No one is sure what will happen this week in Rachel, in the US state of Nevada – the location of a planned Aliengate festival that evolved out of a viral Facebook event – but local authorities are already considering taking legal action to cover $250,000 (£200,000) the county plans to spend to prepare for the potential onslaught of visitors.
Matty Roberts created the “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” Facebook event on 27 June as a joke, but the event went viral and evolved into an actual festival – Alienstock – which was planned for 19-22 September at the Little A’Le’Inn in Rachel, Nevada, near the US Air Force base known as Area 51. But just a few days before the event was supposed to begin, Roberts and his partners backed out, posting on their website that they “foresee a possible humanitarian disaster in the works” and after considering “the lack of infrastructure, planning, and risk management, along with concerns raised for the safety of the expected 10,000+ attendees, we decided to transition Alienstock away from the Rachel festival towards a safer alternative.”
That safer alternative is an “Area 51 Celebration”, which was held on Thursday night at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center.
However, Little A’Le’Inn owner Connie West has made it very clear that she still plans to host her own Alienstock, despite Roberts’ attorney sending her a cease-and-desist letter ordering her to stop using the name “Alienstock” since the event at that location was canceled.
Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee told Gizmodo that as of Wednesday morning, people had already started arriving at A’Le’Inn.
“I’m not happy about it because you’re looking at a county that does not have a lot of financial resources and this could potentially cost the county,” Lee told Gizmodo. “The county could still be spending upwards of a quarter of a million dollars and that’s not including the salaries of all these 300-plus first responders that are coming here.”
That’s a quarter of a million dollars that the county “doesn’t have to spend,” said Lee, who believes Roberts is still to blame for the event in Rachel, despite his efforts to divert the flood of people to Las Vegas.
“Matty Roberts is the one that started this on Facebook. So our district attorney, his opinion is that Matty Roberts and Facebook stand to be partially to blame for this,” Lee told Gizmodo. “He’s already told people that this is quote-unquote ‘His event.’ He told some of the other event promoters that this was his event. And so I guess if it’s his event and he’s taken ownership of it then we know where legal action should go toward. I’m not an attorney but that is what Lincoln County district attorney is saying.”
District Attorney Dylan Frehner was not immediately available for a Gizmodo interview. According to Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Fox affiliate KVVU, the district attorney’s office is considering taking legal action against Roberts and the platform he used to start this fiasco – Facebook.
Traditionally, Facebook would be considered protected from legal action regarding content created by one of its users under Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act. But time will tell if Frehner’s office intends to argue that this particular circumstance wouldn’t be covered by those protections.
“Anybody who is promoting any illegal activity, we will be seeking to possibly prosecute,” said Frehner, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Frehner reportedly cited the Nevada misdemeanour crime of “publishing matter inciting breach of peace,” which carries a $2,000 (£1,600) fine and up to a year in county jail.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the county is considering legal action to recoup whatever expenditures that the state won’t match.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
Frank DiMaggio, an event producer who has partnered with Roberts, shrugged off the legal threats.
“Good luck with that. Facebook – I mean you might as well go after the Queen of England,” DiMaggio told Gizmodo. “As far as going after Matty or the promoters: So here’s the deal – if you’re going to be offering 250-plus emergency responders for an event, why not just cancel the event? They offered the permit. They permitted it. Now they’re saying, ‘Oh look what you made us do.’”
However local authorities have suggested they felt issuing permits was the only way to control the surge of humanity that will come due to the popularity of the Storm Area 51 phenomenon. Lincoln County planning department director Cory Lytle told KVVU granting permits was the “lesser of two evils.”
Featured image: Getty