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The Return of the Self-Proclaimed Time Traveler

They’ve come from the future for two reasons: to save us from ourselves, and to make YouTube confessionals

In the year 2000, a time traveler reportedly walked among us. He was from the year 2038, but he drove a 1967 Chevy Corvette. His sweet time ride disrupted gravity using a twin singularity system. This time traveler arrived in present day to stop a civil war in the U.S. He did so by contacting the U.S. intelligence community and convincing them to let 9/11 happen. And it worked. The civil war of 2008 was averted, and the history of the world hopped onto a different timeline.

This isn’t the plot of a bad movie. At least, not yet. However, it’s probably the most popular internet legend you’ve never heard of. Not to mention, it’s definitely one of the strangest 9/11 conspiracy theories you’ll ever come across.

But most of all, it’s just the tip of a very weird internet iceberg: The Invasion of the Time Traveler.

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In late 2000, in the forums for Coast to Coast AM, a late-night radio program dedicated to the paranormal, a man named John Titor began to post about how he was a time traveler. He claimed he was originally sent back to 1975 to pick up an IBM 5100 computer. His situation was a lot like the Bruce Willis character from 12 Monkeys. Instead of locating a virus, however, he was sent back to find a very specific early IBM portable, one that his grandfather had helped program and assemble. It was vitally important Titor retrieve it so government scientists from the future could use it to fight a legacy computer bug nicknamed “the year 2038 problem.” (Which, by the way, is a real thing.)

After Titor successfully retrieved this IBM 5100, he made a pit stop in the year 2000, and then stuck around until 2001. During this time, he shared pictures of his time machine and uploaded diagrams and blueprints of it. When dubious commenters asked what he was doing in 2001, Titor explained that he’d wanted to gather photographs, ones he’d later lose in a (future) civil war. He wanted to visit his family, too, whom he’d also presumably lose in the future. But Titor claimed he had one other major reason to show-up in 2001: to save America from civil war. And to do that, he made 9/11 happen. It was his inside job.

Then, about six months beforehand, on March 24, 2001, Titor disappeared forever.

In a recent video interview, a fellow time traveler named Michael Phillips corroborated this story. Phillips claims that Titor “thankfully stopped a civil war in America, which was supposed to kick off in 2008. […] It was decided that America needed a single unifying event to bring the country together and to revert [sic] a civil war. And that event was 9/11. … So that’s what happened there. And he did change the timeline so the civil war in 2008 didn’t happen.”

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One of the more recent time-traveler news stories to go viral was that of 27-year-old Bryant Johnson, the drunk time-hopper who appeared in Casper, Wyoming, last October. He swore to police that he was from the year 2048, and that he’d come back in time to warn people about an alien invasion. In particular, he asked to “speak with the president of the town” — and only him. He’d meant to travel to 2018, but he missed and landed in 2017. (He did have time though, since the aliens aren’t due to arrive until 2019.) When he was arrested, Johnson told police the reason he was so drunk was that “he was only able to time travel because aliens filled his body with alcohol.”

This space-time cowboy’s story went viral for obvious reasons. But then, following Johnson’s story, there’s been an unexpected surge of time-travelers. In fact, every week, British tabloids and news aggregators like Drudge Report seemingly push weird news stories about some guy who claims to be from a decade or more in the future. YouTube is chock-full of interviews with these purported time travelers as well. In the typical confession vid, the time traveler speaks directly to the camera and nervously explains why he’s come back in time to save us from the future. The time traveler knows he won’t be believed. He also fears for his safety. But he has to come forward with the truth. Most of the time his face is blurred and his voice distorted. He’s always white.

Michael Phillips, the British time traveler who knew Titor, is one of the most famous men from the future. He claims to have been born in 2043 and boasts that he’s taken a number of missions. For his first time trip, for instance, he popped into 2138. When he’s not moving about time, though, he lives in 2075. He claims it’s not bad, but that there have been major Earth changes, ones he wants to warn us about. Sadly, climate change continues unabated. The powers-that-be still have done nothing to combat it. He’s here to implore us to change our ways. This is a common theme in all the recent time traveler videos. They’re like ghosts of Jacob Marley come back to warn Scrooge. And we’re Scrooge.

In his video, Phillips claims he was selected by a (future) government department called Section 18. After indoctrination, they took him to a secret hangar. They showed him the time machine — an “8-foot-sized spheroid object.” He explains how the machine uses “two micro-singularities.” There’s “one at the top and one at the bottom to power the craft.” It creates a “gravimetric distortion” that tears a hole in space-time. He goes on to explain that what we typically think of as UFOs aren’t spaceships — they’re actually time machines that travel through space-time.

Like other con men and bullshit artists, these time travelers recognize the public’s need for proof. Some admit they can never convince us. Others try to explain how it works, or they attempt to convince viewers with questionable evidence, like blurry pictures of skyscrapers in the year 6000. (That video has five million views, by the way.) Then there are the ones who make predictions of events that will soon come true, such as President Trump will be elected to a second term. (This is a popular prediction among time travelers.) Conveniently, though, their proof of future events is never a prediction of what will happen next week, or later in the month. It’s always a matter of waiting a few years. And then, you’ll see.

You’ll all see!

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Other than the fact that these time travelers are never women or people of color, they all share one other thing in common: Their confession videos get posted to the same two YouTube channels ,  ApexTV and its sister channel Paranormal Elite. They’re both destinations for all things strange, bizarre, occult and/or paranormal.

Like with Bryant Johnson, they appeared on the cultural landscape out of nowhere toward the end of last year. More specifically, in August, ApexTV posted this video it received of a time traveler from 2028. It was a surprise hit, quickly racking up 650,000 views. As such, ApexTV followed it up with this video of a time traveler from 2030, which garnered another respectable 385,000 views. Next, there was this guy who claimed to be from 2100. (He clocked 554,000 views.) After that came a guy from 2032, but his confession only pulled in 187,000 views. Overall, each subsequent video seemed to generate less attention.

Until, that is, in October of last year, a time traveler came forward who claimed to be from 2250. Unlike the earlier time travelers, this bearded hoodie-clad hipster offered proof. His video interview became a big hit, topping 1.5 million views.

Soon after, a time traveler named Alexander Smith posted a video. He claimed to be from 2118. Smith’s confession video became a monster hit, amassing 7 million views.

What’s truly weird is how irretrievably wack Smith’s video looks. Like, it’s hopelessly fake. This young dude, wearing what looks like a rubber old man mask and the most ill-fitting suit you’ve ever seen, pretends to be an elderly time traveler who’s kept his secret since “the year 1981.” He creaks as he speaks like a dinner-theater actor doing a poor Mark Twain impression. He really leans into his wandering quasi-Southern gentleman accent whenever he mentions his time, “the year 1981.” It’s clearly fiction.

Nonetheless, it changed the trajectory of ApexTV. Gone are the mermaid, cryptozoology and alien autopsy videos. For the last four months, the channel has almost exclusively posted videos of time travelers coming back to warn us of impending doom. I do understand the appeal. With time travel, you can step outside the eternal stream of time. You can conquer physics. You can deal with loss and overcome death. In this way, these clickbait time-travel stories are a very American form of existentialism: We like to believe we can shape the future, and we need to know that everything will be okay.

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Noah is probably the most popular time-travel hero operating right now. His story has made the leap to legit news coverage. After ApexTV and Paranormal Elite posted their initial vid of him, they next conducted live interviews where viewers were able to submit questions. Noah did a handful of these Q&As. Next, to further prove he is indeed a time traveler, he submitted to a lie-detector test. The video was such a massive viral hit, Australian morning TV presenters invited Noah on their show to interview “the time traveler who passed a lie detector test.”

However, if you watch the video, the lie detector is never actually shown to be working. There’s an arm cuff on Noah’s bare bicep. The interviewers ask point-blank questions. Noah answers them. But rather than see the recording needle of the polygraph swerve wildly to indicate when he’s lying, the words “true” or “false” flash on the screen in green or red letters.

His narrative is also deliberately unreliable. Case in point: During one of his livestream videos, Noah disappeared without explanation. He was unable to be contacted for several days. He then reappeared in 2018. He sent an email to the guys from ApexTV claiming that he’d been time-abducted and taken back to 2030 for a brief interrogation. In the video update, the guys from ApexTV recommend you subscribe to their channel and turn on notifications to follow Noah’s story. To keep the hype going, they recently posted this video of Noah meeting his “future self.”

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Over time, the most famous internet legend of time travel, John Titor, has been debunked. The famed physicist Michio Kaku was asked to weighed-in, and he called bullshit. (Titor is widely believed to be a hoax conducted by a pair of brothers from Florida, Morey and Larry Haber.) The Titor legend still has defenders, though. They argue that he altered the chain of events; that’s why what he predicted didn’t happen. In effect, Titor created a time paradox. By telling us what would happen, he altered world events. And now, we can’t tell what he changed. Or not. Which also means he might not be able to get back to his own timeline.

In the end, no less an authority than recently deceased physicist Stephen Hawking attempted to settle the debate on time travelers once and for all. To do so, in 2009 he famously threw a party for them. But he only let people know about the event after it had occurred. Lo and behold, no one showed up. At least, no one has showed up yet. (Especially conspicuous by their absence are Titor and the stars of ApexTV.) As Hawking’s party hoped to make evident, either time travel is possible, which means it’s always existed — as soon as there are time travelers, they can go anywhere or any time they want — or, time travel is impossible and it never exists.

No matter the number of YouTube confessionals. Either way, we should expect more of them in the future––because time is a flat circle, and, apparently, a good hustle.