Who is John McAfee: Bold, Bizarre, and Bullish on Bitcoin

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Dangerous. Paranoid. Eccentric. Bullish on Bitcoin.

These are a few words that pop up in a quick search for John McAfee – a bold series of adjectives for a computer programmer and founder of a software company.

In the world of the eccentric and ambitious, there exists a fine line between unconventional and insane. John McAfee’s life has become one that seems to not only teeter on that line but also stand as a litmus test for the deranged multi-millionaire.

Throw in a deep understanding of cybersecurity and an inherent distrust of any centralized institution, and you’ve got yourself quite the influential figure in the cryptocurrency world.

John McAfee
Source: The Canadian Press / AP Photo

Born on September 18th, 1945 in the United Kingdom, John McAfee has experienced a wide variety of defining experiences. He’s done everything from work for NASA and create arguably the most popular anti-virus scanner to becoming a certified yogi and having run ins with gangsters in Belize.

john mcafee twitter
From John McAfee’s Twitter.

To further build on that point, it’s worth taking a look at the criteria (left) McAfee attributes to being one of the “coolest on the planet.”

McAfee’s off-the-grid mentality and anomalous archetype inevitably led him to become a vocal adopter of decentralized currencies such as Bitcoin and a wide variety of other cryptocurrencies.

McAfee is also a fairly controversial political activist and one of the most prominent figures in the Libertarian party. If the Libertarian party formed an Avenger’s unit of superheroes, John McAfee would be a 72-year-old Rated-R Tony Stark. Most recently, he attempted to receive the Libertarian Party nomination for the United States Presidency in 2016, but lost to Gary Johnson.

Early Days: McAfee This and McAfee That

McAfee’s early professional days started off with being a programmer for NASA’s Institute for Space Studies in New York City in 1968 – 1970. He then bounced around from Univac as a software designer, then Xerox as an operating system architect, Computer Sciences Corporation (1978) as a software consultant, and then at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton (1980-1982). While working for Lockheed in the 1980s, McAfee started developing software to fight viruses after receiving a copy of the Brain computer virus. In 1989, he left Lockheed to focus his full attention at McAfee.

McAfee founded McAfee Associates in 1987 and saw some early success by creating the first commercial anti-virus software, McAfee. In 1994, McAfee resigned from McAfee Associates (rebranded Intel Security after being purchased by Intel in 2010), however, the antivirus software still had his name until 2014. McAfee expressed pleasure at having his name no longer associate with the anti-virus software.


McAfee’s Life Post-McAfee

Two years after McAfee Associates’ IPO, McAfee sold his remaining stake. It is commonly thought that McAfee’s wealth peaked in 2007 at around $100 million before taking a steep plunge during the global financial crisis (the New York Times reported that his personal wealth declined to just $4 million).

McAfee in 1989.
McAfee in 1989. Photo- John Storey:The LIFE Images Collection:Getty

After leaving McAfee, John dabbled in everything from instant messaging (PowWow via Tribal Voice) and firewall software (as a member of the board of directors of Zone Labs) to biotech (antibiotics based on anti-quorum sensing technology via QuorumEx), and then back to the realm of personal cyber-security with Future Tense Central (secure computer network devices such as D-Central) and Cognizant (smartphone application that displays installed application permission)

In May 2016, McAfee became the CEO and chief executive chairman of a technology holding company called MGT Capital Investments.

He moved MGT into cryptocurrency mining to help MGT to learn more about blockchain, which he cited as being important for cybersecurity. In August 2017, McAfee briefly stepped down as CEO and became MGT’s “chief cybersecurity visionary” for a few months before completely leaving in an amicable mutual decision to focus the majority of his time on cryptocurrencies.

The Notorious

McAfee has long served as an anti-hero of sorts to the world’s cybersecurity, economic, political landscapes.

John McAfee Video

His technological prowess as a quasi-ethical hacker combined with his estranged multimillionaire background and scandalous reputation has landed him a spot as one of the most interesting characters in tech and cryptocurrency.

A few of McAfee’s broaches into the limelight include:

  1. Publicly volunteering to decrypt the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhone as a publicity stunt to showcase the simplicity of cracking an iPhone.
  2. Claiming that he and his team at MGT found a way to exploit an Android operating system flaw that allowed him to read encrypted WhatsApp messages.
  3. Having his compound in Belize raided by police, where the cops found $20,000 in cash, an arsenal of firearms including seven pump-action shotguns and two 9mm pistols (all registered and legal).
  4. Making a sardonic parody instructional video titled “How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus,” which featured a shirtless and gun-holstered John McAfee surrounded by skimpily-dressed women while snorting a (supposedly) prop white substance labeled “BATH SALTS”.
  5. Becoming a prime suspect for the murder of his neighbor in Belize.

McAfee in Cryptocurrency

The cryptocurrency public perception of John McAfee in 2017 and 2018 oscillated between being a blockchain evangelist and the patron saint of shitcoins.

An integral component of McAfee’s infamy is his Twitter account (the same can also be said of a certain 71-year-old infamous man in power). After a handful of sparkling endorsements of various cryptocurrencies, rumors began circulating that McAfee’s patronage could be purchased for a king’s ransom of 25 bitcoin and 15% of your tokens.

However, if there was one coin you can be fairly certain of McAfee’s pumping, it would be Bitcoin. In July 2017, John McAfee stated that if Bitcoin did not hit $500,000 in 3 years, he would eat his own dick on national television, a particularly bold move as Bitcoin had just settled near the $2,100 range after a momentary “technical correction”.


Later that year in November, McAfee would double down on his dick eating gamble and give it a price point of $1 million at the end of 2020.

Does this boldness necessarily mean that you should religiously follow McAfee’s gleaming endorsements on Twitter? Probably not.

However, it would be equally unwise and unfair to discredit McAfee and his role in the developing cryptocurrency world, an industry that has survived being strangled in the cradle by politicians, mainstream media outlets, and billionaires across the globe.

Final Thoughts

Many post-fortune techies-gone-rogue likely somewhat aspire to have such a controversial reputation, but it’s doubtful any will be able to match McAfee in breadth of experiences and longevity of character.

McAfee’s professional path has been paved by decades experiences, where McAfee either played a substantial role or was at the very least close to the fulcrum of innovation.

While John McAfee is a personality that has helped shape the post-Internet world, he’s also reflective of an off-the-grid Libertarian ideology that has attracted so many to the world of decentralized currencies like Bitcoin.

In an interview with Katu, a Portland news station, McAfee said, “The biggest thing to communicate is the world is not like it seems. There’s always something happening just underneath the surface. When people find this, nobody wants to believe it because it threatens the security and the normalcy of people’s lives.”

The realization that the world is not like it seems and that something is happening just beneath the surface is a concept that resonates with many movers-and-shakers in the blockchain world.

Whether or not you see McAfee as a hero, anti-hero, or villain, we’ll leave that up to you. However, at the very least there is some sort of kinship with a man whose biography thus far includes the same ingredients (in admittedly much higher doses) that have attracted thousands to cryptocurrencies.

Editor’s Note: Wired and Gizmodo provided some phenomenal and intimate insights into John McAfee’s life in the linked pieces, two reads I highly recommend if you find yourself insatiably interested in this character after reading this article. Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee is also a solid documentary.  

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