LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada man who operates a website focusing on the remote formerly top-secret U.S. military base Area 51 — long an object of UFO and space alien lore — said Thursday that military and federal investigators raided his homes in what he called a bid to muzzle him.
"I believe the search, executed with completely unnecessary force by overzealous government agents, was meant as a message to silence the Area 51 research community," Joerg Arnu said of the Nov. 3 raids at his homes in Las Vegas and the tiny desert town of Rachel.
"I am not a spy," Arnu said in an email to The Associated Press. "I and the vast majority of members of my web site support the military and we understand the need for secrecy to keep our country safe."
In a statement posted on his "Dreamland Resort" website and provided to AP, Arnu said the searches "happened without any warning."
"I was only told that the search was related to images posted on my Area 51 web site," he said.
Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry, public affairs chief at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, said he was aware that Arnu's properties had been searched by FBI and Air Force Office of Special Investigations agents. McGarry said he could provide no additional information.
A press official with the FBI in Las Vegas declined to comment. The Air Force OSI did not immediately respond to email messages.
Arnu said that since 1999 he has owned and operated his internet site, subtitled "Secrets of Area 51 Revealed." A new posting on the site dubs it "Endorsed by the FBI and USAF OSI."
The searches were reported Wednesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, describing the site as a collection of YouTube videos taken from drones flown around Area 51, satellite images of the base, a discussion forum, and articles about UFOs, test flights and mysterious "black projects."
Arnu said he was conferring with his lawyer but declined to provide his lawyer's name. He said he believes material on his website "was legally obtained and legal to publish," but said he has removed some of it "in an effort to defuse the situation."
"Considering how this went down I have no intention of removing any more material unless ordered to do so by a federal judge," he added.
Arnu said agents confiscated "laptops, phones, backup drives, camera gear and my drone," and caused thousands of dollars' worth of damage to his homes.
He alleged that he was given an incomplete search warrant and that case records were sealed, "so I cannot look up the reason for the search and I do not want to speculate."
Arnu's home in Rachel is one of a cluster of residences in a roadside town built around a quirky 10-room alien-themed motel called the Little A'le'Inn on a seemingly endless straight stretch of highway about a two-hour drive north of Las Vegas.
The site, near one of several remote gates to the sprawling Area 51 military complex, drew worldwide attention in September 2019 after more than 2 million people responded to a Facebook prank inviting them to "Storm Area 51."
In the end, amid fears that tens of thousands of people would arrive for unregulated events and overwhelm local infrastructure and services, a peak crowd of about 3,000 gathered at a festival grounds hastily erected as home base for what became dubbed "Alienstock."
At the time, Arnu told AP that he believed that people who knew little about camping in the harsh Great Basin desert would get cold at night, become frustrated and go home angry.
"They're not going to find what they're looking for," he said.