John McAfee, Def Con, Las Vegas
John McAfee said he’d never commit suicide. And now it appears he did. Photo credit: NullSession / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

John McAfee said that if he ever ended up dead by suicide in prison he was in fact whacked by the US government, which was pursuing him for tax evasion. He even got himself a tattoo to that effect. And so, after McAfee was found dead on Tuesday in a Barcelona jail cell hours after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the US to face tax evasion charges, the internet faithfully responded with a round of conspiracy theories. 

As McAfee predicted, authorities called his in-custody death an apparent suicide.

Well before this, McAfee — who founded the antivirus software company that still bears his name though he sold it in 1994 — invited comparisons to Jeffrey Epstein. He was a freewheeling hedonist, internet entrepreneur, and intercontinental fugitive from justice with a demonstrated taste for drugs, cryptocurrency, guns, and underage women.

The idea that the 75-year-old McAfee would take his own life rather than spend the rest of his days bored out of his mind in prison makes sense on its face. That’s neat and easy; that’s also boring. So the living McAfee ensured whenever Epstein was mentioned, “John McAfee” would also appear in the dark corners of minds and the internet.

McAfee embraced the idea that Epstein, the convicted sex trafficker, financier, and Friend of Bills (Clinton, Gates) didn’t kill himself. He also sowed doubts about any future in which John McAfee was reported dead by suicide in a jail cell.

“If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd,” McAfee posted on Twitter in 2019, displaying a fresh tattoo inked on his right arm: $WHACKD, it read. (Which, conveniently, was also the name of a crypto token McAfee very briefly promoted.)

A few months before he was arrested at the Barcelona airport while en route to Turkey last year, McAfee also embraced the idea of a “deep state,” which by his definition is a “conspiracy theory … defined as the people within the government or military who are in secret control of government policy.” (That included the FCC and SEC, just the kind of bugaboos that would plague an internet guy who wanted to make lots of money and never pay taxes, as well as the CIA.)

And, finally, McAfee appears to have prepared a final provocation from beyond the grave: An hour after his death was announced, the @officialjohnmcafee Instagram account posted an image of a single letter: “Q,” an obvious reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Okay, so what happened here? Was John McAfee “Q”? Not according to any of the exhaustive investigations conducted by QAnon experts. McAfee was never even a part of the conversation, until he put himself there.

Was McAfee murdered? Not according to any current, publicly available evidence, though the Catalan regional government hasn’t released information revealing the cause or manner of death beyond “suicide.”

Did McAfee have any apparent ties to, say, national intelligence services or pedophilia rings? The guy ran for the Libertarian Party nomination for president of the United States twice and played Russian roulette for a reporter from Wired who paid him a visit in 2012. While out on the lam, he also allowed himself to be contacted, located, and then photographed by young millennial reporters from Vice, who betrayed their source by posting a photo of the then-fugitive, complete with metadata.

Preening for the camera and for clout? None of this seems like something an intelligence asset would do. It definitely seems like something someone with impulse control problems and a narcissistic/authoritarian streak might do — someone who openly slept with underage women, someone who hired a private army to rid a town near his Central American hideout of drug dealers, someone who was never convicted of murder but who was found civilly liable for the death of Gregory Faul, his neighbor in Belize who was found dead from a single gunshot wound in 2012.

The internet entrepreneur and publicity hound was a fabulist — enough, in the Alex Jones kind of way, to incite and to provoke. As was the way McAfee died Tuesday — which, at least outwardly, appears to be exactly the way he openly planned it. 

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