Explaining John McAfee to someone who doesn’t know anything about John McAfee is going to be very difficult because at a certain point you’ll be describing John McAfee and his John McAfee exploits and the person will accuse you of making this all up. This is not a story to tell children at night to scare them into doing the right thing. This is real. John McAfee is real.
Born in England but raised in America, McAfee founded his own software company in the late 80s. Computer viruses were a somewhat new phenomenon and McAfee, who had worked for some of the most prestigious computing companies in the country, was intrigued to see if there was a way he could protect systems from these novel viruses. The answer was: yes, mostly. The company went public in the 1990s and he sold all his stock a few years later.
McAfee then tried some other ventures. He was a multimillionaire, worth around $100 million, and he funneled that money into instant messaging and anything else that was all the rage around that time. McAfee seemed to have the not uncommon view that his success so far was because he was a brilliant businessman and not good at one particular thing – in his case, antivirus – and a lot of his ventures in the late 90s and early 2000s flopped. In 2009, the New York Times reported that McAfee’s net worth had fallen to around $4 million and that he was selling off his U.S. properties. It is around this time that he heads to Belize.
In 2012, authorities in Belize raided McAfee’s property in Belize on suspicion of drug charges. A few months later, McAfee’s neighbor, Gregory Faull, was found dead, and authorities identified McAfee as a person of interest. He fled the country to Guatemala, where he attempted to claim asylum and claimed Belize officials were persecuting him. Instead, he was arrested for entering the country illegally.
But let’s backtrack.
After auctioning off his private airport in New Mexico, McAfee decided he didn’t want to live the life of a rich tech millionaire in America anymore. There are allegedly lofty reasons for this, like his desire to build something for himself and a dream of a pastoral life in paradise, but in reality it was motivated by money: McAfee’s remaining $4 million would go a lot further in a less developed country. It also would be harder to money-hungry Americans to file frivolous lawsuits against him. It would also be harder to file genuine lawsuits against him.
McAfee picked Belize for a couple of reasons, but the biggest is that, as a former British colony, Belize is an English-speaking nation. He started a couple of businesses in Belize, too, with less capital than he had spent in the United States. These were more modest enterprises, like a cigar manufacturing concern. He also invested in a pharmaceutical laboratory.
His neighbor, Faull, reportedly didn’t like McAfee’s dogs. In November 2012, Faull filed a complaint with the Mayor of San Pedro, a town near where the men lived. Not long after, McAfee’s dogs are poisoned and, by the end of that week, Faull is found dead.
McAfee’s view is that the Belize government killed Faull on accident because they thought they were killing him. When they discovered their mistake, they tried to pin his murder on McAfee instead. The Belize government, on the other hand, believes McAfee killed Faull. Either way, the consequences of moving to a country with a less stable government had become clear to McAfee, and he fled. He is eventually deported to the United States.
“McAfee picks a bullet off the floor and fixes me with a wide-eyed, manic intensity. “This is a bullet, right?” he says in the congenial Southern accent that has stuck with him since his boyhood in Virginia.”Joshua Davis, writing for Wired in December 2012
It’s clear by this point to American tech observers that McAfee’s operating in a different plane from the rest of us. He’s sued in a U.S. court for the death of Gregory Faull and tries to get the thing dismissed, but instead he’s ordered to pay $25 million over Faull’s death. McAfee, though, says he has no assets with which to make the payments. The Faull family disagrees, and hints that it doesn’t believe his net worth really went as low as McAfee claims.
Then he ran for president.
So McAfee begins living on a boat in 2019 in international waters because the U.S. wants to arrest him for reasons. This sounds maybe insane but it turns out that, yes, the U.S. does want to arrest him: he has allegedly evaded taxes for years. During this time, McAfee is seeking the Libertarian nomination for president. He ultimately drops out of the primary to endorse Vermin Supreme but then gets back in because none of the Libertarian candidates love him enough. No, really.
McAfee actually did pretty okay in the Libertarian primaries, but – as we now know – Jo Jorgensen would eventually win the nomination. This might be because McAfee was possibly too lassiez-faire, writing on his campaign website, “So do not ask me about immigration, foreign relations, education etc. I have no idea. Those claiming that they do are lying to themselves, or if not, they are purposely lying to you.”
Anyway, McAfee got off his boat a couple times, notably in August 2020 when he claimed to have attempted to enter Norway using a thong as a face mask. After the story was circulated in the press, McAfee revealed that it was all a hoax designed to catch the media, for some reason. Then, in October, he got off the boat in Spain. This was a mistake.
Spanish authorities took McAfee into custody, something he is by now somewhat familiar with. Did McAfee know why? It isn’t clear. He’s been arrested across Europe for various reasons, and he might not have suspected this was worse than normal. But he quickly learned: he had been arrested in Spain on the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, which wanted him extradited to stand trial for tax evasion (McAfee has confirmed that he evaded U.S. taxes because “taxation is illegal,” which, it should be noted here, it is not).
It turns out that McAfee has been pretty active in cryptocurrency over the years and, the U.S. alleges, he’s made $23 million. You’ll remember that he was ordered to pay slightly more than that, $25 million, for the death of Greg Faull and that he protested that he was totally broke. Oops.
John McAfee faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted – and he probably doesn’t want to be convicted. Take your bets on what happens next:
- daring escape from Spanish custody
- McAfee defends himself in court citing the legal precedent of I Don’t Wanna v. You Can’t Make Me
- the “Church of Insufferable Twitter Trolls” is declared and declares McAfee the pope, therefore immune from prosecution, maybe
- McAfee reveals he doesn’t, in fact, have any money, because he spent it all on cocaine. You can’t fault a man for spending his money on cocaine.
Political scientist and layabout, editor at Pyramid, maybe an author someday? Of like a real book? No need to rush it, though.