John David McAfee (/ˈmækəfiː/MAK-ə-fee; 18 September 1945 – 23 June 2021) was a British-American computer programmer, businessman, and two-time presidential candidate who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian Party nomination for president of the United States in 2016 and 2020. In 1987, he wrote the first commercial anti-virus software, founding McAfee Associates to sell his creation. He resigned in 1994 and sold his remaining stake in the company. McAfee became the company's most vocal critic in later years, urging consumers to uninstall the company's anti-virus software, which he characterized as bloatware. He disavowed the company's continued use of his name in branding, a practice that has persisted in spite of a short-lived corporate rebrand attempt under Intel ownership.
McAfee's wealth peaked in 2007 at $100 million, before his fortunes plummeted in the financial crisis of 2007–2008. After leaving McAfee Associates, he founded the companies Tribal Voice (makers of the PowWow chat program), QuorumEx, and Future Tense Central, among others, and was involved in leadership positions in the companies Everykey, MGT Capital Investments, and Luxcore, among others. His personal and business interests included smartphone apps, cryptocurrency, yoga, light-sport aircraft and recreational drug use. He resided for a number of years in Belize, but returned to the United States in 2013 while wanted in Belize for questioning on suspicion of murder.
McAfee was born in Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, on 18 September 1945, on a U.S. Army base (of the 596th Ordnance Ammunition Company), to an American father, Don McAfee, who was stationed there, and a British mother, Joan (Williams). His father was from Roanoke, and McAfee was himself primarily raised in Salem, Virginia, United States. He said he felt as much British as American. When he was 15, his father, whom a BBC columnist described as "an abusive alcoholic," killed himself with a gun. He had spent his childhood living in fear that a beating from his father could happen at any time, and struggled to make sense of why this was happening to him.
McAfee received a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1967 from Roanoke College in Virginia, which subsequently awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2008. After receiving his bachelor's degree, McAfee began working towards a doctorate in mathematics at Northeast Louisiana State College but was expelled, in about 1968, because of a relationship with an undergraduate student, who became his first wife.
In 1987, McAfee founded McAfee Associates Inc., which sold his program, the first anti-virus software to market. Initially he was not expecting users to pay much for this, but rather wanted to make people aware of the need to be protected from computer viruses. By making people fear such malware, he managed to generate millions of sales, and by 1990 he was making five million dollars a year. The company was incorporated in Delaware in 1992, and had its initial public offering the same year. In August 1993, McAfee stepped down as chief executive and remained with the company as the chief technical officer. He was succeeded by Bill Larson. In 1994 he sold his remaining stake in the company. He had no further involvement in its operations.
After various mergers and ownership changes, Intel acquired McAfee in August 2010. In January 2014, Intel announced that McAfee-related products would be marketed as Intel Security. McAfee expressed his pleasure at the name change, saying, "I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet." The business was soon de-merged from Intel, once more under the McAfee name.
In 2009, McAfee was interviewed in Belize for the CNBC special The Bubble Decade, in which it was reported that he had invested in and/or built many mansions in the USA that went unsold when the 2007 global recession hit. The report also discussed his quest to raise plants for possible medicinal uses on his land in Belize.
In June 2013, McAfee uploaded a parody video titled How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus onto his YouTube channel. In it, he critiques the antivirus software while snorting white powder and being stripped by scantily clad women. It got ten million views. He told Reuters the video was meant to ridicule the media's negative coverage of him. A spokesman for McAfee Inc. called the video's statements "ludicrous".
Also in 2013, McAfee founded Future Tense Central, which aimed to produce a secure computer network device called the D-Central. By 2016, it was also an incubator.
In February 2014, McAfee announced Cognizant, an application for smartphones, which displays information about the permissions of other installed applications. In April 2014, it was renamed DCentral 1, and an Android version was released for free on Google Play.
At the DEF CON conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August 2014, McAfee warned people not to use smartphones, suggesting apps are used to spy on clueless consumers who do not read privacy user agreements. In January 2016, he became the chief evangelist for security startup Everykey.
In May 2016, McAfee was appointed chairman and CEO of MGT Capital Investments, a technology holding company. It initially said it would rename itself John McAfee Global Technologies, although this plan was abandoned due to a dispute with Intel over rights to the "McAfee" name. He changed MGT's focus from social gaming to cybersecurity, saying "anti-virus software is dead, it no longer works", and that "the new paradigm has to stop the hacker getting in" before he or she can do damage.
Soon after joining MGT, McAfee said he and his team had exploited a flaw in the Android operating system that allowed him to read encrypted messages from WhatsApp.Gizmodo investigated his claim, and reported that he had sent reporters malware-infected phones to make this hack work. He replied: "Of course the phones had malware on them. How that malware got there is the story, which we will release after speaking with Google. It involves a serious flaw in the Android architecture."
McAfee moved MGT into the mining of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, both to make money for the company, and to increase MGT's expertise in dealing with blockchains, which he thought was important for cybersecurity.
In August 2017, McAfee stepped down as CEO, instead serving as MGT's "chief cybersecurity visionary". In January 2018, he left the company altogether. Both sides said the split was amicable; he said he wanted to spend all of his time on cryptocurrencies, while the company told of pressure from potential investors to disassociate itself from him.
On 13 August 2018, McAfee took a position of CEO with Luxcore, a cryptocurrency company focused on enterprise solutions.
McAfee advocated increased cyber awareness and more action against the threat of cyberwarfare. He pushed religious liberty, saying that business owners should be able to deny service in circumstances that contradict their religious beliefs, adding: "No one is forcing you to buy anything or to choose one person over another. So why should I be forced to do anything if I am not harming you? It's my choice to sell, your choice to buy."
Contrary to his assertion at the 2016 convention, McAfee tweeted on 3 June 2018 that he would run for president again in 2020, either with the Libertarian Party or a separate party that he would create. He later chose to run as a Libertarian. He mainly campaigned for wider cryptocurrency use.
On 22 January 2019, McAfee tweeted that he would continue his campaign "in exile", following reports that he, his wife, and four campaign staff were indicted for tax-related felonies by the IRS. He said he was in "international waters", and had previously tweeted that he was going to Venezuela. The IRS has not commented on the alleged indictments. On 29 June, he tweeted that his campaign headquarters had been relocated to Havana, Cuba. Around the same time, he defended Communist revolutionary Che Guevara on Twitter, putting himself at odds with Libertarian National Committee chairman Nicholas Sarwark, who wrote, "I hear very little buzz about McAfee this time around ... making a defense of Che Guevara from Cuba may ingratiate him with the Cuban government, but it didn't resonate well with Libertarians."
In a tweet on 4 March 2020, McAfee simultaneously suspended his 2020 presidential campaign, endorsed Vermin Supreme, and announced his campaign for the Libertarian Party vice presidential nomination. The next day, he returned to the presidential field, reversing the suspension of his bid, as "No one in the Libertarian Party Would consider me For Vice President." The next month, he endorsed Adam Kokesh and became Kokesh's vice-presidential candidate, while still seeking the presidency for himself. At the 2020 Libertarian National Convention, he again lost, now to Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen for the presidential and vice-presidential slots.
McAfee contended that taxes were illegal, and claimed in 2019 that he had not filed a tax return since 2010. He referred to himself as "a prime target" of the Internal Revenue Service.
In July 2017, McAfee predicted on Twitter that the price of a bitcoin would jump to $500,000 within three years, adding: "If not, I will eat my own dick on national television." In July 2019, he predicted a price of $1 million by the end of 2020. In January 2020, he tweeted that his predictions were "a ruse to onboard new users", and that bitcoin had limited potential because it is "an ancient technology."
McAfee was named a defendant in a 2008 civil court case related to his Aerotrekking light-sport aircraft venture and the death of nephew Joel Bitow and a passenger.
On 30 April 2012, McAfee's property in Orange Walk Town, Belize, was raided by the Gang Suppression Unit of the Belize Police Department. A GSU press release said he was arrested for unlicensed drug manufacturing and possession of an unlicensed weapon. He was released without charge. In 2012, Belize police spokesman, Raphael Martinez, confirmed that McAfee was neither convicted nor charged, only suspected. In January 2014, while in Canada, he said that when the Belizean government raided his property, it seized his assets, and that his house later burned down under suspicious circumstances.
On 2 August 2015, McAfee was arrested in Henderson County, Tennessee, on one count of driving under the influence and one count of possession of a firearm while intoxicated.
In July 2019, McAfee and members of his entourage were arrested while his yacht was docked at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, on suspicion of carrying high-caliber weapons and ammunition. They were held for four days and released. Weapons were seized, according to the Public Ministry.
On 11 August 2020, McAfee falsely stated that he was arrested in Norway during the COVID-19 pandemic after refusing to replace a lace thong with a more effective face mask. He later tweeted a picture of himself with a bruised eye, claiming it occurred during this arrest. The photo of the alleged arrest shows an officer with the German word for "police" on his uniform, invalidating McAfeee's claim of having been arrested in Norway. The Augsburg police later said he tried to enter Germany on that day, but was not arrested.
Death of Gregory Faull
On 12 November 2012, Belize police began to search for McAfee as a person of interest in connection to the homicide investigation of American expatriate Gregory Viant Faull, who was found dead of a gunshot wound the day before, at his home on the island of Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize. Faull was a neighbor of McAfee's. In a contemporary interview with Wired, McAfee said he had been afraid police would kill him and refused their routine questions and evaded them. He buried himself in sand for several hours with a cardboard box over his head. Belize's prime minister, Dean Barrow, called him "extremely paranoid, even bonkers". He fled Belize rather than cooperate.
In December, the magazine Vice accidentally gave away McAfee's location at a Guatemalan resort, when a photo taken by one of its journalists accompanying him was posted with the EXIF geolocation metadata still attached.
While in Guatemala, McAfee asked Chad Essley, an American cartoonist and animator, to set up a blog so he could write about his experience while on the run. He then appeared publicly in Guatemala City, where he unsuccessfully sought political asylum. On 5 December, he was arrested for illegally entering Guatemala. Shortly afterward, the board reviewing his asylum plea denied it and he was taken to a detention center to await deportation to Belize.
On 6 December, Reuters and ABC News reported that McAfee had two minor heart attacks in the detention center and was hospitalized. His lawyer said he had no heart attacks, rather high blood pressure and anxiety attacks. McAfee later said he faked the heart attacks to buy time for his attorney to file a series of appeals that ultimately prevented his deportation to Belize, thus hastening that government's decision to send him back to the United States.
On 12 December, McAfee was released and deported to the United States. On 14 November 2018, the Circuit Court in Orlando, Florida, refused to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against him for Faull's death.
On 5 October 2020, McAfee was arrested in Spain at the request of the United States Department of Justice for tax evasion. The June indictment, which was unsealed upon his arrest, alleged he earned millions of dollars from 2014 to 2018, and failed to file income tax returns.
McAfee was jailed in Spain, pending extradition to the United States. On 23 June 2021, the Spanish National Court authorized his extradition to face charges in Tennessee; McAfee committed suicide several hours after the authorization. The New York extradition case was still pending in a lower Spanish court.
McAfee married three times. He met his first wife circa 1968 while he was working towards a doctorate at Northeast Louisiana State College and she was an undergraduate student. Their affair led to his expulsion from the college. He married his second wife, Judy, a former flight attendant at American Airlines, circa 1987; they divorced in 2002. The night after McAfee arrived in the United States after being deported from Guatemala in December 2012, he was solicited by and slept with Janice Dyson, then a prostitute 30 years his junior in South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida. They began a relationship and married in 2013. She claims that he saved her from human traffickers.
In a 2012 article in Mensa Bulletin, the magazine of the American Mensa, McAfee said developing the first commercial antivirus program had made him "the most popular hacking target" and "[h]ackers see hacking me as a badge of honor". For his own cybersecurity, he said he has other people buy his computer equipment for him, uses pseudonyms for setting up computers and logins, and changes his IP address several times a day. When asked on another occasion if he personally used McAfee's antivirus software, he replied: "I take it off[...]it's too annoying."
McAfee's death sparked internet conspiracy theories in a manner resembling "Epstein didn't kill himself". Several times, he had said if he were ever found dead by hanging, it would mean he was murdered. Three days before McAfee's death, his wife claimed that the US government wanted him to die in prison, writing on Twitter: "John's honesty has often gotten him in trouble with corrupt governments and corrupt government officials because of his outspoken nature and his refusal to be extorted, intimidated or silenced. Now the US authorities are determined to have John die in prison to make an example of him for speaking out against the corruption within their government agencies." Minutes after the report of his death, an image of the letter Q was posted to his Instagram feed (since his death, his account has been taken down), possibly in reference to QAnon conspiracy theories. These theories have been referred to by some journalists as speculative, "bizarre", and "baseless", primarily based on McAfee's own statements. The day after his death, his lawyer told reporters that while he regularly maintained contact with McAfee in prison, there were no signs of suicidal intent. McAfee's widow reaffirmed this position in her first public remarks since her husband's death.
In the media
Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee is a Showtime Networks documentary about the portion of McAfee's life spent in Belize. It began airing in September 2016. It covers allegations against him of raping his former business partner, Allison Adonizio, and murdering Belizean David Middleton and American expat Gregory Faull. In an interview with Bloomberg's Pimm Fox and Kathleen Hayes on 8 September 2016, he said these incidents were fabricated, and "Belize is a third-world banana republic and you can go down there and make any story you want if you pay your interviewees, which Showtime did."
On 12 May 2017, McAfee and his wife were interviewed on ABC News's 20/20 regarding Faull's alleged murder.
Computer Viruses, Worms, Data Diddlers, Killer Programs, and Other Threats to Your System. What They Are, how They Work, and how to Defend Your PC, Mac, Or Mainframe, (with Colin Haynes) St. Martin's Press, 1989
The Secret of the Yamas: Spiritual Guide to Yoga, McAfee Pub, 2001
The Fabric of Self: Meditations on Vanity and Love, Woodland Publications, 2001
Into the Heart of Truth, Woodland Publications, 2001
Beyond the Siddhis. Supernatural Powers and the Sutras of Patanjali, Woodland Publications, 2001