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There might be no government facility that has been as important to conspiracy culture as the one commonly known as Area 51. Area 51 conspiracy theories abound everywhere.
The hysteria over Area 51 has gotten so vocal that in June 2019, a Facebook event to “Storm Area 51“ created as a joke exploded across the internet.
Because Area 51 is still a subject of fascination.
Area 51 conspiracy theories
There are more secrets in this document than there are in Area 51. pic.twitter.com/ey8q0lvMlu— 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚘𝚏𝚏𝚒𝚌𝚎 (@theofficenbc) August 20, 2019
Some of that mystery and conspiracy theorizing is warranted. It’s a sprawling and classified compound in the middle of nowhere. Its existence goes hand-in-hand with secret projects, powerful weapons, and cones of silence. Some conspiracy theorists even believe it to be a place where alien ships are back-engineered, powerful weapons developed, and aliens themselves tested on.
What is Area 51?
“Area 51” (nobody who works there calls it that) is a classified Air Force testing facility in the Nevada Test and Training Range. It has about 1,000 employees, six airstrips, and a variety of other facilities about which little is known.
Why are there so many Area 51 conspiracy theories?
In the early 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission bought a huge tract of Nevada desert and parceled it into numbered Areas upon which to drop atomic bombs. When the CIA needed a place to test a high-flying spy plane, they were given an unused Area, and they draped a veil of secrecy on the place.
Over the next few decades, the CIA used the facility to test secret and classified planes. These flights coincided with the beginning of the “flying saucer” craze and started Area 51 on its way to prominence in conspiracy culture.
Something broke outta Area 51 👽 pic.twitter.com/FfpdL61mVq— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 19, 2019
Why did Area 51 have so many UFO sightings?
The strange planes were occasionally spotted by the public, flying much higher than known planes could, and with triangular or cigar shapes. Many gave the appearance of gleaming silver or being surrounded by fire. All of the odd plane sightings gave the Nevada desert a reputation as a place where weird stuff happened out in the open.
But then, nobody really knew the place existed, because it was still classified. That would change in the 1980s, with the popular conspiracy theory that the government was covering up an alien crash at Roswell, New Mexico.
The incident in Roswell took place in 1947. In real life, a secret balloon designed to measure nuclear blast radiation crashed.
Wanting to keep what they called “Project Mogul” a secret, the Army Air Force initially called the object a “flying disk,” then changed to a weather balloon when UFO-obsessed locals and press ran with it
In 1980, two UFO researchers wrote an explosive book called The Roswell Incident, alleging that the government had hidden the crash of a saucer full of large-eyed, child-bodied, gray aliens. A few years later an elderly mortician who saw an Unsolved Mysteries episode about Roswell called a UFO hotline, claiming to have worked on the dead alien bodies.
With Roswell mythology going full throttle, Area 51 conspiracy theories started in earnest.
Then, in 1989, a whistleblower going only by “Dennis” told a Las Vegas TV reporter a fantastical tale involving alien secrets of the highest nature being kept at Area 51.
Dennis claimed to work in mountainside hangar called S-4. His job was back-engineering a disc-shaped alien spacecraft to reveal its secrets—the same craft that crashed at Roswell. And everything “Dennis” claimed dovetailed with the UFO sightings that had gone around Nevada for decades: anti-gravity propulsion, the ability to change directions on a dime, invisibility, and flights far higher than any known craft.
According to his claims, “Dennis” was in the middle of it all. He told the reporter he’d taken part in test flights of nine different alien craft, had been briefed on a ten thousand-year-long alien war that Earth was a player in, and been involved in the explosion of an alien material called “Element 115.”
He spent years piling on details about sophisticated hand scanners, secret paychecks, being issued a gun, and telephone monitoring until the story finally hit the mainstream.
Bob Lazar's supposedly top-secret hand-scanner from the 1980's, that @JeremyCorbell "discovered" for his film, was seen by tens of millions of people in 1977 in the film "Close Encounters of the Third". @joerogan https://t.co/sxA2c5a5HC pic.twitter.com/hbGY7LPFMD— Mick West (@MickWest) July 28, 2019
It was timed perfectly with the increasingly popular story of the “UFO cover-up” at Roswell. But the story went big time in mainstream conspiracy culture on Dec. 12, 1992, when Art Bell had the figure on his iconic program “Coast to Coast AM.”
Within a few years, “Dennis” was a key figure in UFO mythology. And then it started to get really strange.
How weird did Area 51 conspiracy theories get?
By the mid-1990s, the initial story from “Dennis” had taken on a massive number of conspiracy theories in its wake. Some of these were:
- That Area 51 was responsible for cold storage of the alien bodies taken from the Roswell crash
- That it was the site where the government faked the moon landings
- That the “child aliens” kept at Area 51 were mutated Soviet midget pilots sent by Stalin to stir panic in the United States
- That the cover-up of the Roswell aliens was part of a massive government apparatus called “Project POUNCE” designed specifically to keep alien contact from the public
- That Area 51 is where the government tests secret laser weapons it uses to start forest fires
- That a massive network of tunnels containing trains led from Area 51 to secret underground bases where aliens were experimented upon
- That employees flew in and out from Los Angeles on unmarked planes with no FAA designation
Have any Area 51 conspiracy theories proven true?
The UFO-crazed public of the 1950s was right to be intrigued by what was going on in the Nevada desert—because those flying saucers were actually some of America’s most advanced airplanes. And the reason we know is that the government made its first declassification of Area 51 documents in 1991. The high-flying, cigar-shaped UFO was the U-2 spy plane, while the triangular-shaped planes turned out to be the SR-71 spy plane and early concepts of the stealth fighter.
And the “unmarked planes” that flew Area 51 employees in on? While the details are classified, the flights do exist, and the base has even put out public hiring notices for pilots.
As for the rest? None of them are true. Former Area 51 employees have had their confidential agreements lifted, and in 2013, the CIA finally officially acknowledged the existence of Area 51 thanks to a Freedom of Information lawsuit. The documents that followed held no secrets about aliens or UFOs. Indeed, many former employees didn’t like the conspiracy theories that swirled around their work.
So who was “Dennis?”
Area 51 whistleblower “Dennis” turned out to be a UFO enthusiast named Bob Lazar who briefly worked as a consultant at Los Alamos National Lab. Little of what he’s spoken of over the decades has been proven, yet the UFO community still holds him up as a key figure in the mythology of Area 51.
As recently as June 2019, Joe Rogan had Lazar on his hugely popular podcast to talk aliens and anti-gravity tech.
Does this mean that Area 51 isn’t classified anymore?
Much of the secrecy is off Area 51. And with it, some of the strangest conspiracy theories have dissipated. But whatever is currently being worked on there is still classified, and radio traffic there is still coded to mask the names and types of planes flying in and out.
In February 2018, two amateur UFO spotters made national news when they captured footage of two F-16 fighters appearing to dogfight a triangular craft jumping around in the sky over Groom Lake near Area 51. Naturally, the Air Force had no comment on the incident.
Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.