John McAfee, software pioneer, ex-presidential candidate, cryptocurrency entrepreneur and paid advocate, lived a storied life.
He was known as much for his drugs, women and gun-filled escapades as the security software that bears his name and made him rich. Although McAfee was a pivotal figure in the history of computing, his stature within crypto was tarnished by failed projects, broken promises and associations with alleged scams.
Still, he was an icon of sorts, with well over 1 million Twitter followers by the time he was found dead Wednesday in a Spanish prison. A man born against the state, he led authorities on a manhunt in the years prior to being detained by Spanish police in 2020. It was on the high seas – in uncontrolled waters – that McAfee ran most of his campaign for U.S. president, a race he entered in 2018 to “best serve the cryptocurrency community.” It was McAfee’s second presidential run.
Signs point to a suicide, according to Spain’s justice department. Hours before his body was found, the Spanish High Court ruled McAfee could be extradited to the U.S. to face tax evasion charges, in part, related to schemes involving cryptocurrencies.
McAfee was wanted in Tennessee and New York for tax-related criminal charges and alleged failure to disclose income made from cryptocurrency. He was also charged with not disclosing earnings made from speaking engagements and the sale of his story for an upcoming documentary between 2014-2018. In March, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of hiding cryptocurrency income of more than $23 million. He faced a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
“The U.S. believes I have hidden crypto,” McAfee, 75, wrote in a pinned tweet, one of his last, on June 16. “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,”
From the C-Suite to the High Seas
McAfee, who was born in the U.K. and raised in Virginia, released the first commercial anti-virus software – McAfee VirusScan. Although he sold McAfee Associates, founded in 1987, to Intel, it was an association he couldn’t break. In 2013, he published a video titled, “How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus,” which featured a bleary-eyed McAfee shooting his own computer.
That same year he told USA Today he was “just tired of technology.” In a career arc that spanned decades and moved from software to antibiotics to anti-surveillance technology, McAfee eventually found renewed purpose in decentralized technologies. It was an industry he’d stake his genitals on.
In 2012, he fled Belize as police said he was a “person of interest” in the murder of Gregory Viant Faull, an American expat. He surfaced in Guatemala, where he was detained by authorities. After that he went to Seattle by way of Miami, where he lived an uncharacteristically low-profile life until running for president in 2016 as a Libertarian.
In 2014, McAfee founded Future Tense, a startup dedicated to building a decentralized networking tool called D-Central. It was essentially a way to access and support mesh networks to send messages and files anonymously without touching the web.
Two years later he joined MGT Capital Investments, where he pivoted the firm’s focus on sports and gaming sites to cryptocurrency mining, as chief executive. After an amicable split, McAfee joined the enterprise blockchain startup Luxcore in 2018.
At the height of the initial coin offering (ICO) boom, McAfee acted as a paid promoter for a number of companies and projects. He reportedly charged more than $100,000 for a single promotional tweet to his many followers. In one memorable stunt from 2018, he had a promotional “Skycoin” tattoo inked on his back.
It was a lucrative activity that McAfee ended after claiming to receive “threats” from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the years since, there has been some reporting detailing his alleged association with various pump and dumps.
In June 2019, McAfee unveiled the Magic trading platform and announced he would launch his own cryptocurrency, Freedom Coin. A month later, from an undisclosed location on his boat, McAfee tweeted: “I Am a presidential candidate with 1.2 mil followers. My crime is not filing tax returns – not a crime. The rest is propaganda by the U.S. government to silence me. My voice is the voice of dissent. If I am silenced, dissent itself will be next.”