This article was published in Ceylon Today on July 2 2021.
I did not know a thing about John McAfee until I read the news of his demise. I was surprised to learn that he was born not far from my birthplace. I was born in Gloucester, UK in 1946 and John McAfee was born in Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, on 18 September 1945. He made two bids for the US presidency which is a bit ambitious for a lad from the Forest. I thought the job was only open to people who were born in the US. Perhaps it made a difference that he was born on a US Army base (of the 596th Ordnance Ammunition Company), to an American father, who was stationed there, and a British mother.
The Forest of Dean had a certain reputation with us city-slickers from Gloucester for primitivism, in-breeding and strange customs. Anthropologists like Margaret Mead, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Franz Boas and possibly our very own Michael Roberts would have found ample material for study in the Forest. The picture that we had of the area was similar to areas of the US depicted in films like Southern Comfort and Deliverance. One of the Forest’s famous sons was record producer Joe Meek, England’s answer to Phil Spector and just as mad – like Spector, he threatened session men with a gun. As well as winning fame and acclaim for innovative records such as Telstar, Meek also gained fame by shooting his landlady dead and then himself. Another son of the Forest was controversial playwright Dennis Potter who wrote dark television masterpieces about incest and corruption and fear in the Forest of Dean. Littledean Jail in the Forest of Dean was built in 1788 and is now a gruesome museum of crime. The museum’s dark exhibits include the spade, shovel, trowel and knife used by notorious serial killers Fred and Rose West – as well as Fred’s tie. Fred was born in Much Marcle not far from the Forest.
John McAfee escaped the Forest at an early age, but his life was as weird as any Dennis Potter play about his birth territory. McFee was mainly raised in Salem Virginia but considered himself as much British as American. When he was 15, his father, an abusive alcoholic, killed himself with a gun.
McAfee received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1967 from Roanoke College in Virginia and began working towards a doctorate in mathematics at Northeast Louisiana State College but was expelled, in 1968, because of a relationship with an undergraduate student, who became his first wife. From 1968 to 1970, McAfee worked as a programmer for NASA on the Apollo programme. He did various jobs as a software designer and operating system architect and in the 1980s, while working at Lockheed, he began developing software to combat viruses. He wrote the first commercial anti-virus software, founding McAfee Associates in 1987 to sell his creation. he warned the public of the Michelangelo virus, which he said could wreak havoc on 5m computers, though only a few were actually infected. He was accused of trying to generate sales through fear. He claimed that he had never used virus protection software himself.
He resigned in 1994 and sold his remaining stake in the company. He had no further involvement in its operations and frequently criticised what they had done with his creation, calling it “the worst software on the planet.” In June 2013, McAfee uploaded onto his YouTube channel a video titled How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus in which, while being stripped by scantily clad women he snorts white powder and denounces the antivirus software.
He dabbled in other tech ventures, including one of the first instant messaging services, before retiring to Belize in 2008.
He frequently touted conspiracy theories on social media. Amy Emshwiller, the teenage ex-prostitute he lived with in Belize, describes him: “He’s sweet, generous. He likes to like adventures. He’s serious and usually he has a dark sense of humour. He’s generally a sweet guy. He just doesn’t like to be [expletive] with.” One night, Emshwiller took McAfee’s gun, aimed it at his head, and pulled the trigger. She missed.
After a number of diverse but lucrative business ventures, McAfee’s personal fortune declined to $4 million from a peak of $100 million according to a New York Times report in August 2009. His life was full of incident. In 2012, there were reports that he was in hiding in Belize after police had identified him as a “person of interest” in the murder of a neighbour, Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old businessman from Florida, near his beachside compound on an island off the Belize coast.
McAfee had moved to Belize to avoid taxes. Neighbours became annoyed with him because of his eleven dogs. Four of the dogs had been poisoned. Faull had filed a complaint about the dogs, though McAfee said he didn’t think Faull would have killed them. McAfee told the tech site Gizmodo he believed there were several plots on his life, and he had protected his Belize compound with armed guards in response. “So there have been, in the last year alone, 11 attempts to kidnap or kill me.”
A US federal judge in Florida ordered McAfee to pay $25 million in damages to Faull’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit by Faull’s daughter which claims that McAfee paid $5,000 to have Faull killed. McAfee refused to pay, saying he was innocent and had no assets.
Hours after the Spain’s highest court approved McAfee’s extradition to the United States, he was found dead in the Brians 2 prison near Barcelona. McAfee’s lawyer told the Reuters news agency that McAfee had apparently hanged himself in his prison cell. He was wanted on tax-related criminal charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years. Tennessee prosecutors had charged McAfee with evading taxes after failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies. He himself claimed to make $2,000 a day cryptocurrency guru.
One journalist who interviewed McAfee many times described him a “master manipulator” who lies and deceives. He continues to manipulate after death. Conspiracy theories about his death already abound. “He didn’t kill himself. Who did he piss off?” Expect a movie about his life soon.