LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – A Facebook spoof that called for a public invasion of the top secret Area 51 military base has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon and is growing bigger by the hour.

As of Wednesday, more than 1.5 million people had pledged to join the effort and storm Area 51 on Sept. 20. And another 1.1 million said they’re thinking about it.

If only a fraction of those people show up, it would have a huge impact on rural Nevada.

The Extraterrestrail, or ET Highway, is on Nevada’s Route 375, just north of Area 51. (KLAS-TV)

The I-Team has been reporting on Area 51 for three decades. Area 51 is almost synonymous with secrecy. Even though the person who proposed the idea meant it as a joke, it has taken on a life of its own in news reports, social media and in ominous warnings by the U.S. military.

The man who started it all has remained anonymous but agreed to speak with the I-Team’s George Knapp.

Groom Lake Road leads into Area 51. The dust clouds are vehicles leaving the base. (KLAS-TV)

Rush hour is pretty tame on Groom Lake Road, the main drag into Area 51, as a few employees dash for home and others ride the bus with the blacked out windows. Now imagine a million people, with cars, RV’s and tents. It would be a madhouse.

“We had an event right at the gates. About 50 people showed up, maybe 30 vehicles on Groom Lake Road on a dirt road, and we had a minor traffic jam on our hands. We had to regulate traffic. Now imagine you have a million people show up and try to park? That’s not going to work,” said Joerg Arnu, webmaster.

He lives in Rachel, the tiny town next door to Area 51. His website focuses on black projects and military secrecy. He thought “Storm Area 51” was a joke, until he didn’t.

“I used to get about 500 to 600 hits a day. Right now, I’m getting up to 3,000 a day. So, there’s a huge spike.”

A Facebook page started the furor. It was always meant as sarcasm and contains several clues to that effect. Its creator never meant to suggest that a million people could invade Area 51 in the belief that the military can’t possibly shoot them all. The idea has been proposed multiple times over the years but this time, it caught fire.

“I posted it on like June 27th and it was kind of a joke. And then it waited for like three days, like 40 people, and then it just completely took off, out of nowhere. It’s pretty wild,” said Matty Roberts.

Matty Roberts started the “Storm Area 51” Facebook page. (KLAS-TV)

He has declined to be interviewed until now, in part, because once his idea sailed past 500,000 signatories, he was concerned he might get a knock at the door.

“The FBI is going to show up at my house and it got a little spooky from there.”

Matty says he got the idea after watching podcaster Joe Rogan interview Area 51 whistleblower Bob Lazar and filmmaker Jeremy Corbell about alleged UFO technology hidden in the Nevada desert. That story about the secret base has spawned its own mythology, along with the world’s only state designated extraterrestrial highway. Joke or not, businesses on both ends of that stretch of road are now preparing for an invasion of visitors.

“It’s been insane,” said Connie West, owner of Little A’Le’Inn.

Menu from the Little A’Le’Inn. (KLAS-TV)

She owns what used to be the Rachel Bar and Grill, the name changed to the Little A’Le’Inn after Bob Lazar’s story first broke in 1989. Since then it’s sold E.T. themed burgers, booze, and other merchandise. The inn’s 10 rooms are booked solid around the Sept. 20 target date, so Connie is clearing 30 acres where visitors can camp and listen to the four or more bands that say they’re coming.  She gets along with her neighbors at the base and  doesn’t want anyone to cross the line.

“I’m just a little scared, but bring it. We’ll do our best. Ii don’t believe they should be doing this and breaking the law. Just don’t believe that.”

Reporter George Knapp: “You think they will?”

Connie West: “Of course somebody will try.”

At the eastern end of the Extraterrestrial Highway, behind the 50-foot Gort-like robot, an even bigger collection of space themed merchandise awaits visitors to the Alien Research Center. Employee Linda Looney — that’s her name — says there’s a buzz in the air.

“The customers coming in are all talking about it you know,” Looney said. “People come from all over the world, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Russia, everywhere.

The owner of the center is Las Vegas businessman George Harris, creator of Alien Tequila, says he checked with Lincoln County’s sheriff before he started making plans to accommodate hundreds, maybe thousands of campers and visitors. He’ll have bands, food trucks, and speakers. Harris is happy to take advantage of the business, but is also serious about UFOs and secrecy.

“Someone keeps asking me, well, what caused all this? The cause is the government because they’re so secretive,” Harris said. People want to know what’s going on up there, you know. This tapped into something. It’s tapped into something big.”

Since the Pentagon admitted 19 months ago that it funded a secret UFO study based in Nevada, the UFO topic has been hotter than ever, even with members of Congress. Roberts hopes his joke can have a positive effect.

“Even if just a few people show up with just the amount of attention that the post has gotten, I think it makes a cool statement that like, hey, we want to know what’s going on in there. People want to know,” Roberts said.

As plans take shape, the I-Team will have updates for anyone who wants to go. Keep in mind, the Air Force has made it clear that it’s dangerous for anyone to attempt to access a military facility, especially this one.

The levels of security are substantial. Those who have tried in the past get stopped, often at gunpoint, are cited, and some have been arrested, and cameras and equipment were seized.

There are other dangers too. People who go need to be self-sufficient, have water, food and a reliable vehicle because services are limited.