"We can't use standard political methods, I promise you," says John McAfee, antivirus software pioneer and seeker of the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, sitting next to me on a couch at the Phoenix Bar in Las Vegas, shortly after the Libertarian Party presidential debate there on Monday.
Then he adds: "I don't do things I can't win. I win, I promise you. I know that sounds insane. He doesn't believe it!" McAfee says of his running mate, Judd Weiss, sitting on the next couch. (Weiss made an early fortune in his 20s brokering commercial real estate deals, and now as an avocation has made himself the libertarian movement's semi-official glamour photographer)
Weiss had been telling me about the spirit behind a series of somewhat abstract, non-policy videos he'd been making to promote the McAfee/Weiss campaigns. Their purpose, Weiss says, is to make voting third party not something that made you strange or pointless, but a leader, a "hero, the idea was—be a hero, change the world, vote different. I'm trying to glorify," Weiss says, "not debating or arguing. That's also what I do with my photos [of libertarians and libertarian world events]."
"We should give up and go home if we're conventional," Weiss says.
McAfee hearkens back to one of his comments in the debate. "I'm not joking about running naked in the streets with signs. I will do that shit. I have the ability to sound sane in a suit right after that." Such moves "soften them to listen to what you're saying, that's all it is."
McAfee perhaps sees doubt in my eyes.
"Don't discount us!" He says sharply. "I'm not doing this to make a fucking statement. I do not have the time! How old are you?"
"I'm 70! You can do anything you want to waste time. I can't. I'm doing this to change the country that I love as much as I love myself. So you can believe it. I don't give a shit or not whether you believe it! It's whether I live it. And I live it, I have lived it my entire life."
McAfee gets reflective. "It suddenly became clear to me [last September]: I could become president. Do I want that? Not really. Would it help me? I don't know. Will it help the country I love? Yes, and here we are. People ask, 'How are you gonna do that?' and I don't have a fucking clue. I just know I will."
He goes on to tell the story of how he was slammed by Gizmodo for lying about having his people crack WhatsApp's encryption, and how the resulting bad press made the board of directors of a company he'd just been named CEO of, MGT Capital Investments, pressure him to recant.
He refused, and despite this the stock price kept going up. Why? All the bad press, he insists, made people start reading more about this crazy man and his company and decide "I don't know if he's crazy or not, but he will make money, we'd better bet on him."
"I must have gotten 100 Twitter messages telling me 'I'm going to abandon your stock after reading Gizmodo but then I spent 12 hours researching you and threw another million into your stock.' That's why the stock went up."
When a crisis is erupting around you in public, he explains, you do not want to quickly put the fire out; you let it blaze until "every newspaper on earth has called me a liar. Then you have power! Then you can say, you are all fucking watching, aren't you? Let me tell you what the truth is….I have learned one thing in life: there is no such thing as bad press. There is not. That's a fundamental truth. The more bad things said about you the more power they give to you. If you own whatever truth there is. Sometimes there's nothing but truth, and sometimes there's nothing but lies." But the end of that story, to McAfee, is the stock rise of MGT Capital Investments immediately thereafter. (Yesterday it took a big tumble.)
The lesson we should learn? "I can sure as fuck make money and I can sure as fuck win this election. I'm not trying to convince you. In six months you'll be saying, 'I had no clue,' I promise you."
He looks at Weiss again. "You don't believe it, but give yourself some time. He's more conservative than me."
Weiss concurs. "I would love it, but I don't believe it. I share his vision but I don't necessarily believe in the White House [as a sure thing]."
"The beauty of knowing yourself," McAfee avers, "is nobody else has to."
Weiss goes on to explain part of the plan to get into the debates if McAfee wins the nomination is to "make him such a figurehead of media and such a part of pop culture that the public will not watch a debate without John McAfee. I believe a rock star like him is capable of pulling it off. And Gary Johnson…."
Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and apparent frontrunner for the L.P. nomination, has made it plain he thinks the L.P. won't succeed if he can't get in the debate.
"The problem with Gary Johnson," Weiss continues, "it's not about baking Nazi cakes, the problem is he's boring as fuck, super awkward and no one is excited about him, not even his own supporters." Weiss stresses he loved and supported Johnson in 2012, hosted two fundraisers for him in his Bel Air home at great expense, though he was embarrassed by the "Gary Gets It" slogan.
McAfee interjects: "I have no problem with Gary Johnson on any political issue…."
"I'd be happy to live in Garyland," Weiss adds.
"Here's the problem," McAfee offers. "America does not want an exemplary character. They don't. We know this for a fact. They want someone over the top. Someone who has real balls and real experience. Donald Trump has experience only up here, all right, sitting in an executive's chair. I have real fucking experience and real experience including bullets flying over your head teaches you more than any doctoral degree or political experience."
"The beauty of insanity," McAfee continues, "is that they don't have to like you. They will come and listen to you. I have more trolls than supporters on all my sites, all it does is creates a character. Every last word said about me…"
Weiss explains: "Outrage isn't a problem for Bernie, or for Trump. Apathy is the problem. If Bernie had played it safe, he'd be nowhere. If Trump had played it safe, nowhere. If we play it safe we might as well go home. We are going to do things that are not OK. I mean, OK by libertarian standards, but we hope to create enough outrage to generate real protests…."
McAfee leans over me to touch Weiss. "By the way, to be very honest, my biggest problem is Judd as vice president. I'm gonna have to polish your ass. Right now I follow your orders, but after this nomination you have to follow mine. I'm gonna polish your ass a little bit, OK?"
Weiss doesn't seem at all offended. "Will McAfee turn off certain people? Sure. We're not going after midwestern housewives. We're trying to create something more exciting." He thinks that the arty end of Bernie fans—not the hard-left economics types but the artists, the festival scene—might find McAfee an appealing option. McAfee says all the millennials he meets consider him a fount of strange wisdom. Weiss assures me that like everything he's done, he will run this campaign "to the edge of my abilities" and try to take the liberty movement as far as it can go.
"After I announced my candidacy," McAfee says, "and Gary stepped in, I thought: 'What alternate universe are you from, Gary? You have no idea. You clearly didn't research me.' Because, I even consider Darryl Perry [a hardcore anarchist seeking the L.P. nomination, who refuses to file papers with the Federal Elections Commission or take donations in anything but hard money or altcoins], I consider him a viable opponent because the fucker is smart as hell and has this presence and charisma while debating, and that shit's important! He just needs to be crazier, Darryl.
"But Johnson? I mean, I google Johnson, and what did I miss? What did I miss about Johnson that he has any concept that he can beat me? What did I miss?"