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A Time-Traveling Hero or the Internet’s First Hoax: Who is John Titor?

In 1957, the world asked, “Who is John Galt?” That year, Objectivism author Ayn Rand published her most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, and the refrain throughout the story, “Who is John Galt?” wondered at the mysterious identity of a man who may or may not exist. “John Galt” seemingly appears and disappears from out of thin air, a faceless legend who cannot be traced but who has the ability to affect the future of a nation. The repeated phrase, “Who is John Galt?” became the universal way of asking a question no one could really answer.

In 2000, as the Internet was still evolving into a powerful information super highway, the world asked, “Who is John Titor?” Also seeming to appear from out of thin air, “John Titor” emerged, faceless and mysterious, on the Internet message boards of Coast to Coast AM and Art Bell. His message? That he was a time-traveling soldier from 2036, sent back in time to affect the future of a nation, and, maybe, save the world.  

The Messages of John Titor

When John Titor first appeared on internet message boards, he identified himself as “Time_Travel_0,” and posted a simple message about his mission and his means of time travel:

Titor's first message.

“Greetings. I am a time traveler from the year 2036. I am on my way home after getting an IBM 5100 computer system from the year 1975. My 'time' machine is a stationary mass, temporal displacement unit manufactured by General Electric. The unit is powered by two, top-spin, dual-positive singularities that produce a standard, off-set Tipler sinusoid.

 I will be happy to post pictures of the unit.”

The blueprints for Titor's time machine.

Immediately, believers and disbelievers alike started questioning John Titor. He responded with precise answers, detailed schematics, and even predictions of the future.

According to Titor’s subsequent posts, he revealed that he was chosen to travel back in time because his paternal grandfather had been involved with the assembly and programming of an IBM 5100 computer, which had the ability to help save the future. Titor had travelled back to 1975 to obtain the computer, and made a stopover in the year 2000 to collect family keepsakes that were lost to him in a future civil war. (In an interesting parallel, the fictional John Galt had a special electrical motor that gave him the ability to help rebuild the world, after an inevitable and widespread government collapse.)

Are these really the instructions for operating John Titor's "time displacement unit"?

The time machine unit.

Titor’s messages also included details of his time machine, which seemed to be made of many highly scientific parts. In addition to the device features he described in his very first post, Titor shared that his time machine also contained: two magnetic housing units for dual micro singularities; an electron injection manifold to alter mass and gravity of micro singularities; four main cesium clocks; three main computer units; gravity sensors; and a cooling and X-ray venting system. In the style of “Back to the Future,” Titor claimed his time machine device was installed in the back of a car. But instead of a clunky DeLorean, Titor traveled through time in a much sleeker 1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible!

Along with these elements of his mission and his time machine, Titor revealed other “facts” of the future, which were composed of oddly specific details. Time travel, Titor claimed, was invented in 2034 by General Electric. He himself was an American soldier based out of Tampa, Florida, who started his service by joining a shot gun infantry in 2011. He noted that in the future "people spend much more time reading and talking together face to face. Religion is taken seriously and everyone can multiply and divide in their heads." Titor even touched on the topic of UFOs, which he noted were still mysteries in 2036, though he suggested that UFOs – and extraterrestrials – may also be time travelers, though from a far more advanced future than that of 2036.

Between November 2000 and March 2001, John Titor posted many messages and responded to many questions, from believers and skeptics alike. But his sudden online emergence - and his equally sudden disappearance - gave rise to a number of important questions that are still unanswered. Was John Titor a real person? Were the messages of “Time_Travel_0” just a hoax? Is there any concrete proof of Titor’s claims? It has been over 17 years since John Titor’s final farewell post, but the speculation about his existence continues.

Was It All an Elaborate Hoax? 

As with any subject dealing with the unknown, the unproven, and the extraordinary, there are many who are skeptical of the veracity of Titor’s identity and claims. Is the story of John Titor one of the biggest hoaxes of the early 21st century? Several key clues point to “Yes.”

The biggest evidence of a hoax are the future predictions John Titor announced on the message boards: most of them never came true. 

Titor's ominous advice for the people of the early 21st century.

Titor’s most dire prediction foretold of civil war in the United States. It would begin, he said, in 2004 as civil unrest surrounding the presidential election. “Order and rights” would be the main source of conflict, and a “Waco type of event every month that gets steadily worse” would occur until the war fully escalated in 2008. The result would leave the United States divided into five new regions. But that wouldn’t be the end - Titor further predicted that the U.S. civil war would be the trigger that sparked World War III in 2015. One possible cause involved “border clashes and overpopulation.” WWIII would see nuclear attacks exchanged with Russia, and, though the war would be brief, 3 BILLION people would end up dead. Fortunately for the world, these events never happened.

Other of Titor’s less frightening predictions also never came to pass, but most maintained the same level of elaboration. For instance, Titor claimed that there would be no official Olympics held after 2008, but they were anticipated to begin again in 2040. After WWIII, which he called “N Day,” he named Omaha, Nebraska as the new capital of the United States. Titor also warned of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disorder, being spread through beef products. The disease is rare, seeing less than 1,000 cases per year, but Titor seemed to believe the threat of it was imminent, and said he tried to warn the public for months. To date, there have been no outbreaks of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

The design of the alleged military insignia of the Titor's military unit in 2036.

Lending further credence to John Titor-is-a-hoax is the widespread belief that he was manufactured by Lawrence Haber, an entertainment lawyer based in Florida, and his brother Morey Haber, a computer expert. Their involvement was suspected after an Italian TV program, in 2008, used a private investigator to hunt down more information about John Titor. While the investigator found no evidence of the existence of an actual John Titor, he did discover that the Habers appeared to have a heavy involvement in all things related to Titor. For instance, Larry Haber is the CEO of the for-profit John Titor Foundation, which was established in 2003 and holds a copyright on the military insignia design that Titor stated was the symbol of his 177th military unit. Morey Haber, as a computer programmer at the turn of the 21st century, had the technical knowledge to perpetuate such an online hoax. Larry Haber also claimed to represent John Titor’s mother, Kay Titor who, like Titor himself, has never been seen in the flesh. For those who have the time to watch, independent investigator John Razimus created a nearly two-hour-long video that claims to have “smoking gun” evidence which reveals Morey Haber to be the man behind John Titor. The more one attempts to research, the more it appears that the figure of Titor, whether fabricated by the Habers or some other party, is in fact a work of science fiction.

But Could It Be True?

But despite evidence against it, could John Titor and his time traveling ability be true? As the saying goes, anything is possible. 

There are still many believers of the John Titor legend, and they are quick to point out that, even though his predictions didn’t come to fruition, the information he disclosed was too elaborate to be falsified.

The 5100 IBM model John Titor traveled to 1975 to collect.

Titor reveals the 5100 IBM's hidden feature.

One interesting piece of evidence that gives believers hope, and could give nonbelievers pause, lies in the 5100 IBM computer that Titor allegedly returned to the past to obtain. When asked about his mission, Titor explained that he needed a 5100 IBM model because of its ability to debug and emulate code between various programming languages, which they were lacking in 2036. He stated that this feature was accidentally added to the 5100 by IBM, but was never disclosed to the public, remaining hidden and then removed from future models. After Titor’s claim was posted online, 5100 IBM engineer Bob Dubke confounded the public by confirming that IBM had, in fact, hidden this functionality in the 5100 and never released the fact. So how did Titor know?

Another theory of Titor truthers (which is more logical speculation than true evidence) explains away his unrealized predictions quite simply: Titor’s mission changed the future, so his predictions couldn’t come to pass. In one of his messages, Titor shared that, “As far as the future goes, your worldline is about 2.5% different than mine . . . As far as I can tell, you are headed toward the same events I would call ‘my history’ in 2036.” 

But he follows up this statement with one that stands as his “get out of jail free” card for everything – like the entire future - that would come after him: “However the very nature of time travel states that every worldline is unique and you are very much in control of what you do and how you get there.” 

So - did we somehow alter the future after Titor shared his predictions? Did his mission change the events of the intervening years between his journey back in time and his return home? Or maybe, with the 2.5% difference between worldlines, Titor simply got some dates wrong, and his predictions are still yet to come?

Did we somehow alter the future after Titor shared his predictions?

If you’ll recall, Titor’s worst predictions included civil unrest surrounding a presidential election, order, and rights, war with Russia, border clashes, and a divided U.S. Arguably, the 2016 presidential election elicited more civil unrest than the United States has seen in many years, if ever. Fueling some of the unrest were (and still are) issues of order, rights, and borders, not to mention tensions over Russian relations. Division in the U.S. is also arguably at an all-time high, as political parties fight over endless irreconcilable differences. Also in recent years, a nuclear WWIII has never been more of a possibility, as the U.S., Russia, and North Korea frequently find themselves in the midst of escalating hostilities. These points are mere speculation, but the similarities to Titor’s predictions, though off by about 12 years, are eerie. If we consider that Titor’s predictions were true but shifted slightly in time as our worldline altered, there is always the possibility that the same, or a similar, chilling future is still on the horizon. The loophole of an ever-shifting, flexible future may very well be the strongest argument in John Titor’s favor.

Goodbye for Now, or Goodbye for Good?

After multiple posts and warnings, John Titor disappeared as mysteriously as he emerged. On March 24, 2001, he shared his last message, which you can read here. Believers and nonbelievers together were left looking for answers to different questions. Was John Titor a real time-traveling soldier who materialized to warn us about the future? Or was he the first great internet hoax?

Though clear answers to these questions would certainly solve a longstanding mystery, the answers, surprisingly, may not be what matters most.

John Titor, real or hoax, knew his story may not be believed, and he did not care. Instead, when he took leave of the internet in 2001, he used his some of his posts to address the state of present-day society. In one message Titor wrote: 

A photo allegedly to be from 2035, showing the demonstration of a handheld laser.

“Perhaps I should let you all in on a little secret. No one likes you in the future. This time period is looked at as being full of lazy, self-centered, civically ignorant sheep. Perhaps you should be less concerned about me and more concerned about that.”

  John Titor is not concerned with being called a fraud.

John Titor is not concerned with being called a fraud.

  There are no paradoxes; only possibilities.

There are no paradoxes; only possibilities.

Looking at this blunt message through the lens of today’s tense political climate and schisms between many people groups, it is a sentiment that feels both timely and cautionary. It is also not the only time Titor  alluded to the negative aspects of the present-day world that he was addressing. Several of his messages include warnings, directly and indirectly, about our society as a whole; still others mention how the future, no matter its anticipated trajectory, always has the possibility of being changed.

Whether one believes Titor’s story or not, these messages still offer comments reflective of our world, compelling us to take at least a moment to evaluate the present, and wonder at how it could be altered going forward. Although he shared numerous posts on a variety of subjects, in the end, could the figure of John Titor have really been some sort of moral compass, trying to point the way to a different future? After all, what is it that matters most - whether we believe John Titor’s story, or whether we believe in shaping the future ourselves?

In “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand created the character of John Galt as a 20th century symbol of change in a failing world. Through his anonymous identity and clues he left behind him, Galt became a figure of legend, altering the future behind a curtain of mystery. Similarly, John Titor (or whoever created him) also a managed to construct an enduring legend. Even if he is a work of fiction, some of his messages - clues he offered about the present-day 21st century - have a ring of truth. And if he really is a man, not just a myth, then time travel and the many possible futures available to us mean it’s all the more important that we the future we end up in is of our own making.

Will it be as “John Titor” predicted? Will the “worldline” change, for better, or for worse?

…Who is John Titor?

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