Earlier this month, agents from both the FBI and the U.S. Air Force raided multiple homes belonging to a man who runs a little-known blog about Area 51. That man, Joerg Arnu, said a swarm of federal agents in riot gear busted into his primary residence, handcuffed him, then marched him outside to wait in the freezing cold while they rifled through his apartment and took pretty much every piece of electronic equipment that he owned.
So far, the government has been pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing, but officials did verify that it happened. In a statement provided to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry confirmed the raid, saying only: “This is an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation between the Las Vegas FBI and Air Force OSI.”
What did cops want? It’s not exactly clear.
Since 1999, Arnu has run Dreamland Resort, a website that covers activities in and around Area 51, the notoriously secretive government facility located in Groom Lake, Nevada. Long the subject of speculation and curiosity, the highly classified facility is the site of myriad UFO sightings. Coincidentally (or not), it is also the location where the Air Force reportedly tests and develops some of its most sensitive and experimental new projects and aircraft (see: the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s, for instance).
Among other things, Arnu’s site features pictures and writing about the Air Force’s so-called “black projects”—opaque, classified operations carried out behind a veil of government secrecy.
This could help explain why, on Nov. 3, droves of agents from the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations stormed two Nevada residences belonging to Arnu—one in Las Vegas, and the other in the small town of Rachel, which is located not far from Area 51. At the time, Arnu was staying at the residence in Rachel, while his girlfriend was staying at the one in Vegas.
According to Arnu, the raids involved “15-20 agents in full riot gear” who broke down the doors of both houses and caused “further damage in both homes besides the broken front doors.” Arnu claims that the agents confiscated his “laptops, phones, backup drives, camera gear, and my drone were seized.” In a blog post on his website, Arnu describes how it all went down:
“This happened without any warning. The doors were broken open and I in Rachel and my girlfriend in our Las Vegas home were detained and treated in the most disrespectful way. My girlfriend was led out into the street barefoot and only in her underwear in full view of our neighbors; I was led outside, handcuffed and only in t-shirt and sweats in sub-freezing temperatures.”
Despite all the chaos, the reason behind the raid remains unclear. “Despite my repeated requests for an explanation, I was only told that the search was related to images posted on my Area 51 web site,” Arnu writes. According to the blog operator, the search warrant that he was served with was missing pages and the document did not say what the purpose of the raid was:
There are 40 pages missing from the search warrant I received and the case records are sealed. So, I cannot look up the reason for the search and I do not want to speculate. I left several messages with the FBI agent in charge but he has not returned any of my calls. At this point I have no choice but to take legal action to try and get my equipment back and to seek reimbursement for the damage.
In his blog post, Arnu notes that the raid left him without a way to communicate with anybody and that he may have to take “legal action” to get his devices back:
I was very surprised how forceful the search warrant was executed and how rough we, both unarmed senior citizens, were treated. I have to believe that someone gave them bad information about us...With the equipment I lost all my medical records, financial and tax records, passwords, email and phone contacts, photos etc. Even my phone was taken, leaving me in Rachel with two broken doors and no way to communicate or call for help.
If a couple of pictures on Arnu’s website really was the catalyst for this raucous episode, we have to ask...uh, what were the pictures of? Gizmodo reached out to both Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and the Justice Department. We asked for details about the raids and, just for the hell of it, we also asked about the pictures on Arnu’s website.