The Miserable and Meaningful Demise of John McAfee

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The pic that caught John McAfee (left). Photo by Robert King

There’s nothing quite like reading someone’s tweets musing on life and death, taking siesta, and waking up to news of their suicide. 

As if a more hockey-check reminder of the fragility of existence was needed, I got it Wednesday. Following a year of disease and riots, lockdowns during the day and curfews at night, the smashing of one more bright light of the absurd did the trick. Aged 75, John McAfee died Wednesday in Spain as he lived: his life in his own hands.

They don’t make them like they used to. The ubiquitous cybersecurity entrepreneur, Libertarian presidential candidate and murder suspect had just Wednesday been approved for extradition to the United States by Spanish authorities, wanted for tax crimes. In recent days, from the Iberian slammer, he’d waxed philosophical.

“The US believes I have hidden crypto,” said the prisoner on Twitter 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.” 

On June 10: “There is much sorrow in prison, disguised as hostility. The sorrow is plainly visible even in the most angry faces. I’m old and content with food and a bed but for the young prison is a horror – a reflection of the minds of those who conceived them.”   

McAfee had gained a cult following in recent years for his theater of the bizarre, if disturbing: a sexed-out, druggy video instructing users how to uninstall his namesake software, a murder allegation in Central America, a rape allegation in Central America, dispatches from a corresponding life on the run. There was a not-completely-unserious run for the presidency and a mid-sixties marriage, his first, to a sex worker in there too.

His zeal for crypto was once considered outre; he lost a lurid bet over its future that a once and future TAC editor called him out on, but got the gist of its trajectory right.

In an unfortunately rambling speech, the president spoke the same day about the kind of figure the Second Amendment is routinely cited for, disclaiming none other than Thomas Jefferson. For Joe Biden, a quest for ramped-up gun enforcement is the sole elixir for the nation’s crime wave. 

“Those who say the blood of patriots, you know, and all the stuff about how we’re gonna have to move against the government… If you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons,” Biden said, paraphrasing the famous Jefferson letter to William Stephens Smith. 

A review of the actual text does the dispatch proper justice.

“What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Jefferson wrote. “Let them take arms. … What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

It is certainly a sentiment the late McAfee, the outlaw firearms enthusiast, approved of. He lived it. 

As the country grapples anew with anxiety over the virtue of its very Founding — with the new president condemning a core sentiment from the man, Jefferson, Christopher Hitchens once called “the author of America” — it’s worth reflecting on the example of McAfee, the consummate American bandit, and whether the country loses something by driving away such dubious characters completely. 

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