John McAfee Netflix documentary throws up two new mysteries in controversial life and death of tech pioneer

Running With the Devil follows the confusing and chaotic final years of the creator of the eponymous antivirus software

Anthony Cuthbertson
Wednesday 24 August 2022 10:50 BST
‘Mad man, psychopath, paranoid, drug-addled millionaire, call me what you want,’ McAfee says
‘Mad man, psychopath, paranoid, drug-addled millionaire, call me what you want,’ McAfee says (Netflix)

“My decisions are the same decisions any average human would make.” So starts a new documentary on the manic life and mysterious death of the cyber security mogul-turned-fugitive John McAfee. To anyone not already familiar with McAfee, it soon becomes clear that he was far from “any average human”.

Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee, released on Netflix this week, follows the confusing and chaotic final years of the controversial tech pioneer, picking up his story more than three decades after he created the eponymous antivirus software.

Like many other contextual keystones, the film skims over the founding of his company, which he left in 1994 but is now worth more than $4 billion. It also only briefly mentions his childhood, his work at Nasa on the space shuttle program, and everything else that happened in the first 67 years of his life.

Instead, it begins in 2012 when he is on the run following the murder of Gregory Faull – McAfee’s nextdoor neighbour when he was living in Belize – and again in 2019 when he fled the US to avoid tax evasion charges.

The lack of broader context seems unnecessary in the glare of the intense spotlight shone on McAfee during these frenzied periods, where we get to see him at his most paranoid, his most cavalier, and potentially most dangerous.

Heading into international waters off the coast of Florida in 2019, on a boat apparently used in the film The Wolf of Wall Street, McAfee has with him bodyguards, dogs, and an arsenal of weapons that could rival a small militia. Also onboard are drugs, bath salts, and “more alcohol than water”.

Seemingly under the influence of one or several of these substances, McAfee is recorded firing guns on the boat and searching under his bed and in boat cavities for “evil people” who might be hiding there.

Videographer Robert King, who provides the footage from both Belize and onboard the boat, says at one point: “I was so f**king scared, John was f**ked up… this was our host that had gone mad.”

After having a gun pointed at his toe, King flees the boat and abandons his filming of McAfee. “That’s when I realised, maybe John is capable of murder,” King says.

It is unclear whether or not McAfee’s threat was a serious one or just part of his dark sense of humour. “Mad man, psychopath, paranoid, drug-addled millionaire, call me what you want,” he says.

Directed by Charlie Russell, whose previous subjects have included gigolos and OAP escorts, the documentary offers the most illuminating and personal insight into McAfee that has ever been caught on film – yet viewers will still come away not knowing who he really is.

This is all part of the mystique McAfee tried to curate for himself. One of the most revealing moments comes towards the end, when an inebriated McAfee offers what he describes as “gold” to the cameraman. “I will fabricate whatever reality I see fit to keep eyeballs on us,” he says. “I have fabricated a perception that is matched in reality.”

Where the actual truth lies is left up to the viewer to decide. The documentary ends up providing more questions than it does answers, with two brand new mysteries to ponder. The first concerns the suicide of McAfee’s father, with previously unheard recordings suggesting that the story may be far more sinister.

It echoes the uncertainty surrounding McAfee’s own death, who allegedly hung himself in a Catalan prison cell last year – something his wife has consistently refuted. Janice McAfee, who features throughout but is never directly interviewed by the filmmaker, claims that McAfee was not suicidal and has questioned the official narrative put forward by Spanish authorities. She has even launched a campaign calling for the return of McAfee’s body, which remains in a Spanish morgue more than a year after his death.

The second mystery builds on the conspiracy of McAfee’s death. In the final words of the documentary, ex girlfriend Samantha Herrera questions not just how he died, but whether he died at all. She recounts: “After his death, I got a call from Texas. ‘It’s me John, I paid off people to pretend that I am dead, but I am not dead.”

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