John McAfee wanted to be free, and he wanted you to be free. Facing the reality that the U.S. government was not likely going to let him breathe another free breath, the 75-year-old software entrepreneur and 2016 Libertarian Party presidential hopeful was found dead via hanging in a Spanish jail on Wednesday just hours after news had broke that he was finally being extradited to face tax charges back home.
McAfee, who had been locked up in Spain for eight months, had long admitted that he had not paid income taxes in many years and never intended to.
Most famous for founding the antivirus software company bearing his own name, McAfee stopped working there in 1994, and over the past few years had became a colorful promoter of cryptocurrency, famously vowing to eat his own dick if Bitcoin didn't break $1 million in 2020.
In between those ventures his life was a living men's magazine profile, with one Wired feature already optioned for a long-discussed feature film. He was known for cavorting with wild women, waving around guns, manufacturing drugs, filming sloppy cocktail videos on his boat, discussing the finer points of fornicating with whales, and generally being the loud archetype of the untamable male id.
A trickster, McAfee wanted us all to know years ago that if in the future he seemed to have killed himself, he most certainly did not, posting an image of himself in 2019 with a tattoo reading "whack'd." A couple of weeks into his Spanish incarceration, he tweeted that "I am content in here. I have friends. The food is good. All is well. Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine."
His Twitter feed from prison contained some of his usual musings on high-level math anomalies, data security, software designers as spies, hackers' invincibility, and mordant prison wisdom such as "Today a man facing a difficult situation asked if I knew of painless ways to kill himself. Having little experience in such, I was of not much help. The amazing thing is that the tone of the discussion was like discussing the weather. Prison is a strange environment."
A week ago he tweeted, and pinned, that "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."
Having had the pleasure of many, many hours in McAfee's company—all reporter/subject stuff, though he relished that dynamic—I can tell you that John McAfee was a trip, and loved a life of interacting, mindfucking, communicating, and miscommunicating, striving to both be understood and to twist your understanding to his momentary whims.
One of the first things he told me when we met for a story on his 2016 campaign was "Don't care about me, please. Commune with me. Dance with me. Laugh with me. But for God's sake, if you care about me, keep the fuck out of my life."
When he launched a more haphazard 2020 Libertarian run in exile, on the run from an indictment he knew was coming, he told me, "Aren't we supposed to be standing up and risking things, putting ourselves on the fucking line" for freedom? "Well I'm doing it. Please, God, give me credit for that."
Our last conversation, as I recall, was in June 2019 from Cuba during his months as an international fugitive prior to his Spanish capture in October 2020. He had been enjoying his time in Cuba and delighted in outraging the sensibilities of Libertarians appalled by his partying in a totalitarian state. To John McAfee, the world was a totalitarian state, just not one powerful enough to stop him from partying in it.
If speculations abound as to whether his suicide was real, that is exactly as he would have wanted it. McAfee was a man of appetites, a man of dreams, a rogue and a scoundrel who made his mark on the world because of his flaws and not despite them. He would simultaneously chase windmills and laugh at those who think they'd ever catch one.
"Libertarians are not going to get elected this year, maybe forever, and if we pretend we are we are fools in the eyes of those whose support we are trying to get," he told me in 2019. "Questions like, 'What are you going to do your first day in office?'" he said. "It makes me vomit. Serious people are watching us here. Please, God, get real with yourself."
Still, he'd also tell you, with burning sincerity before coming in third for the 2016 nomination: "Let's win. Of course the nomination will be the simplest way. I'm old. I tire easily. But I'm not gonna stop. I'm not going to give in to frustration and fear. I will not let this [current system of government oppression] go on to my children, on the backs of my blood. I will not do that. I'm not giving up."
McAfee was electric, jolting those around him to a more vibrant, if more confusing and confused, life. His persona, both public and private, made the world seem more exotic, mysterious, perplexing; he told you to his face how much he lied; he warned you being near him could lead you to being shot or abducted; he told you he was about to win when he was about to lose; and he also told you he knew he was going to get an indictment out of Tennessee, and he turned out to be right about that.
McAfee was accused of many crimes more grave than not paying the U.S. government off for the sin of earning money, including allegedly murdering a neighbor in Belize (which he denied, blaming Belize's corrupt government for the accusations). But that this force of nature spent his last days locked up is no sort of justice for the crimes the U.S. government sought to make him die in prison for.
John McAfee's very last tweet, his last coherent message to the world, five days ago, was a characteristic warning about the dangers of state power: "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."