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Inside John McAfee’s Heart of Darkness
November 9, 2012 9:38 AM   Subscribe

John McAfee is the founder of the McAfee security software company, one of the first and, to this day, one of the biggest. But it's what he has done since leaving the company in 1994 that has attracted him notoriety. After working on instant messaging software for a few years, McAfee devoted himself to thrill-seeking: yoga, jet skiing, and "aerotrekking," or flying small aircraft at low altitudes. After the 2008 financial crisis reportedly wiped out most of his personal fortune, once estimated at $100 million, McAfee decamped to Belize, where he began promoting a business venture aimed at halting the spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. But as science writer Jeff Wise (who also wrote the aerotrekking article) detailed after interviewing him in 2010, McAfee's commitment to the project seemed half-hearted at best, and his behavior came off as erratic and even paranoid. In a follow-up article, written after Belizean police raided McAfee's compound on suspicion of illegal weapons possession and drug manufacturing, Wise explores how "the enlightened Peter Pan seems to have refashioned himself into a kind of final-reel Scarface."
posted by Cash4Lead (82 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Idealistic foreigner thinks he has more wasta than the locals in a banana republic... Never ends well.
posted by thewalrus at 9:40 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If he thought yoga was thrill-seeking, dude was pretty far gone.
posted by msalt at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Tell me more about this observational yoga.
posted by arcticseal at 9:58 AM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


The only part that surprises me is that he didn't move to Angeles City, Philippines or some beach in Thailand and open a "bar".
posted by thewalrus at 10:00 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forgot to add this: McAfee's statement concerning the raid.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:06 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A cautionary tale.
posted by mkultra at 10:13 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is John McAfee going to become the next Josh Harris, and if so, who's shooting the documentary?
posted by trackofalljades at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2012


So, a thematic outfit away from Batman villain then?
posted by The Whelk at 10:16 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The horror, the horror...
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


and a small armory's worth of firearms: seven pump-action shotguns, one single-action shotgun, two 9-mm. pistols,

That's not a small armory. That's nothing more than what is in a lot of people's gun safe.
posted by lstanley at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wow, that's, well, nuts...
posted by Windopaene at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2012


Scarface

First, you get the obscure rainforest-grown botanicals with possible pharmaceutical value. Then you get the power. Then you get the 17 year old Belizean girls.
posted by thewalrus at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I saw this yesterday and almost posted it here, but I like the additional content/context you put into your post.

"The horror, the horror..."
Indeed.
posted by mosk at 10:29 AM on November 9, 2012


Man that gizmodo article should be illustrating a dictionary entry for " rich old American guys gone to Belize to act strange."
posted by The Whelk at 10:30 AM on November 9, 2012


That's nothing more than what is in a lot of people's gun safe.

So what you're saying is a lot of people have a small armory.
posted by curious nu at 10:30 AM on November 9, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well, after talking to my wife it turns out it's the wrong guy but I'll still share this:

A conversation my wife had while working on Martha's Vineyard:

"Hey, you know Norton, the firewall guy?"

"Yeah, what about him?"

"His house burned down."
posted by unsupervised at 10:31 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting story, but the author was letting his own emotions get in the way too much, IMO.
posted by Melismata at 10:32 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought for a moment this post was going to be about John McPhee.
posted by asperity at 10:36 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


So ...did all the money made in the first tech bubble just end up spent on guns, geodetic dirt farms, and aquatic entertainment equipment?
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


and a small armory's worth of firearms: seven pump-action shotguns, one single-action shotgun, two 9-mm. pistols,

That's not a small armory.


Yes it is.
posted by biffa at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Tell me more about this observational yoga.

It's derived from the natural attitudes and postures of observational comedy, and mostly consists of leaning on mic stands, pacing back and forth, wiping the forehead, and chanting a special mantra: "HU AR DIIZ PIPUL..."
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


and a small armory's worth of firearms: seven pump-action shotguns, one single-action shotgun, two 9-mm. pistols,

That's not a small armory. That's nothing more than what is in a lot of people's gun safe.

And the contextual difference between the USA and the rest of Western society is once again thrown into sharp relief.
posted by Shepherd at 10:40 AM on November 9, 2012 [47 favorites]


No, 10 guns in the house is a "small armory" to most sane Americans as well.
posted by DU at 10:42 AM on November 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


That's not a small armory. That's nothing more than what is in a lot of people's gun safe.

The difference being, American gun owners typically aren't buying them to equip thugs in their employ.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:48 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Creepiest line in the Gizmodo article: "literally a garbage bag full of Viagra"
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:56 AM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


mkultra: A cautionary tale.

Oh, my. That is enough schadenfreude to last me all the way through the winter now, and it is delicious. Horrible person meets terrible fate.

The best part is how the justice system was too corrupt in the US to really nail him, but in Panama, of all places, it wasn't.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:57 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


(it was on MeFi recently)
posted by mkultra at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2012


the horror, the horror...
ONE DAY THIS past spring, shortly before the police raid, I paid a visit to McAfee. I'd known John personally for five years, having first met him when I traveled to his ranch in rural New Mexico, an adventure-sports reporter who found him to be a genuinely charismatic entrepreneur and thrill-seeker. By now, though, I'd become convinced he was a compulsive liar if not an outright psychopath god...
posted by ennui.bz at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2012


He seems like a liar and an salesman through and through and of dubious morality. The axe of the author seems to grind and grind, however.
posted by josher71 at 11:07 AM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not at all unusual for wealthy expats in Central America to have guns and armed guards. In a lot of places I went to, even grocery stores and gas stations would have guys with shotguns standing guard. I can totally see how a wealthy, erratic guy could get wrapped up with local gangs and corrupt cops pretty quickly. Even relatively poor and straight-laced ex-pat hostel owners told me some crazy stories about dealing with cops and gangs, especially in Guatemala.
posted by empath at 11:15 AM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


That was a pretty incredible story. I don't feel as though the article was too axe-grindy, either, considering the stunt McAfree and his botanist friend pulled on him after his last article. I mean, you go and make an honest article, it gets posted online, and then the subject of the article and his partner raid the comments section saying you're full of shit? That's not something I'd take lightly. I think considering that, this article was pretty even-handed.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:35 AM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


MSTP, that's a very fair point.
posted by josher71 at 11:48 AM on November 9, 2012


From McAfee to Macavity.
posted by Kabanos at 12:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm getting a strong "cocaine" vibe from that followup article. Actually, I got it from the Fast Company article too.
posted by djeo at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


He's just lying constantly about the tiniest shit. "I'm the only white person in Orange Walk"? Bullshit. I've only been there once, and met a bunch of white North American and European expats. "Everyone in Belize has malnutrition"? Again, bullshit.

If I was interviewing someone and they were telling me such obvious lies for no reason, I'd be pissed off and suspicious, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:52 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've seen his compound in Belize. Last year I was boating down the (amazing) New River with a Belizean friend and we passed right by the buildings and docks. There were dogs out patrolling the waterfront and a visible guard presence.

From what he and the rest of the group told me, the compound is only really visible/accessible from the river (due to security on the approaching roads) and had attracted a lot of suspicion from the local community in the nearby towns of Orange Walk and Shipyard (a Mennonite village very close by).

Given their characterization of the place, and their suspicions, I can't say this surprises me at all.

That said, it would be an amazing place to live. Truly the middle of nowhere. Gorgeous, overgrown jungle with plenty of monkeys, birds and large, saw-toothed amphibians prowling about.
posted by dead_ at 4:55 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


"...large, saw-toothed amphibians..."
The fuck? Pics or it didn't happen.
posted by agentofselection at 7:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, that is a pretty impressive flip in tone between the first article, which sounded suspicious but not hostile, and the second article, which portrayed him as batshit insane. Reading the other articles I can see how either side could be true; He is a harmless old kook living in the wilderness with some guards, since he is a great kidnapping target, or he has gotten mixed up with criminals and was caught with a 17 year old in his bed (Is that legal under Belizean law? I think it would be technically legal in Canada as long as he wasn't in a position of authority over her, but I could very easily be wrong)
posted by Canageek at 10:18 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>Tell me more about this observational yoga.
>It's derived from the natural attitudes and postures of observational comedy,


And what's up with this downward dog, anyway? I mean, YOU try telling a lot of middle aged women in stretch pants they're dogs! I don't think so!
posted by msalt at 12:04 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Belize, the age of consent is 16.
posted by josher71 at 4:55 AM on November 10, 2012


I'm shocked to learn that AV tools salesmen behave like snake oil sellers... shocked.
posted by 3mendo at 12:51 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tell me more about this observational yoga.

It's derived from the natural attitudes and postures of observational comedy


Black people do Vrksasana like this, but white people do Vrksasana like this. I know, right?

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.

Table 7, your pizza is ready.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:29 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's not a small armory. That's nothing more than what is in a lot of people's gun safe.

I got seven MAC-11's, about eight .38's, nine 9's, ten MAC-10's, the shits never end.
posted by box at 7:24 PM on November 10, 2012


And now he's wanted for murder.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:15 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


That "wanted for murder article" is a hell of a read. They blame rectally inserted bath salts.
posted by Nelson at 10:25 AM on November 12, 2012


Thanks for the link, AHWO. Wise's reporting suggested that McAfee has had psychopathic tendencies for a while, but perhaps the drug use is exacerbating those tendencies.
posted by Cash4Lead at 11:14 AM on November 12, 2012


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: I hope you don't mind, I made a FFP out of that; I didn't think to check if anyone had added it to this thread already.

Cash4Lead: We also don't know how long he has been on drugs, but yes, even Wise's 2010 article had some alarm bells, despite its overall positive tone.
posted by Canageek at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2012


Could be wrong, but this does not sound like a man who has fully embraced the drug-free life.
posted by SoFlo1 at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


SoFlo1: I meant, for all we know he could have been on drugs long before 2010, just hidden it better.

Also; Forget what I said about a FPP. I should have reread the FAQ before trying to write a FPP for the first time.
posted by Canageek at 12:51 PM on November 12, 2012


No worries, Canageek. It's a weird story, it's just that, yeah, this thread's as good a place as any to discuss the odd twist. Definitely toss those links from your post in here if you feel up to it.
posted by cortex at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2012


exhibited "roguish behavior."

This makes it sound like he committed some sort of social faux pas involving inappropriate dances with unmarried women.
posted by elizardbits at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Murder Suspect John McAfee: I’m Innocent. "Convinced that he’ll be killed if he’s taken into custody for questioning, the millionaire antivirus pioneer has gone into hiding somewhere in the Central American nation, where he moved in 2008 to retire. Starting at 10:30 this morning, Belize time, he has been calling to tell me his side of the story."
posted by Nelson at 6:53 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


He’d seen them coming, and says he hid — burying himself in the sand with a cardboard box over his head so he could breathe.

You are fucking shitting me.
posted by 7segment at 10:09 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


That "wanted for murder article" is a hell of a read. They blame rectally inserted bath salts.

That he was attempting to synthesize because the drug radically enhanced his sex life. And he enlisted the help of the users of the Internet drug forum Bluelight.

Between this, the ever-expanding cast of the Petraeus mess & the rapidly swelling movement to secede from the Union in the aftermath of the election, I feel the Author of this universe has gone on a bit of a bender. It's just not believable anymore.
posted by scalefree at 9:04 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


And anyway, I'm not sure what John's worried about. I'm sure the Belize authorities will give him a free 30 day trial.
posted by scalefree at 9:12 AM on November 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Given his penchant for posting in the comments of articles about him and his love of sockpuppet accounts, it's a fairly safe bet this & this are actually John.
posted by scalefree at 9:20 AM on November 13, 2012


Josh Davis of Wired is now live-tweeting his communications with McAfee as he is on the run from the police:

Early morning phone call from McAfee in hiding: "I will not turn myself in."

McAfee at 5am: "The police have set up roadblocks across the country to catch me. I slept last night on a mattress infested with lice."

McAfee 7:05AM PST: "Power was just cut to the house I'm in. I think this is it."

McAfee just called: He has changed locations. The police have not caught him yet.

McAfee says the police raided the house next door to where he was and he evaded them.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:24 PM on November 13, 2012


Also: Part 1 of McAfee's own account of his time in Belize.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2012


“I have modified my appearance in a radical fashion,” McAfee said, “I’ll probably look like a murderer, unfortunately.”
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:33 AM on November 14, 2012


The longer this goes on, the more I feel like it must be viral advertising for a new video game.
posted by elizardbits at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


John McAfee still on the run – Speaks to The San Pedro Sun: the local newspaper.
posted by Nelson at 9:45 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Hinterland: the official blog of John McAfee. It's new.
posted by Nelson at 7:20 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is ... bizarre. He's phoned up an independe reporter-blogger in the Outer Hebrides (archipelago of thinly populated islands off the west coast of Scotland) and given a statement. Said reporter has put the audio of the statement online.
posted by Wordshore at 7:15 AM on November 20, 2012


His most recent post Understanding the culture Part One – Timesha is a remarkably sensitive portrait of a young woman growing up in poverty and turning to a life of not-quite-prostitution. Or else it's a cynical fiction from a crazy drug-addled guy justifying his exploitation of young women. I'm not sure which it is, maybe a bit of both, but it's a hell of a nuanced piece of writing for a guy who's on the run from murder charges.

McAfee says "I have pre-written enough material to keep this blog alive for at least a year".
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do we have proof it is him writing that blog?
posted by Canageek at 1:18 PM on November 20, 2012


I'm embarrassed that I didn't consider that question until you asked it, Canageek. Joshua Davis, the Wired journalist McAfee has been calling, tweeted the URL himself. Not explicit confirmation but if anyone's in a position to know if it's legitimate, it'd be Davis. Here's a bit more confirmation of the blog identity. Again, not complete, but everything I found points to it being legit.
posted by Nelson at 3:23 PM on November 20, 2012


McAfee blog admin calls his role in affair 'accidental ... shocking and life-changing'

I wonder how the McAfee Security PR folks are doing. Intel owns the company, but this is a case study in why you don't name your product brand after a person. (See also: ReiserFS, Orkut, ...)
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on November 21, 2012


Breaking: John captured?
posted by telstar at 3:06 PM on December 1, 2012


“The police should declare him a person of noninterest,” Mr. Spiegel says. “Soon as they do that, he’ll be knocking on their door.”
posted by telstar at 4:33 PM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


One last thing: I can guarantee that JM never did any real research at his boffo compound. Real researchers who are on the track of something even vaguely promising have zero time to fuck around on Bluelight.
posted by telstar at 2:51 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, he wouldn't really have been able to personally contribute much to the research program anyway, except money and possibly management. He doesn't have the right kind of education or background to actually contribute on a scientific level, unless he quietly went to grad school at some point.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:35 PM on December 2, 2012


John McAfee Just Hanging With Vice, Trying to Fake His Own Capture
posted by homunculus at 10:55 AM on December 3, 2012


PUBLICATION REVEALS MCAFEE'S LOCATION WITH PHOTO DATA

Sanitize your metadata, people. Not that hard.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:53 PM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


the man of twists and turns: Or you know, if you are on the run stop posting things. *headdesk*

Or you know, edit the meta data of a picture to say you are heading in another direction. Also a good idea.
posted by Canageek at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2012


1. Post photos with "eat it, suckers!" style grab line.
2. Get your EXIF data read.
3. Remove photos, post new ones with data stripped.
4. Claim original photos had intentionally obfuscating data to begin with.

Why, it's as if he doesn't understand the concept of preventive security.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:58 PM on December 4, 2012


Arrested in Guatemala.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:59 PM on December 5, 2012


Arrested for entering the country illegally, that is, not in connection with the murder case.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:02 PM on December 5, 2012


PUBLICATION REVEALS MCAFEE'S LOCATION WITH PHOTO DATA

Vice gave it away but it was an old hacker buddy who revealed it. And as proof it turns out really he was in Guatemala. Nice job, Simple Nomad.
posted by scalefree at 8:31 PM on December 5, 2012


John McAfee Hospitalized in Guatemala, denied asylum.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:09 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am starting to suspect McAfee may be the victim in an incredibly complicated badger game.

The politically-connected "fiance" Sam Venegas -- seemingly the only woman in his harem who isn't a teenage prostitute rescued from poverty -- has led him across international borders to "safety," which to his shock, isn't. Belize keeps saying he's not even a suspect, just someone they want to talk to--but rather than talking, the old dude ran and put himself in the crosshairs of a manhunt and ran himself into exhaustion and (maybe) a heart condition. He certainly looks terrible.

One wonders how much of his fear of the Belizan government has been impacted by pillow talk with his local paramour. If his will's already been changed in her favor (or she marries him) and he dies, her lawyer uncle Telésforo Guerra can make sure everything goes smoothly for Sam Venegas. Who will miss this obnoxious gringo? Who benefits from his problems?
posted by Scram at 5:12 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


What? You're going to blame some voiceless woman instead of the suspected murderer himself, his insatiable desire for publicity, or the idiots at Vice magazine publishing his precise location to the entire Internet?

Related: How Trusting in Vice Led to John McAfee’s Downfall by Metafilter's own emptyage.
posted by Nelson at 7:06 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scram: "The politically-connected "fiance" Sam Venegas -- seemingly the only woman in his harem who isn't a teenage prostitute rescued from poverty -- has led him across international borders to "safety," which to his shock, isn't. Belize keeps saying he's not even a suspect, just someone they want to talk to--but rather than talking, the old dude ran and put himself in the crosshairs of a manhunt and ran himself into exhaustion and (maybe) a heart condition. He certainly looks terrible."

Oh great, now McAfee's hacking MeFi user accounts.
posted by mkultra at 3:31 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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