John McAfee is the 70-year-old founder of the antivirus software firm that bears his name (though he has not been actively involved with it since 1994, and the company was bought by Intel in 2010). He's also a colorful world adventurer who has been candid about his extreme exploits in everything from drug use (and sales) to private home antibiotic-tech experimentation.
He is also seeking the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party (L.P.), he announced last week via an exclusive story in USA Today. (His edgy life in Belize, which ended when he fled the country under suspicion that he was involved in the shooting death of a neighbor, was chronicled in vivid detail in an epic 2012 Wired magazine profile.)
While McAfee had been planning since September to launch a presidential run under the rubric of a new "Cyber Party," McAfee says in a phone interview this morning that he changed his mind when he realized getting meaningful ballot access from a standing start like that for a third party is effectively impossible (which is just as the major party forces who write and enforce ballot access laws intend it).
Since McAfee thinks his ideas about government largely match that of the Libertarian Party, and since that party has since its 1972 debut on the national presidential stage managed to win ballot access in the vast majority of states, he decided he'd be better off seeking its nomination. Some Libertarian Party officials had already reached out to him to discuss the possibilities that he might have something to offer the L.P., and the L.P. something to offer him.
McAfee says that he abruptly decided last week, without consulting with his former Cyber Party brethren, to go to USA Today with the scoop that he intends to run as a Libertarian when he knew the fresh party route was a no-go.
McAfee says that running for president is "not something I really want to do, I think I see it as an obligation" to do what he can to straighten out "a country in crisis. I'm 70 years old, I've seen a lot and lived through America's golden age under Dwight Eisenhower—who was not necessarily a good president but the last one that did not want to be president. He had been a general, in an army controlling nukes and battleships. Why did he want to sit in the Oval Office? It was an act of service. I truly believe this country needs" a candidate like him.
When I ask if he always considered his politics libertarian, McAfee corrects me: politics is "procedure and actions required to gain power and hold power in government, and I want to be divorced from that term." But he says his personal beliefs "align 100 percent with the Libertarian Party. Government is too large, welfare is an insidious drain on the soul, on society, and personal freedom is the one thing that keeps us whole as human beings…my view of the world was libertarian before the word" was even in wide use.
But he stresses things he thinks the government must do well that it's not doing well now, such as preparing for the "cyberwarfare" that he knows is coming. That war "is going to be far more devastating than anything in our imagination." For a man who made his fortune in antivirus work, "it's what I know best, and I know for a fact" that cyberwar looms.
While McAfee's fortune was reported to have maxed out as high as $100 million, most of it is gone. He is not, he says, in a position to independently fund his campaign but "I have smart people who I think will solve" any fundraising problems.
He is well aware of the double-edged sword of his fame/notoriety; when I start to say something about his fame and its possible effect on his candidacy, he quickly interjects "the good or bad part"?
But because of his background and character, "it's no secret I have no trouble getting press." He says he will appear on Steve Colbert's show around January 5th, and that "I have access to people" in media that no other L.P. hopeful does.
His campaign website takes on his weird reputation and checkered history directly:
I am called "not serious", yet I know of no-one who has lived a more serious life. I have run a multi-billion dollar company, having to make decisions based on cash availability and the existence of real competitors while my government lived in a fantasy world and printed money when they had none to spend. I lived in a Third World Banana Republic, was tortured and had to watch my dog shot in front of my eyes by a soldier trained by the FBI at Quantico using an Ar-15 supplied by the US Government. I hid in the jungles of Central America for weeks while being chased by an army representing a government that I had refused to be extorted by. Please…. tell me what is not serious about this.
His major issues stress more of what you might call the "nice" sides of libertarianism. You know, the aspects calling for government to stop doing things that most decent people consider crummy, from drug laws to non-defensive foreign interventions to TSA busybodyism to immigration laws to FDA regs that keep life-saving medicines from people's hands to privacy-violating surveillance. These are the parts that at least theoretically have some hope of creating possible coalitions with parts of the American left.
Many libertarians in social networking and website comment threads seem excited by the idea of a character of this much inherent media charisma and interest (even his DUI and weapon arrests, as in Tennessee in August, make national news) hooking up with their party. Some are unconvinced the vibrant outsider is a true-blue Libertarian, pointing to parts of McAfee's current platform that don't match the general Libertarian vision of shrinking government across the board and restricting it to core functions of defense and adjudication, if anything.
McAfee on his website issues page discusses policies that imply expanding government spending, such as, under "education," that "in the case of higher-education, we will work to make education attainable for everyone, regardless of income level or family income level. What's more, the rampant student loan debt must be checked."
His "economy" plank also seems unlibertarian when it hypes:
a large-scale public works program. This will focus on a few key areas. Initially, these public works will focus on physical infrastructure: the construction and repair of roads, bridges, highways, airports, etc. These initiatives will be pursued through two different avenues. One, we will fund and staff these initiatives through various federal programs. Second, we will offer states, counties, and cities funds to manage the programs on their own. This initial infrastructure push will provide a, relatively, quick way to stem unemployment.
Further down the road, we plan to introduce an IT infrastructure development program. In short, we will make a large amount of funds available to cities and townships to prompt wholesale implementation of smart grid energy programs.
As we have stated many times over, we see access to broadband as a fundamental human right.
McAfee is also a vocal supporter of "net neutrality" which most libertarian see as unwarranted government interference in the market's functioning.
McAfee says that he understands these positions might not match Libertarian orthodoxy, but that "we have to be practical in life." He tells me that, say, calling for cutting or eliminating Social Security will go nowhere because "a huge voting bloc" is dependent on it, not to mention "if you say you remove it, the people getting checks won't vote for you and neither will their children and grandchildren" who don't want to be responsible for them again.
He frames the public works program idea in our interview in terms of a solution to unemployment payouts and the welfare state, that giving people useful state jobs is both a better idea and more politically sellable than policies that could be perceived as "throwing people in the street to starve." He thinks the way Libertarians have sold their positions in the past "scares people, and you can't get more than one percent of the vote"—if you don't offer solutions along the lines of public works government hiring, then no version of the Libertarian vision can succeed electorally "and you might as well go home."
Doug Craig is an at-large member of the Libertarian National Committee based in Atlanta who was quoted in the USA Today story for having discussed the L.P. with McAfee. Craig said in a phone interview this morning that while he would likely support the L.P's 2012 candidate Gary Johnson over McAfee, if Johnson ultimately runs again, he thinks McAfee's presence is a good thing in that it will "make it interesting, make our candidates work a little harder."
Craig thinks McAfee may end up more libertarian than he started after all the necessary communication with state and local L.P. folk in the quest for the nomination. (L.P. presidential candidates are selected by a majority vote of delegates at their national convention, which will be in late May in Orlando.) Craig especially hopes that software pioneer can be made to grasp the intellectual fruitfulness of the Party's non-aggression pledge.
Craig tells me he hopes the nascent McAfee campaign ramps up its availability and communication with other party members. Since his name appeared in the USA Today article L.P. folks are "reaching out to me about how to get in touch with him" and he's been passing on emails that he says have not yet resulted in McAfee getting back to Libertarians who want to communicate with him. "He's gotta be easier to get ahold of" for Libertarians if he intends to win over enough of them to win a majority delegate vote in Orlando, Craig thinks.
According to McAfee, Brett Pojunis, chair of the Nevada state L.P. (who is pictured on McAfee's Facebook page today posing with the software pioneer) told McAfee that he was going to abandon his planned support of Johnson for McAfee. (Pojunis had not responded to an emailed request for comment as of time of posting.)
McAfee told me of other meetings planned in the near future with state-level L.P. officials. "This is how I do it [win the nomination]: sit down with people and show who I am. I've seen a lot in 70 years. I've not been sitting on my ass. I've been busy creating and observing and I know what to do. In a couple hours I can convince" people to vote for his nomination, and then his candidacy.
Mike Lorrey, a libertarian activist from New Hampshire, told me today he is contemplating being McAfee's campaign manager in his state, after beginning a dialog with McAfee though his Facebook page. So McAfee is doing at least some outreach and dialog with existing Libertarians.
The Libertarian Party controls one of the highest-value objects in national politics, available for likely the lowest cost: winning the votes of a majority of the delegates the various state L.P.'s send to the national convention (which will be held in Orlando in May 2016), with that majority potentially numbering fewer than 500 people, wins you ballot access for president nearly everywhere, without having to compete in lots of expensive state level campaigning for mass popular votes. It's actually somewhat surprising how few people of public prominence ever really try it.
J.D. Tuccille wrote for Reason about one overkill military-style assault "law enforcement" raid the Belize cops made on McAfee's home there in 2012.
McAfee was telling USA Today earlier this year that he still fears Belize's government might try to nab him, ostensibly for their belief he might be implicated in the death of his former neighbor, Gregory Faull, in 2012. But according to what McAfee said to USA Today, their interest in him is actually because he has "a great deal of information that implicates the government in very heinous crimes and gross corruption."
This 2013 USA Today interview relates some of his colorful international adventures after leaving Belize, in which he seemed to consider himself more or less on the lam from sinister forces out to harm him, and tells of many book and movie projects involving his colorful life story in the works. In that story Belize's government says that while McAfee remains a "person of interest" in Faull's murder, they do not consider him a "suspect" per se and have no intention of trying to extradite him, though they'd be interested in talking to him if he returned to Belize.