Is John McAfee Crazy, Brilliant, or Both?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Dec. 7 2012 11:20 AM

Is John McAfee Crazy?

Or is he just pulling off his greatest publicity stunt yet?

(Continued from Page 1)

McAfee’s mental condition poses another risk to the outcome of his case. The first two times I visited with McAfee, in 2007 and 2010, he was surrounded by a retinue of admirers, friends, girlfriends, and hangers-on. He was a gregarious, fun-loving personality who loved charming strangers and companions alike. When I visited in 2012, every one of his longtime associates had decamped, saying that his demeanor had changed, that he had become “scary” and “strange.” I asked him why, he brushed off the question. “I don’t need friends,” he told me. “What does friendship actually mean? It’s a commitment to an idea that just doesn’t interest me.”

Obviously, McAfee’s connections were good enough to get him this far. But if he is guilty, his fate may come down to whether any of the people who were with him that night are going to bend to police pressure and finger him as the perpetrator. By his own admission, many of McAfee’s guards had had run-ins with the law for serious offenses, and many of his girlfriends were prostitutes. The police will likely have a lot of leverage in getting them to talk. “If you think about it,” says Brown, “why would you be loyal to this guy anyway?”

If McAfee’s goal over the last three weeks has been the reasonable one of staying out of prison, then, his strategy could reasonably be described as crazy. It’s possible, though, that his strategy has actually been a very reasonable one, but in service of a crazy goal: that is, to generate as much media attention as possible. (Why anyone should crave attention so badly is perhaps the most impenetrable mystery of all.) If that was his goal, his performance has been simply masterful. Understanding the dynamics of the news cycle, he carefully husbanded his material, first doling out small, bland exclusives to one reporter, then gradually opening up the field to more and more journalists, amping up the volume and the outrageousness of the stories to ensure that the headlines kept coming. As long as he was in hiding, he had total control over the fuel that drives all media coverage: novel, interesting information.

Advertisement

Ultimately, however, the goals of freedom and attention-luring are not compatible. Some have expressed surprise that, upon being taken into custody by Guatemalan police, he was immediately given access to a laptop and allowed to continue blogging at will. It’s not remarkable if one considers that the police must be quietly delighted at McAfee’s logorrhea.

For all the bizarre plot twists McAfee has engineered since Gregory Faull’s death, it appears that his capture in Guatemala was not one that he planned or particularly relishes. In the tape that Vice magazine posted of his arrest Wednesday night, McAfee can be heard saying to his lawyer: “Can they take me back to Belize tonight? Are you sure, can you promise me, sir? Because I’m not worried about anything else.” Today, Guatemala announced that it would not grant him asylum and intended to send him back to Belize. The stress and alarm caused by his detention no doubt went a long way toward triggering the reported heart attack that Thursday afternoon sent McAfee to a hospital in Guatemala City.

Whatever happens next, it will not transpire as a result of McAfee’s inventive imagination. Nor will McAfee’s voice be the sole source for the remainder of the tale. From now on, the story enters a new phase, one grounded in the reality of concrete, iron, and evidence, and if John McAfee is crazy, it will eventually become clear exactly what kind of crazy he is.

Jeff Wise is a New York-based magazine writer and author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger. A contributing editor at Popular Mechanics and Travel + Leisure, he specializes in aviation, adventure, and psychology. He tweets as @ManvBrain and blogs at JeffWise.net.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.