• Newsfeed
  • viral

Laughs, Masks and a ‘Sense of Community.’ Most People Came in Peace to the Area 51 Raid. Here’s What Actually Happened

4 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

With lime green alien suits and tin foil face masks, guests of the original Alienstock music festival gave extraterrestrials a run for their money.

One small Nevada town was bracing itself for the original alien-themed music festival that a viral internet joke had birthed, anticipating that anywhere between 5,000 and 25,000 attendees would descend on their tiny desert town of 40-50 residents.

But what happened over the weekend in Rachel, Nevada, wasn’t remotely the catastrophe many had feared.

“It was honestly breathtaking,” says Matthew Carswell, 22, who flew from Miami to Nevada for Alienstock. “It was a really good atmosphere.”

Despite a small handful of arrests, it was mostly an invasion of friendly humankind. Most people came to the gathering in peace.

The number of guests for the Sept. 19 to Sept. 22 program peaked at only 3,000, according to the Reno Gazette Journal, after the event’s original organizer, Matty Roberts — the 21-year-old who started it all with the viral Facebook event, “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” in June — parted ways with the festival earlier in September. Roberts’ Facebook event had gone so viral that millions of people said they’d actually “storm Area 51,” the nearby mysterious military base that’s long mystified conspiracy theorists and pop culture aficionados alike who believe there’s proof of extraterrestrial life inside.

Revelers were mostly “chill,” Carswell says. “There were people ranging from kids, to couples, to families, to older people, just looking to have a good time.”

Roberts had cited his departure from the event as a result of “the lack of infrastructure, poor planning, risk management and blatant disregard for the safety of the expected 10,000+ AlienStock attendees,” according to his statement shared with TIME and other outlets. Some residents of Rachel, a town with only one business in its city limits that quietly sits 27 miles north of the ever-elusive Area 51, were also concerned.

Attendees dance to music during Alienstock festival on the "Extraterrestrial Highway in Rachel, Nevada on September 20, 2019.Bridget Bennett—AFP/Getty Images

“The people that are coming, I don’t know what they expect,” Bob Clabaugh, a retired pilot who lives in Rachel, told TIME on Thursday.

Another resident, who runs the town’s website and has owned property in Rachel since 2003, was upset from the beginning. “The locals are not on board, nobody asked us, and we don’t appreciate anyone threatening to take over our town,” Joerg Arnu told TIME back in August.

So when the crowd was manageable, music wasn’t too loud and fewer than ten arrests were made, mosts attendees — locals and visitors alike — were pretty surprised.

People gather for Alienstock in Rachel, Nevada on Saturday.Bob Clabaugh

“Everything went super smoothly,” Carswell says. “People had water, they had access to toilets. Everything people needed, they had access to.”

Danny Philippou, a 26-year-old YouTuber from Australia who attended Alienstock, was one of the hundreds who tried to mildly, jokingly “storm-but-not-really-actually-storm” the gates of Area 51 — but it was nothing the Air Force would be afraid of. “We were expecting a bigger, crazier event,” he tells TIME.

Photographer Josh Edelson shared a video on Twitter of Philippou and friends doing the “Naruto run,” as Roberts’ original Facebook event had called for.

But when Philippou ran up to the gates of Area 51, authorities were laughing. “The guards were unbelievably nice. They took photos with everyone and were pretty much just smiling,” he told TIME.

Carswell, who also visited the gates of the military base, echoed that sentiment. “They were really just there to act as a deterrent,” he says of the local law enforcement officials stationed at the entryway. “They were having just as much fun as us.”

As for whether he’d do it all over again, Carswell says he’s still surprised by just how much fun he had — and the “sense of community” at Alienstock was the best part of all. “I had a lot more fun than I thought I would,” he says.

While it ended up being quite calm, the county had enlisted the help of neighboring sheriff’s offices to assist in keeping the peace at the festival. “We will file charges where they’re necessary,” Lincoln County District Attorney Dylan Frehner told TIME on Thursday.

But only seven arrests were made during Alienstock, the county’s sheriff’s office said on Saturday night, and at least four of them were booked and released with citations. Though residents previously told TIME they feared violence and disorder in their tiny town, the biggest dangers were nearby car accidents.

“Looks like we dodged the big bullet,” says Clabaugh.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com