The legal implications of that Area 51 raid
Over 2 million people have said they're going to take part in that joke raid on Area 51 because, "They can't stop us all." (Spoiler alert: Yes, the Air Force and its co-branches of the military can absolutely stop thousands of people attempting to cross the miles of open desert to reach the main facilities at Area 51.) But a real lawyer with a prominent YouTube channel has taken a look at the legalities involved in storming a military facility and in defending it.
We've previously talked about the physical problems of storming Area 51, not the least of which is the dozens of miles of desert that people would have to cross on foot or in vehicles. After that, stormers would have to get past the defenses of the base, including security personnel. And the Air Force is reportedly building up a stockpile of less-than-lethal munitions in case anyone shows up. And it's probably a safe bet that they're counting their lethal weapons as well.
But the Federal Government works according to specific laws, rules, and regulations. Could the Air Force really legally kill American citizens? And don't citizens have a right to see what their government is doing?
The answers are "yes" and "only sort of" in that order. And LegalEagle Devin Stone, an actual lawyer, broke down the laws involved.
American citizens do have a right to know what they're government is doing, but the entire military and government classification system is based on the idea that our collective national security requires keeping some secrets from our enemies. To keep the info from our enemies, we have to keep it from the general public.
That's a big part of why trespassing on a military installation is a crime according to U.S. Code Title 18 Section 1382. All of Edwards Air Force Base, of which Area 51 is part, is covered by this law. The law carries a punishment of up to $500 in fines and six months of confinement. Even accidental trespass on the base has triggered criminal charges in the past and resulted in hefty fines.
And if people don't stop when ordered to do so, then the rules of engagement allow for deadly force. The law involved, Title 50 Section 797, allows for additional fines and up to a year of imprisonment if a person is stopped while intentionally entering a restricted area. But, military and law enforcement personnel are allowed to use deadly force to stop the individual, so the fines and jail time aren't your biggest problem.
And Area 51 security personnel have killed trespassers, though the January 2019 case highlighted in the video involved a suspect who approached security officers and Nye County officers (no relation to the author) with a cylindrical object that might have been mistaken for a gun or other weapon. It's unlikely that security personnel would go straight to lethal force for a bunch of kids "Naruto Running" at the base.
So most of the participants would be captured if they actually attempted to storm the base, and then they would be processed as federal prisoners and turned over to the FBI or another agency for formal charging and to await their trial. They would be given fines of about $1,000 and face jail times of up to 18 months under just the laws we've already discussed.
But there's one more law that Stone points out could be applied to the raid. It could be a long shot, but there's a chance participants could be charged with terrorism under The Patriot Act. U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2332b lays out the rules for terrorism charges. Basically, because the victim of this "raid" would be the U.S. government and assaulting the base would require damaging the base facilities, terrorism charges could likely apply.
And the maximum punishment depends on how badly awry the raid goes.
For each damage to a structure or vehicle on the base, participants could receive up to 25 years in prison. For any assault on a person or use of a dangerous weapon, a 30-year punishment could be levied. Any maiming of base personnel or bystanders could trigger a 35-year punishment. And if any person is killed during the raid, even accidentally, the death penalty and life imprisonment are on the table.
And, technically, all conspirators in the raid could be charged for the worst outcome. So, it's unlikely, but a prosecutor could hit a guy who Naruto ran 25 feet before getting tired the same as the guy who actually bowled over a security guard who was then trampled to death.
Oh, and terrorism imprisonment can not be replaced with probation and sentences cannot run concurrently. That's a fancy way of saying that a 10-year sentence for breaching the Area 51 defenses and a 35-year sentence for maiming a security guard would really mean 45 years in prison. You can't get out early for good behavior, and you can't serve both sentences at once, getting out in 35 years.
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