Nearshore Americas

The Faltering Firewall of John McAfee: Paranoia Pushes a Pioneer Deeper into the Dark Side

Antivirus guru and celebrated internet entrepreneur John McAfee has gone into hiding in Belize after escaping from police looking to question him over the murder of an American ex-pat. The 67-year-old McAfee has been on the run since Sunday afternoon when he hid from police by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head to breathe – according to McAfee himself, who has been in touch with Wired magazine to proclaim his innocence.

The former IT pioneer claims he has gone on the lam not out of guilt over the murder of his 52-year-old neighbor Gregory Faull, but because he believes the Belizean authorities will murder him in custody. “They will kill me if they find me,” he told Wired.

Faull was found by his housekeeper on Sunday morning; face up in a pool of blood with a single bullet wound in the back of his head. The retired builder from Florida had been involved in a long-running dispute with McAfee and last Wednesday filed a formal complaint against him with the Mayor’s office, claiming McAfee had fired off guns and shown “roguish behavior”.

If the allegations prove to be true, it will provide a fitting climax to stories of McAfee’s descent into a world of sex, drugs, violence and paranoia in the jungles and beaches of the Caribbean.

History of Eccentricity

In the tech world, McAfee is best known as the godfather of the antivirus software industry and a trailblazing entrepreneur who was among the first to turn free software into million dollar revenues.

However, even then he was renowned as an eccentric figure. Employees at his tech firm conducted pagan rituals, practiced sword fighting and took part in a game that awarded points for every location in the office employees had sex in.

In the early nineties, McAfee sold his interests in McAfee Software for $100 million. According to Jeff Wise, a journalist who has written several articles on McAfee, he decided to cash out after being forced out of his management role for his erratic behavior, which included making apocalyptic claims about a new virus he said was set to infect five million computers but which never materialized.

Backed by his newfound fortune, McAfee’s behavior became increasingly erratic. He embarked on a series of eccentric ventures, from attempting open-ocean crossings on a jet ski to pouring millions into a 280-acre yoga retreat.

In 2008, he sold off his real estate portfolios and headed to Belize – a move he claimed was for tax purposes but others allege was to escape judgment in a $5 million unlawful death lawsuit related to his aerotrekking business – an attempt to populize a dangerous sport of his own invention, which involves flying small aircraft very close to the ground.

McAfee described the drug, which can produce hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and even psychotic episodes, as the “finest drug ever conceived, not just for the indescribable hyper-sexuality, but also for the smooth euphoria and mild comedown.” 

Failed Businesses

After bribing his way to residency – according to his own account – McAfee bought two properties, a beachfront house on the island of Ambergis Caye and a compound near the town of Orange Walk. He launched several small businesses, some – like his coffee shop and ferry service – conventional, others – such as his attempts to revolutionize anti-biotic production with research into jungle plants – less so.

His strange behavior soon drew the suspicions of locals. “He’s a very mysterious man,” said Malcolm Sobers, a Belizean outsourcing consultant who is a regular visitor to Orange Walk. “He has very young girlfriends and a lot of security and there’s always a perception that there is something hidden.”

After his medical research project collapsed when he chief researcher left amid accusations of abuse and intimidation, McAfee became ever more isolated from associates and the local ex-pat community. He surrounded himself with heavily armed security guards and became increasingly paranoid that locals were out to rob and murder him – claiming in April there had been 11 attempts to kill or kidnap him over the last year.

He also bragged of his connections to organized crime, which was no idle boast, according to an email sent to Wise by Belize Police Superintendent Marco Vidal. The Superintendent described a meeting between McAfee and a member of the Bloods Gang, Eddie “Mac-10″ McKoy, in which McAfee was accompanied by two leaders of one of Belize’s most notorious gangs and a police officer. “We believe that his intention was to make it categorically clear to McKoy that he controlled both the legitimate and the illegitimate armed forces,” Vidal wrote.

A Cover-up in the Works?

Locals also share Vidal’s suspicion that he has tried to co-opt local police. Throughout his time in Belize, McAfee has made several large donations to the police – the latest of which came the day before the murder – “that usually tends to be a sign you are covering something up in Belize,” said Sobers.

By this time McAfee, a former drug addict and alcoholic, had also begun to conduct experiments with psychoactive drugs. In 2010, McAfee began posting on drug message board Bluelight about his attempts to synthesize a smokeable “freebase” form of the drug MDPV, known in its commonly found powder form as “bath salts.”

McAfee described the drug, which can produce hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and even psychotic episodes, as the “finest drug ever conceived, not just for the indescribable hyper-sexuality, but also for the smooth euphoria and mild comedown.”

In April this year, the Belizean police’s Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) raided McAfee’s compound, accusing him of running a meth lab and hoarding weapons. According to McAfee he was handcuffed for 14 hours as the police tore through his house with fire axes. The police found a small arsenal of weapons and although most were licensed he was arrested on firearm charges along with several of his security guards, who police accused of having criminal ties.

After spending the night in a jail cell, McAfee was released after producing the missing firearms license – even though the Belmopan Police Headquarters had no record of the licence, according to the Belize Times.

McAfee maintained the raid was a result of his refusal to donate to the campaign coffers of a local politician and his frequent and public accusations led to a spat with the government that drew in Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who McAfee accused of lying to cover-up the GSU’s abuses.

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With the GSU taking center stage in the current murder investigation by telling the media McAfee is a “prime suspect” in the Faull killing, McAfee claims his conflict with the authorities is behind the accusations. “Under no circumstances am I going to willingly talk to the police in this country,” he told Wired after the murder. “You can say I’m paranoid about it but they will kill me, there is no question. They’ve been trying to get me for months. They want to silence me. I am not well-liked by the Prime Minister. I am a thorn in everyone’s side.”

For Belizeans, it is quite likely his feud sparked the allegations, although this is no guarantee of his innocence. “With the amount of the money he has at his disposal if he didn’t anger some of the police and the government and he were to commit a murder it would probably go silent,” said Sobers. “But because of his fight with the GSU and the statements he has made to the international media about Belize and the government, he loses certain protection that he would have got otherwise.”

McAfee maintains he had nothing to do with the murder and has even suggested he may have been the intended victim. “I thought maybe they were coming for me. They mistook him for me, they got the wrong house,” he told Wired.

Whether anyone will believe the former IT idol is another matter. After five years of meeting with and reporting on McAfee, Jeff Wise’s blunt description is a long way from the polished image of one of the original internet trailblazers. “A compulsive liar if not an outright psychopath,” he wrote.



James Bargent

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