Geographic notes, there are many other names for the base. One of those names, is Groom Lake, a reference to the dry lake near the base, while another is the sarcastic moniker Paradise Ranch. Its official site name is Watertown, but it’s sometimes referred to as Dreamland, after the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name.


The base is not open to the public, but there are plenty of nearby tourist attractions that capitalize on its history.

caption
UFO & Alien Gift Shop at Little Aleinn on the Extraterrestrial Highway.
source
Barry King/Getty Images

The active base has high security 24 hours a day. This means if a person – or, say, 1 million -wanted to storm the base in an attempt to see aliens, it would be incredibly dangerous.

But, as Travel Nevada notes, there are several attractions around the state that have glommed on to the alien-theme, playing up the secrecy of the base, including the Extraterrestrial Highway. Stops along the highway include Hiko, Nevada, where you can visit the Alien Research Center and purchase ET Fresh Jerky, and Rachel, Nevada, which is considered the “UFO Capital of the World.”


Until 2018, you couldn’t view satellite images of Area 51. Now you can.

caption
Area 51, from up above.
source
Google Maps

The base is located relatively far off from any public roads. According to a 2017 Business Insider video, some Area 51 employees have to fly to work on personal planes out of the Las Vegas airport.


The government won’t say what exactly goes on at the site.

caption
For all we know, it could be an alien hotspot. It’s probably not. But it could be.
source
SipaPhoto/Shutterstock

It’s unclear what the base is used for these days. The secrecy has led to a great deal of public speculation and, in turn, conspiracy theories – especially those relating to aliens and space.


We do know that it was used for military training during World War II.

caption
The U-2 can fly higher than 60,000 feet.
source
Greg Mathieson/Getty Images

The remote location was later used by the US government to test high-flying U-2 planes during the 1950s.

The base was used to build prototypes and run test flights for the vessels, which could reach higher altitudes than standard crafts of the time, as declassified documents would later reveal.

After the U-2 was implemented, the Air Force continued to use the base to test other aircraft, like the OXCART and F-117 Nighthawk.

But, at the time, the American public had no idea.


The US government didn’t confirm that Area 51 was an Air Force base until 2013.

caption
Area 51 is a military installation. It is still active.
source
Barry King/Getty Images

After the National Security Archive at George Washington University filed a Freedom of Information Act in 2005 about the U-2 spy plane program, the CIA was forced to declassify documents related to Area 51 in 2013.

In doing so, the CIA not only revealed that the military spent 20 years testing the aerial surveillance programs U-2 and OXCART, but also confirmed the existence of the Area 51 base.


The area is also linked to conspiracy theories — mostly pertaining to aliens, space, and UFOs.

caption
Baker, California, aka the “Gateway to Area 51.”
source
Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images

Although the supernatural theories have been debunked, the base is still associated with aliens and UFOs. Some of the excitement around the area have to do with the aircraft flying in, out, and around the base.

As a 2017 Business Insider video notes, there was an increase of supposed UFO sightings in the area in the 1950s – around the same time the U-2 planes were being tested. The secrecy of the program prohibited Air Force officials from publicly refuting the UFO claims at the time.

Jeffrey T. Richelson, the man who filed the FOIA that confirmed the existence of the base, explained this theory.

“There certainly was – as you would expect – no discussion of little green men here,” Richelson told The New York Times in 2013. “This is a history of the U-2. The only overlap is the discussion of the U-2 flights and UFO sightings, the fact that you had these high-flying aircraft in the air being the cause of some of the sightings.”


And then there are the rumors started in the 1980s by a man named Robert Lazar, who claimed to have worked near the base.

caption
Bob Lazar (present-day) in the documentary “Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers.”
source
The Orchard

In an interview with reporter George Knapp from the time, he described working on propulsion systems for “nine flying saucers of extraterrestrial origin,” according to archival footage reviewed by Vice.

Lazar is also the subject of a documentary called “Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers,” which was released in December. In the documentary, he goes into further details about his claims about what he alleges happened while he worked at Area 51 and what life has been like for him since.

Lazar’s claims may have cemented the base’s association with aliens and inspired others to come forward with stories and theories of their own.


The mysteries around Area 51 have prompted over 1 million people to come together to “storm” the base. The event is likely a joke — but it’s led to some really good memes.

caption
In the music video for the “Old Town Road” remix, Young Thug, Billy Rae Cyrus, Lil Nas X, and Mason Ramsey storm Area 51.
source
Lil Nas X/YouTube

The Facebook event titled, “ Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” has gone massively viral. The participants, according to the event’s description, hope to raid the active base and see aliens.

It’s likely a joke. The event comes from a Facebook group called “Shitposting cause im in shambles.” It’s even spawned its own meme cycle, complete with an “Old Town Road” music video, because why not?

But not everyone is so amused.

Namely, the Air Force.

“[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces,” Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews told the Washington Post. “The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”

Update July 19, 2019: This story has been udpated.