When cybersecurity mogul John McAfee tried to run for the White House in 2016, he invoked Steve Jobs’ Silicon Valley slogan in his campaign video, celebrating the non-compliance: round pegs in square holes.”
McAfee, who was found dead in a Spanish prison cell Wednesday as a result of what appears to be a suicide, fits both of those descriptions — and more.
In his 75 years, the antivirus pioneer that bears his name built and lost a fortune, recast himself as a liberal politician and then as a crypto hype man – all while iterating with the law.
His death came hours after Spain’s Supreme Court approved an extradition request from the United States, where he faces tax evasion charges. McAfee has been in prison in Barcelona since October, when he was arrested at the request of the United States after fleeing America on his yacht, at the conclusion of several high-profile flights from power.
For many, McAfee’s nomadic life has descended into paranoia, violence, and grumbling. He had recently been accused of fraud for his involvement in cryptocurrency dumping schemes, and authorities linked him to the 2012 murder of a neighbor. His rants on Twitter and YouTube have become increasingly inconsistent.
But to the friends and fans to whom he directed his campaign video, he was an anti-establishment hero — his concerns about government surveillance and technology-enabled financial institutions reflected the growing distrust of the authorities today.
“I have always dreamed of building an alternative Internet that does not have all the flaws and problems of the current Internet,” said Kim Dotcom, an Internet entrepreneur and friend accused of masterminding one of the biggest copyright violations in history.
In McAfee’s own words, in his Twitter bio, he was a “warrior of icons” and “a lover of women, adventure and mystery.”
McAfee was born in 1945 on a military base in the United Kingdom to an English mother and an American soldier who was stationed there. Educated in mathematics, McAfee quickly learned to master computing during his tenures at NASA, Xerox, and Lockheed Martin in the 1970s and 1980s.
He made his name with his antivirus software, which has become ubiquitous as computer viruses become an increasingly prevalent security threat. In 1994, he resigned as CEO, and sold his stake in McAfee for $100 million, a fortune he lost during the financial crisis.
“Although John McAfee founded the company, he has not been associated with our company in any capacity for more than 25 years,” said McAfee, which listed on public markets late last year. “However, our thoughts go to his family and those close to him.”
Outside the corporate world, the millionaire showed a penchant for risk. A decade after leaving McAfee, he pioneered a sport called “aerotrekking,” which involved flying lightweight aircraft at high speeds over an airstrip in the desert. When tragedy struck in 2007, and a client of his aviation project died in an accident at his property in New Mexico, he quickly moved to Belize.
There, he took up residence in the “Party Palace” and embarked on a playboy lifestyle of drugs, guns, and girlfriends. This also didn’t last: In 2012, his neighbor, US citizen Gregory Foll, was killed by a gunshot to the head and McAfee was named a “person of interest” in the case. Denying any involvement, he fled to neighboring Guatemala, where he was later arrested and deported to the United States. No charges have been brought against him in connection with the murder.
An unapologetic libertarian is said to be led to In press interviews using a loaded pistol in each hand to feel “comfortable,” McAfee also embarked on a fictional political career. He first announced a bid for the White House in 2015 with his newly formed party, the Cyber Party, before later seeking — unsuccessfully — the Hizb ut-Tahrir nomination in the 2016 race.
“His main motto in life was freedom,” said Zoltan Istvan, founder of the Transhumanist Party, who met McAfee on the campaign trail in 2015.
“He knew he was eccentric,” Estefan added of his public persona. “He liked to be a rebel and he liked the attention…but when I sat down to dinner and he wasn’t there [journalists] There to cover it up, it’s just a really good conversation with an incredibly smart guy.”
McAfee told Spanish courts last week that his entry into politics came because he exposed corruption in the US tax system, and “considered that only through political action could the tax authorities get rid of [this]”.
And his deep distrust of state oversight and financial institutions drove him into the free realm of cryptocurrencies. He quickly became one of the first and most vocal proponents of virtual currencies, vowing in 2017 that he would eat his penis “on national television” if bitcoin did not reach $500,000 by mid-2020.
His tendency to talk about cryptocurrency projects on Twitter has also caught the attention of regulators. In March, US federal prosecutors charged him with fraud. according to ComplaintMcAfee chose some small cryptocurrencies – including dogecoin – to promote on the social media platform as “the currency of the day” or “the currency of the week” in early 2018, buying them in advance and cashing in as soon as the market rose based on his recommendations.
The regulators said McAfee and others also earned $11 million by promoting several ICOs on Twitter, while failing to publicly disclose that they were being paid for promotional work.
In what would have been his last trip, McAfee fled the United States in 2019 on his yacht after a jury indicted him for concealing millions of dollars in taxable income between 2016 and 2018. Cryptocurrency and the rights to his life story were sold, hidden by characters front end.
Although he was eventually arrested in Spain in October 2020, he did not give up the fight. In a Spanish Supreme Court hearing last week, he claimed that the US tax fee was “politically motivated”, because he used his political platform to “denounce the corruption” of the US Internal Revenue Service.
But the court rejected his arguments and on Wednesday morning granted a US extradition request, McAfee faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
He is survived by his wife Janice, a former sex worker who campaigned for his release under the “Free McAfee” slogan.
Even in death, McAfee was great at sparking a media frenzy. For months, he had been a legend of a possible departure from the world at the hands of the authorities. In one tweet in October, he wrote: “I know if I hang myself . . . it won’t be my fault.”
Around the time of his death on Wednesday, a post appeared on his Instagram that simply showed the letter “Q” – an apparent reference to the conspiracy cult QAnon, sparking a flurry of conspiracies of its own.
“All power corrupts,” he wrote in his last Twitter message on Friday. “Take care of the powers that you allow democracy to exercise.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Madrid and Richard Waters in San Francisco