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John McAfee: Tattoo sparks wild conspiracy after tech guru’s death

After a life of guns and running from the law, tech guru John McAfee is dead — and a trail of clues has sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive.

Life can really be a wild ride at times, but perhaps nobody has been through its ups and downs quite like the late John McAfee.

The tech guru made his name by becoming a pioneer of the cybersecurity industry, before anybody knew that was a thing. And then went on to live an insane life of drugs and guns while on the run from authorities around the world.

He was wanted for murder and tax evasion, ran unsuccessfully for US president, became an icon of cryptocurrencies and spoke often of conspiracy theories on his widely followed social media accounts.

It is perhaps for this last reason that it has taken just hours for a conspiracy to swirl about the 75-year-old’s death, which took place inside the confines of a Spanish prison cell overnight.

The conspiracy is that he didn’t take his own life and he was taken out by US authorities.

Those who believe it are sharing a picture of a tattoo on his right bicep, which he shared with the world in November 2019.

It was taken two months after he was thrown into a Spanish prison cell on tax evasion charges.

The image shows the words ‘$WHACKD’, and in a tweet, he explained what it meant.

“Getting subtle messages from US officials saying, in effect: ‘We’re coming for you McAfee! We’re going to kill yourself’ (sic),” he wrote.

“I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”

In October, shortly after he was locked up, he sent another cryptic message.

“I am content in here. I have friends. The food is good. All is well,” he said. “Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine.”

It wasn’t the first time he spoke about Jeffrey Epstein — having long held the belief it’s not possible the billionaire paedophile died by suicide.

He spoke to news.com.au back in 2019 from an undisclosed location inside a “communications Faraday cage with signal jammers and multiple VPNs”.

He said Epstein’s injuries were “similar to someone being physically strangled”.

“His cellmate was taken from his cell six hours before his death, the video cameras were off and the guards in that cell block were sent home early due to cleaning. You add all that stuff up, and I don’t see how a suicide is possible.”

Now, conspiracy theorists are drawing comparisons between the fates of Epstein and McAfee, saying it’s clear they both knew too much.

In the months before his own arrest, McAfee claimed to be in possession of incriminating files on allegedly corrupt CIA and Bahamian officials.

However, McAfee’s critics have pointed out that McAfee had a very active imagination at the best of times.

Investigative journalist Robert Evans said he didn’t believe the conspiracy.

“I know McAfee tweeted that he would never kill himself. He was also a profligate liar and attention addict. He saw how much attention Epstein’s death generated,” he said.

“Epstein was connected to powerful people and knew their crimes. McAfee was not nearly as connected. He was a fringe figure who almost exclusively hung out with lower level grifters who swam in his wake and fed off his backwash.”

While there will be an investigation into McAfee’s death at the Brians 2 penitentiary near Barcelona, a spokeswoman for the prison system in the northeastern Catalonia region said the death was very likely a suicide.

A rollercoaster life of yachts and guns

Most people who know McAfee know of him because of the antivirus software he pioneered that is installed on an estimated 500 million computers worldwide.

He founded McAfee Corp in 1987 in Santa Clara, California, and led the company as it dominated the market for antivirus protection of personal computers.

However, he packed it all in and resigned in 1994 — saying that running the company no longer was fun as it grew to a massive corporation with thousands of employees.

He has not had anything to do with the company ever since and even said he said he was glad the company’s name was changed to Intel Security in 2010.

In the years after he walked away from the company his (USD) $100 million fortune was dwindled away to $4 million following a series of failed investments in real estate and punts on the stock market.

In 2009, he liquidated his assets and retreated to a heavily fortified beachfront compound on Ambergris Caye, a remote island off the coast of the Central American nation of Belize.

His paranoid, sex and drug-fuelled, jungle-dwelling lifestyle drew comparisons to Colonel Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He kept a harem of local prostitutes and never went anywhere without gun-toting bodyguards.

McAfee’s legal troubles first started in 2012 when Belize police raided his mansion under suspicion he was running a meth lab, although no drugs were found.

He shot into international attention that same year when he fled the country days after his neighbour Gregory Faull was shot dead.

He and Faull had been feuding over McAfee’s dogs escaping and suggestions Faull had poisoned them in response.

The tech guru’s home was searched after Faull was found dead and police said they wanted to question him as part of a murder investigation.

McAfee claimed he was nowhere near the victim on the night he died.

He then sought asylum in Guatemala in 2012 — but claimed he wasn’t on the run from authorities in Belize.

Guatemala officials prepared to send him back to face questioning, but at that moment, he collapsed on the floor while suffering from what looked like a heart attack.

He later admitted to US network ABC the heart attacks had been a ruse.

“Sure I faked it,” he said. “What would you have done?”

The ruse however gave his lawyers time to argue he should be deported to the US instead.

Meanwhile, the murder case was never resolved. Faull’s family later filed a wrongful-death suit against McAfee and in 2019 a court in Florida found against him, ordering him to pay the family more than $25 million.

Presidential run

During a phase of relative normality in the US, he ran as a candidate for the Libertarian party in 2016 and last year announced he would run again in 2020, “this time to draw public attention to the blockchain and cryptocurrency revolution”.

His political stances included ramping up defences against cyberattacks from China and Russia, and ending the war on drugs.

However, the stint in America didn’t last long. By January 2019, he fled America by boat, claiming he was being pursued by the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion after not filing tax returns for eight years. He vowed to run his presidential campaign from “in exile”.

In July that year, he was detained by authorities in the Dominican Republic for several days while his yacht was docked in Puerto Plata, with officials saying they suspected McAfee and his companions of carrying high-calibre weapons, ammunition and military-style gear.

During his life on the run he turned to social media and public interviews to salvage his reputation, allowing two reporters from Vice magazine to join him to document his lifestyle.

But his luck ran out in October last year when he was arrested just as he was about to board a flight to Istanbul from Barcelona.

He is alleged to have deliberately failed to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018, despite earning millions from consulting work, cryptocurrencies and selling the rights to his life story.

If convicted, he could have faced up to 30 years in prison.

In a statement, Catalonia’s regional justice department said only that an investigation was opened after an unnamed 75-year-old inmate facing extradition to the United States was found dead in his cell at the prison.

“Guards and medical staff intervened immediately to perform resuscitation measures but doctors eventually certified his death,” the statement added.

Spain’s National Court earlier on Wednesday said it had approved McAfee’s extradition to the United States.

The decision could still have been appealed and the extradition needed approval from the Spanish cabinet.

‘I regret nothing’

According to the US extradition request filed in November and quoted in the ruling, McAfee earned more than 10 million euros ($12 million) in 2014-18, but never filed a tax return.

“To conceal his income and assets from the Internal Revenue Service … the defendant ordered part of his income to be paid to straw men and placed property in their names,” it said.

In a tweet on June 16, he said the US authorities believed he had “hidden crypto”.

“I wish I did,” he added. “My remaining assets are all seized. My friends evaporated through fear of association. I have nothing. Yet, I regret nothing.”

McAfee’s wife Janice has long complained that he was “not doing well” in jail and had faced delays in getting “proper medical care” in prison in Spain.

“The US authorities are determined to have John die in prison,” she tweeted on Sunday, just days before his death.

“The media have continued to vilify him, per their narrative, and there is no hope for him ever having a fair trial in America,” she added.

In the weeks before he died, McAfee took to social media often. In his posts, he hinted at his mental health issues.

“I have a million followers but I’d be surprised if even 1% bother to read my tweets,” he wrote earlier this month.

“Ramblings of an old man lost in a near infinite Twitter verse – like tears in rain. As you may guess I’m having a down day.”

In a final post on Twitter on Saturday he wrote:

“In a democracy, power is given not taken. But it is still power. Love, compassion, caring have no use for it.

“But it is fuel for greed, hostility, jealousy … All power corrupts. Take care which powers you allow a democracy to wield.”

– with Frank Chung and AFP

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