Greta Kooy, News Editor // Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo
Like superstitions, conspiracy theories are one of those things that have just happened to stick over time. Conspiracy theories, whether it’s about the moon landing being faked or not or the existence of the New World Order, are exciting and mysterious. They challenge common narratives and spark a certain curiosity that’s lead plenty of us down inexplicable and sometimes dark rabbit holes. Do aliens exist? Are governments using chemtrails to poison their citizens? What about the Illuminati?
I’ve been consumed with conspiracy theories for as long as I can remember. They’re fascinating and divisive, and sometimes even turn out to be true, as is the case with the American government poisoning alcohol during Prohibition (which ultimately killed over 10,000 Americans). Conspiracy theories for the most part are innocent, confined to listicles and YouTube videos, niche books and underappreciated columns. There are, however, conspiracy theories that aren’t so harmless. Take for example the theory that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was orchestrated by the United States government in order to promote stricter gun control laws. You have to be a certain degree of insane to spearhead the argument to back that one up, a level Alex Jones proudly reached years ago.
Despite the tasteless conspiracy theories that are going to emerge whether we like it or not, there are still plenty of others that are worth your attention. The mystery of time traveller John Titor is one of them.
In the early 2000s, a man named John Titor, or “TimeTravel_0”, appeared across the freshly introduced world of internet forums, claiming that he was a time traveller from the year 2036. “I realized my claims are a bit ridiculous but my intent is not really to be believed,” he wrote on Jan. 29, 2001. Some reports believe that Titor first made an appearance in 1998 after reportedly sending a fax to Coast to Coast AM, a paranormal news radio program.
Titor claimed that he was an American soldier sent back in time to recover an IBM 5100 computer from the year 1975, which apparently had a specific type of equipment that the military needed to conquer a future virus. Titor detoured into the 2000s, hoping to gain some insight into a time he referred to as “full of lazy, self-centered, civically ignorant sheep.” Over the course of four months in 2001, Titor dutifully responded to questions about himself and the future, making several senseless claims along the way. Some of those claims, however, turned out to be true.
At one point in his forum conversations, Titor mentioned that the computer he was sent to recover, the IBM 5100, “had a very simple and unique feature that IBM did not account for and decided it was not in their best interest to advertise… Anyone who is familiar with this feature was told to keep their mouth shut about it and will be able to tell you what it is.”
Titor claimed that the computer held a secret function that allowed the machine to translate material into nearly any language. Unsurprisingly, many of Titor’s claims were taunted and ridiculed, this one being no different. Despite this, several skeptics tried to uncover the mysterious function, all attempts futile. In 2004, however, much to the surprise of nearly every single one of Titor’s readers, IBM announced that the function was in fact real and had been there the whole time. This wasn’t the only startling statement made by Titor, who also “predicted” the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and knew exactly what had happened for it to fail (it exploded due to overheating).
Titor described, in detail, various future events, but always with the disclaimer that his reality may not be our own, and that alternate realities and parallel universes were very much real. He discussed Y2K, Mad Cow disease and a third world war. He described the United States being embroiled in a civil war that would ultimately split the country into five separate regions and leave Omaha, Nebraska as the new national capital (although this was predicted to have been completed by 2015).
No one has ever come forward as being the mastermind behind the John Titor hoax, and because of this many cannot accept that it just might be one. Not all of his predictions came true, which to many means it was all just for entertainment. The skeptical few, however, need proof.
The conversations between Titor and the forum participants are extremely interesting, and if you have an hour to spare and you’re particularly interested, I urge you to skim through the conversation. Hoax or not, the John Titor story is fascinating, and a curated collection of his claims and predictions have been amassed into a booked called John Titor A Time Traveler’s Tale (2004), published by the John Titor Foundation. The same year, Titor’s tale was turned into a play called Time Traveler Zero.
In March of 2004, Titor posted his final words, saying “Bring a gas can with you when the car dies on the side of the road.” Hoax or not, at the very least John did his best to share some solid life advice.