The Joke That Became Real: Raiding Area 51

Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I have a hard time knowing what on the internet to take seriously. We have access to more information than ever before, and at the same time, we’re forced to manage unprecedented levels of disinformation. Is this real? I’m constantly asking myself. Is this a joke? Between pranksters, propagandists and trolls, I’m never quite sure when someone is screwing around.

On September 20, 2019, there may or may not be a loosely-organized civilian raid of a United States Air Force facility. Is this real? On the one hand, there’s a Facebook Event called Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us, and no less than two million people have committed to attending, with another one-and-a-half million fence-sitters expressing interest. On the other hand, the event’s creator has gone on record to say this all started as a goof that “just completely took off,” and he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. So this is a joke? If people actually show up, I’d say that’s real enough. The same event creator who claimed his original post wasn’t intended to be taken seriously now has two UFO-themed festivals competing for his attention this weekend. While most of the Facebook posts have consisted of good-natured silliness about alien cover-ups and Naruto-running faster than a speeding bullet, local towns and businesses have been left with little choice but to prepare for a substantial influx, having publicly admitted that they could be completely overrun if even a fraction of the interested parties show up. Sometimes a joke gets so popular that it becomes real—how weird is that?

So what’s the worst that could happen if something like this occurred in Indiana? The Hoosier State has some pretty serious trespass laws, and the penalties can escalate quickly. If you’ve been denied entry into a location by a person with the legal right to do so (like a property owner or their agent), and you return to the premises, that’s textbook trespass. Likewise, if you enter a location that has a readily visible no trespassing sign or has been clearly marked with purple paint, that’s also a potentially open-and-shut case for the State. Trespass starts as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 365 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Things, of course, can always get worse.

Trespass may start out as a misdemeanor, but it can easily turn into a felony. For example, trespass committed at a “scientific research facility” (which could surely describe any location where experiments are conducted on extra-terrestrials) is a Level 6 felony, and that carries a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If you raid a facility where people (aliens?) live, you might end up facing a felony charge of residential entry, and the list of potentially aggravating factors doesn’t end there. If you break into a structure or building with the intent to commit a felony or theft—even if nobody lives there—that’s burglary, which starts as a Level 5 felony, carrying a maximum penalty of six years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The charges can get more severe depending on whether you’ve broken into a dwelling, whether you were armed, and whether you hurt anyone. In the worst-case burglary scenario, you’ve broken into another person’s residence and caused someone serious bodily injury: The State can now charge you with a Level 1 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

That’s the worst, but it’s not the end. Indiana treats attempts to commit a crime just as harshly as if you’d actually succeeded. So, for example, let’s say you’ve heard about a secret government research center disguised as a storage facility on the outskirts of Crawfordsville, and you travel there with the intent of investigative trespassing. Even if some physical impossibility prevents you from carrying out your planned crime, the State can still charge you with attempt. Alternatively, if you and your friend plan a trespass together, but only your friend goes through with it, you can still be charged with trespass under the theory of accomplice liability.

Moral of the story: Have fun at Area 51, but maybe don’t break into any military or government buildings. Don’t trespass, and don’t help others trespass, either. Finally, don’t say more than you have to—especially when you can feel yourself slipping through the looking glass. If this crazy world has you so disoriented that you can’t tell up from down or wrong from right anymore, do yourself a favor, and remember to Plead the 5th!