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The Conspiracy Theories About John McAfee’s Death, Explained

The software pioneer died in jail, but many were convinced there had been foul play.

John McAfee in 'Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee.'
Netflix

John McAfee, the antivirus software pioneer, has long been a source of public fascination. In 2012, McAfee made international news when he went on the run from authorities in Belize, who were investigating him for the murder of his neighbor, Gregory Faull — a crime McAfee insisted he hadn’t committed. After he eventually made it back to the United States, he became a popular libertarian figure and Twitter personality, but always believed that someone was out to get him, and didn’t hesitate to say so to anyone who would listen. So it wasn’t all that surprising that, after he died in June of 2021, conspiracy theories about the circumstances of his death started swirling.

All this, and more, is explored in the new Netflix film Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. The documentary, which was directed by Charlie Russell, features both extensive, up-close footage of McAfee escaping from Belize to Guatemala in 2012, and more recent footage of him and his entourage. The film makes some key omissions, however, including an allegation from former McAfee employee Allison Adonizio that he drugged and raped her while living in Belize. The film also fails to explain the damning source of the conspiracy theories that proliferated after McAfee’s death.

Below, a full explanation of McAfee’s death and how those conspiracy theories originated.

How did John McAfee die?

According to Politifact, McAfee was arrested in Spain in October 2020. He was charged with “tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns,” an unsurprising charge for someone who had publicly boasted about refusing to pay taxes for eight years online (as footage in the documentary shows). At a hearing in May 2021, McAfee urged the Spanish court not to extradite him to the U.S., explaining that he would no doubt spend the rest of his life in prison given that he was 75 at the time. “I am hoping that the Spanish court will see the injustice of this,” he said, per Reuters.

Spain’s high court, however, was not persuaded, and approved McAfee’s extradition on June 23, mere hours before McAfee was found dead in prison. The justice department in Catalonia, where McAfee was being held, released a statement that read, in part, “Judicial staff have been dispatched to the prison and are investigating the causes of death. … Everything points to death by suicide.” An anonymous official source told the AP that a suicide note had been found with McAfee’s body, though the contents were not made public.

But McAfee’s widow, Janice McAfee, was not appeased by this statement. “His last words to me were ‘I love you and I will call you in the evening,’” she said in a press conference outside the prison. “Those are not the words of somebody who is suicidal … We had a plan of action already in place to appeal that decision. … I blame the U.S. authorities for this tragedy: Because of these politically motivated charges against him my husband is now dead.” Shortly after, Vanity Fair reports, the official autopsy confirmed that McAfee had died by suicide. Janice McAfee requested a second, independent autopsy.

Where did the conspiracy theories come from?

A few hours after the first reports of McAfee’s death surfaced online, his Instagram account — which had remained dormant since his incarceration in October 2020 — posted a large image of a Q. Vice reports that this post made its way onto QAnon platforms and message boards “within minutes” of it being posted. Although McAfee had not previously been involved in the QAnon conspiracy theory, as soon as the post appeared, QAnon followers embraced him as one of their own: They believed, Vice writes, that “McAfee was assassinated by the deep state, or is still alive, or may have even been the anonymous poster known as Q.”

Prior to his incarceration, McAfee had primed conspiratorial thinkers to question the circumstances surrounding his death. When Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in prison in 2019, McAfee publicly speculated about Epstein’s cause of death, tweeting, “Getting subtle messages from U.S. officials saying, in effect: ‘We’re coming for you McAfee! We’re going to kill yourself.’ I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn't. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”

McAfee’s tweet stoked conspiracy theorists.

He tweeted about the topic yet again after he had been incarcerated in Spain, writing, “I am content in here. I have friends. The food is good. All is well. Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.” Unsurprisingly, both these missives fueled conspiracy theorists who refused to believe that McAfee would take his own life, despite copious concrete evidence that he had done so.

The conspiracies didn’t end there: The day after McAfee’s death, the Champlain Towers condominium in Surfside, Florida, collapsed. Shortly thereafter, USA Today reports, social media users began circulating a fabricated post, purporting to be from McAfee’s account. The fake post read, “If anything ever happens to me, please know that the 31TB (terabytes) of files I have are located on hard drives in my condo near 88th Street and Collins Avenue just north of Miami Beach.” This wasn’t true: McAfee didn’t own a unit in Champlain Towers, and the building’s collapse was the result of structural flaws and neglect, not foul play. But that didn’t stop the fake post from spreading.

Ultimately, the conspiracy theories surrounding McAfee’s death demonstrate two things: One, that plenty of people on social media are eager to believe anything, no matter how far-fetched. And second, McAfee has always been able to get people to believe crazy stories — even from beyond the grave.