In November of the year 200o someone calling themself Timetravel_0 began posting to internet forums. This person soon announced that his name was John Titor and he was from the future, the year 2036. John belonged to the Temporal Corps, a unit formed in his day to travel into the past and return with much-needed technology. You see, in 2036 the United States has been ravaged by disease and civil war and society lies in ruins.
John readilly answered all the questions put to him in the forums: his time machine involved a micro-black hole, a “microsingularity”, mounted in an automobile chassis (a Chevy Corvette); there is no “grandfather paradox” about altering the past, since time travel involves visiting a paralell universe in which John Titor’s grandfather is the ancestor of a different John Titor; nevertheless the future as John describes it is the future of this time line, he is certain of it since time-lines diverge very little over a period of a few years; the technology he is trying to fetch back is an IBM 5100 computer because this ancient piece of cyber-tech has the capacity to debug a flaw in Linux code that will crash Linux computers in 2038, also John wants to visit family; the United States has collapsed into small rural units, John lives in Florida; a world war in 2015 will kill 3 billion people; Mad Cow disease, latent in the population, erupts in most meat-eaters; and lots lots more.
Questions designed to attack John’s veracity were answered in several ways: it would be immoral to tell you the winner of the Stanley Cup so that you could bet on it; the technology of time travel is only known in a very general to John as are other scientific fields, “If you went into the past, could you explain electricity?”; some questions were answered with a shrug, “I don’t know”.
In March, 2001, John Titor announced that he was returning to the future. A book, A Time Traveler’s Tale, written by John (or his mother) was published and a number of websites discussed the episode. Of course many thought the whole thing was a hoax and an amazing amount of research went into discovering that, in 1997 – 1998, someone claiming to be a time-traveller who seemed very much like the later John Titor, called in to Art Bell’s talk show. The 1997 time-traveller warned of the collapse of civilization on January 1, 2000. (Y2K, remember?) Other people noted the resemblance of John’s world to that of Pat Frank’s novel, Alas Babylon, also about the collapse of the United States. And, there seemed to be a convergence of Titor stuff around a Florida entertainment lawyer named Larry Haber.
Haber owns the various operations that control John Titor’s legacy — the JohnTitor Foundation, for instance, and he holds the trademark for Titor’s time travel insignia. He is the number one candidate for originator of the Titor hoax, if it was a hoax.
Now many things that John Titor predicted have failed to occur. He said that the 2004 Olympics would be the last one. He said that civil war, defined as an escalating series of Waco-type events, would begin in the US in 2004. He predicted great outbreaks of Mad Cow disease and so forth. The further we get from 2001, the less accurate are John Titor’s predictions.
Nevertheless, many people are still convinced that John Titor was a genuine time-traveller. In fact some claim that there was a John 1 and a John 2 which explain the Art Bell phone-ins. They explain the inaccuracies in a number of ways, including the notion that John was speaking in code or riddles. And some of these believers talk about the divergence between timelines being greater than John Titor imagined.
Which brings up the question of why? Why do these people want to believe? One answer is political: many believers are American patriots who think their nation in a state of collapse. For them John Titor is a prophet of the American apocalypse. But there are other kinds of believers, too, those for who the coming apocalypse is religious rather than political. And there are those who see John Titor as a messenger of hope, a sign that the world will continue after all even in the face of disaster. And there are those who see Titor as a prophet of warning, rather than doom, telling us of a future that can yet be avoided.
None of us should feel superior to the Titor-believers. No matter how rational we think we are, our worldviews are tissues fabricated from faiths and beliefs that we accept as Truths. A hoaxer who saw his own hoax become a religion said, “There is nothing wrong with paranoia as long as it is pursued with vigor and humor… The problem is that people are not paranoid enough. Be paranoid about your paranoia.”