It's hard to feel bad for someone whose doomsday predictions caused so much anxiety, but 89-year-old Harold Camping's recent admission that he's "flabbergasted" the world didn't end last weekend sounds somewhat pitiful.
"It has been a really tough weekend," Camping said Sunday, after emerging from his Alameda, California home for the first time to talk to a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm looking for answers ... But now I have nothing else to say," he said, adding that he would make a full statement today.
Camping's PR aide, Tom Evans, told the L.A. Times that the group is "disappointed" that 200 million true believers weren't lifted up to heaven on Saturday while everyone else suffered and eventually died as a series of earthquakes and famine destroyed the Earth. "You can imagine we're pretty disappointed, but the word of God is still true," Evans said. "We obviously went too far, and that's something we need to learn from." The group posted 2,000 billboards around the country warning of the rapture, while Camping--an uncertified fundamentalist minister--spread the word on his radio show.
Camping's Family Radio, which airs on 66 U.S. stations, has apparently rebranded itself quickly. Business Insider notes that the station's website has scrubbed all mentions of the Judgment Day. The site previously featured a countdown clock to the May 21 rapture on its homepage.
But the false prediction might not be so easily effaced from the lives of Camping's followers. The L.A. Times writes that Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor trailer driver, took a road trip with his family to see the Grand Canyon before the world ended.
"With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief," the paper writes.
But Bauer is not angry at Camping for his false prediction. "Worst-case scenario for me, I got to see the country," he told the paper. "If I should be angry at anybody, it should be me."
Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent $140,000 of his life savings to advertise the rapture in New York, said he was dumbfounded when life went on as usual Saturday.
"I do not understand why ...," he told Reuters while awaiting the event in Times Square. "I do not understand why nothing has happened."
An NPR reporter talked to two Camping followers on Sunday. "One man, his voice quavering, said he was still holding out hope that they were one day off. Another believer asserted that their prayers worked: God delayed judgment so that more people could be saved, but the end is 'imminent,'" she reported.
Evans, Camping's PR aide, told NPR he hopes Family Radio will reimburse followers who spent their savings in anticipation of the rapture, but that he can't guarantee it.
Protesters gathered outside Camping's radio headquarters to mock the false prophecy over the weekend. Some of them set aloft a toy cow with balloons to lampoon the idea that a select elite would ascend to heaven. Meanwhile, other religious groups tried to recruit disappointed Camping followers.
Here's video of Camping refusing to comment on his false prophecy:
CORRECTION: This article originally misstated the number of believers Camping predicted would ascend to heaven.