A Media-Savvy Tech Pioneer with a Troubled Past: John McAfee Dies Aged 75
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A Media-Savvy Tech Pioneer with a Troubled Past: John McAfee Dies Aged 75

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The pioneering cybersecurity expert, crypto advocate and long-term fugitive reportedly killed himself hours after a court ordered his extradition to the U.S.

A Media-Savvy Tech Pioneer with a Troubled Past: John McAfee Dies Aged 75

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Cybersecurity software pioneer, cryptocurrency advocate, and alleged tax evader John David McAfee is dead at 75 of an apparent suicide in a Spanish jail cell.

Media savvy, outrageous, and frequently outraged, McAfee was widely acknowledged to be a technology genius, having essentially created the antivirus industry in 1987 after coming up with a way to block the first-known computer virus, Pakistani Brain, which wiped hard drives. 

That grew into McAfee Associates, which dominated the antivirus industry, controlling nearly three-quarters of the desktop antivirus market by the early 90s, as well as the business of half of the Fortune 100 firms. He sold the firm in 1994 for a reported $100 million.

With one million followers of his @OfficialMcAfee Twitter account, McAfee had been a very high-profile and profane fugitive for the better part of a decade, espousing conspiracy theories and libertarian ideals, even running a tongue-in-cheek campaign for the U.S. presidency in 2020 — with the novel motto “Don’t Vote McAfee” — while on the lam. He had made a more serious attempt to win the Libertarian Party’s nomination in 2016.

The libertarian philosophy made him a strong cryptocurrency supporter, and he gave frequent interviews in support of Bitcoin and other privacy coins. He also created his own privacy-focused cryptocurrency, the “McAfee Freedom Coin,” two years ago.

As a Bitcoin proponent, McAfee was most notable for his predictions that Bitcoin was going to “moon” in July 2017. He tweeted out a promise to “eat my d*** on national television” if Bitcoin did not reach $500,000 within three years. A few months later he doubled down, predicting that Bitcoin would hit $1 million by the end of 2020, adding, “I will still eat my d*** if wrong.” 

He reneged on those promises. 

I Fought The Law... 

A larger-than-life personality, McAfee cultivated and reveled in an outlaw image, frequently posing with automatic weapons and claiming that the U.S. government had drummed up the criminal charges “to shut me up.” 

McAfee was facing five counts of income tax evasion, alleging that he failed to pay taxes on millions of dollars he earned between 2014 and 2018. 

According to an Oct. 5, 2020 release by the U.S. Department of Justice, McAfee “earned millions in income from promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements, and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary. From 2014 to 2018, McAfee allegedly failed to file tax returns, despite receiving considerable income from these sources.”

The indictment accused him of receiving payments in both bank and cryptocurrency exchange accounts in other people’s names, and that he attempted to conceal assets including his yacht.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against McAfee the same day, accusing him of making “more than $23.1 million in undisclosed compensation by recommending at least seven ‘initial coin offerings’ or ICOs to his Twitter followers.”

It added that “McAfee’s recommendations were materially false and misleading for several reasons,” including failing to disclose that he was being paid, falsely claiming to have been an investor and/or technical adviser to the projects, and advising investors to buy coins while secretly selling his own.

McAfee was no stranger to criminal charges, claiming to have been arrested 21 times in 11 countries before his arrest in Spain on Oct. 5, 2020. The most recent had been a short stint in a jail cell in the Dominican Republic on weapons charges. That came as a result of making port shortly after a July 19, 2019 tweet that pictured himself with an assault rifle and his wife Janice holding a shotgun, claiming that the CIA had attempted to “collect us.”

McAfee had faced far more serious charges, notably fleeing Belize in 2012 after the police there declared him a “person of interest” in the murder of a neighbor, as well as accusing him of drug trafficking.

Conspiracies Everywhere

McAfee, who was called paranoid by authorities in Belize — and “bonkers” by the country’s prime minister — was given to conspiracy theories ranging from the CIA killing President John F. Kennedy to the accusation that the criminal charges against him were drummed up “to shut me up.” His wife had even told one crypto journalist that he had gone underground at one point after the CIA had assassinated one of his body doubles in Asia.

As a conspiracy theorist, the report of McAfee’s death by suicide while awaiting trial in prison naturally called to mind a 2019 tweet he made after another death in similar circumstances: The reported suicide of convicted sex offender, prominent socialite, and financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was facing new charges for sex trafficking of underage girls that threatened to enmesh his many wealthy and high-profile friends.

McAfee wrote: “I was stunned by Epstein’s suicide, though probably not as much as Epstein himself.” 
The notion that McAfee’s death was actually a murder was taken up within hours by the far-right conspiracy theorist QAnon movement.

But much of the core of his ideas stemmed from a deep-seated libertarianism, and he frequently intermingled his off-the-wall pronouncements with serious and heartfelt sentiment. 

His last tweet, at 12 p.m. EST on June 18, was in that latter vein: “In a democracy, power is given not taken. But it is still power. Love, compassion, caring have no use for it. But it is fuel for greed, hostility, jealousy... All power corrupts. Take care which powers you allow a democracy to wield.”

McAfee, who was arrested in a Barcelona airport, had also claimed that he was broke after years of living on his yacht in the Caribbean to avoid the authorities. 

His Twitter feed was topped by a pinned tweet from June 16:
“The US believes I have hidden crypto. I wish I did but it has dissolved through the many hands of Team McAfee (your belief is not required), and my remaining assets are all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing.”
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