The guy who whipped up a frenzy over Area 51 has finally revealed himself, and he’s a little freaked out that his alien-inspired joke has spun insanely out of control.
Matty Roberts told Las Vegas station KLAS-TV Wednesday night that he’s the one who started the Facebook page “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” which grew into one of the biggest meme magnets ever. But it only started as a joke, not actually intended to rally conspiracy theorists to storm the “secret” government facility in southern Nevada on Sept. 20.
Area 51 is a 5,000-square-mile detachment of Edwards Air Force base, officially part of the Nevada Test and Training Range. It's long been the intrigue of conspiracy theorists who contend it's where the U.S. government has carried out tests on aliens.
Roberts, from California, never imagined a Facebook page joking about a conspiracy theory would go viral, or that the Air Force would get involved — when a million people responded on the page saying they plan to join the storming battalion. The page currently has 1.6 million users who say they’re “going” and 1.2 million “interested.”
“I posted it on, like, June 27, and it was kind of a joke," Roberts said. "And then it waited for like, three days, like 40 people, and then it just completely took off, out of nowhere. It’s pretty wild.”
He says he got the idea after listening to an interview with Bob Lazar, the conspiracy muckraker who thinks the government is hiding UFOs in the Nevada desert.
But Roberts says he concealed his identity for so long because after his idea sparked so much attention, “it got a little spooky from there,” he said, afraid the FBI would show up at his door.
Before coming out to the public, Roberts communicated with NPR via Facebook Messenger and would only go by the pseudonym Val.
"I just thought it would be a funny idea for the meme page," Roberts said under his pseudonym. "And it just took off like wildfire. It's entirely satirical, though, and most people seem to understand that.”
But as target day approaches, the plan to storm Area 51 has become a memeable movement that’s taken on a life of its own, and Roberts has no way of stopping it. As for the IRL effect, it looks like people are determined to go ahead with the mission: An alien-themed hotel and the Alamo Inn on Highway 93 are all booked up for Sept. 20.
Cover: A cow near Nevada Route 375 that is in a open range grazing area near Rachel, Nev., June 27, 2010. Rachel is the closest town to the area known as Area 51, about 2 hours from Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)