He is a genius, a crackpot, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
The story of former resident and legend John McAfee, who previously owned the Shining Mountain golf course property in Woodland Park, is worthy of a full length feature movie. Unfortunately, the only two writers who could do justice to both the genre and the plot are no longer with us. McAfee’s journey to the limits of sanity could only have been done justice by Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling. Indeed, McAfee is a living embodiment of a Twilight Zone episode.
His escapades are still the talk of the town, with McAfee rumors rivaling just about any local story.
McAfee’s saga starts out like other rags to riches internet entrepreneur sagas. He could have easily gone down in history as another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Fact is, his brainchild, McAfee Anti Virus software does share the same status as the achievements of both Gates and Jobs, but that is where the similarity ends and takes a twist that Gates and Jobs couldn’t ever imagine.
The story begins simply, as most any 23 year old college graduate story would. John worked as a computer programmer and systems analysis for several companies after his graduation from Roanoke College in 1968. His resume includes work he did for NASA, Xerox, Computer Science Corporation and Lockheed.
In 1987 he quit Lockheed and started his own company McAfee& Associates in Santa Clara, California , where he developed his famous antivirus software. McAfee filled the need for software that would detect and destroy secret maliciously implanted code that was corrupting and taking over people’s computers and compromising their personal data. By 1994 McAfee was filthy rich. He soon became restless and bored with the company and resigned as president. Two years later he sold his remaining interests in the company.
Before moving to Woodland Park, McAfee suffered two heart attacks and went on a soul searching sabbatical traveling around the country in a Winnebago. This is when he discovered our tiny town in the shadow of Pikes Peak and decided to call it home. In fact, for a brief period he owned the golf course property in Woodland Park (now known as Shining Mountain) and began developing the links and its real estate holdings. But McAfee abruptly pulled the plug on the project after dirt work was nearly completed on the front-nine holes and left a shell of a clubhouse unfinished.
McAfee, who had never played golf in his life, eventually sold the property to a Japanese company, following failed negotiations with former Woodland Park City Manager Don Howell, who wanted to turn the links into a municipal course.
During McAfee’s subsequent travels he became deeply interested in Native American culture. From this he took the idea of the Indian Pow Wow, (a gathering of tribes) and created the first internet messaging service. He called it Tribal Voice which he later sold to CMGI (now ModusLink Global Solutions, Inc.).
After selling Tribal Voice McAfee started a yoga school and studio on his sprawling $25 million, 280 acre compound just outside of Woodland Park.
THE GOING GETS WEIRD
Up to this point in his life, the John McAfee story has been relatively tame and not much more than a tale of a somewhat eccentric millionaire. It was the best of times, and then the train ran off the tracks.
Aside from the massive compound in Woodland Park, McAfee had acquired a 1,044 acre ocean-front plantation in Hawaii; a Villa in Port Isabel, Texas and an ocean-front estate on Molokai .
Sometime during this period something snapped. Whether it was the result of rumored rampant drug use and crazed sexual escapades or just the whimsical journey of a man with more money than he knew what to do with, he stopped making payments on all his real estate holdings and they went into foreclosure. His grand compound in Woodland Park, which included a 10,000 square foot main house that was fully furnished with antiques from around the world, (valued at over $25 million) sold at auction for a mere $5.72 million to a Chicago commodities trader.
McAfee’s response to the sales was nothing more than: So what, who cares? He was becoming more and more possessed with the idea that the government and international corporations were involved in a conspiracy to control the populous through a coordinated effort to spy on everything everybody did by controlling the internet.
All of this didn’t yet drive him into a life of reclusive self banishment. Rather, he seemed to revel in the role of iconoclastic renegade, railing against the evils of surveillance and, perhaps a touch ironically, invasion of privacy on the internet. His twitter byline reads ‘Eccentric Millionaire and Still Alive’, and his pinned tweet carries the hashtags ‘#gof***yourself #NSA’.
His next big move took him to Belize where he took on various projects including water sports store, water taxi service, and an ultra-light flight school. In an effort to give a little something back to his new home, McAfee donated to law enforcement, cash, equipment, weapons, programs that feed children and help single mothers. Soon afterwards he was approached by a local politician who asked him for a $2 million contribution. He refused.
He then attempted to notify the Belize Minister of National Security to report the incident. Two weeks later, McAfee’s property was raided by a team of 65 armed men from the Belize Gang Suppression Unit (GSU).
At this point he suspected massive corruption at the highest levels of the government and deploys his keylogging software-loaded systems and begins collecting information from the computers he had donated to the government. The situation in Belize comes to a head for McAfee when his neighbor, Gregory Faull, is murdered and the Belizean government names McAfee as a person of interest.
In a blog post McAfee recalls how he managed to elude capture and flee Belize . “It’s visually interesting and it is mostly a happy story — in line with most Christmas stories,” he wrote.
The former software executive describes an operation that was heavy in advance planning and trickery. He says he planted a look-a-like (“my double – a man I have known for over 30 years and who years ago legally changed his name to John McAfee”) and had him picked up by authorities in the northern Belize-Mexico border, while he and a group of friends and reporters loaded up a truck and headed in the opposite direction, to a southern town called Punta Gorda. With the news that he’d been arrested broadcasting on a local news station, McAfee figured that checkpoint security would relax. McAfee then followed another friend who was driving one of his pickup trucks to avoid checkpoints on the highway. This was another decoy, McAfee said. “If they stopped the truck, I knew the checkpoint officers would be swarming all over it. Subsequent traffic would be likely to be waved through.”
But then, he also had a secret weapon: the weather. McAfee made sure that his dash happened on a rainy day. “In Belize , no checkpoint officers will ever stop a car in the rain,” he wrote.
He says he blew through all three highway checkpoints on that early December day without ever being stopped.
From Punta Gorda, he and his 20-year-old girlfriend Samantha Vanegas and two reporters sailed into Livingston, Guatemala .
In Guatemala one of the reporters he is traveling with inadvertently revealed his location and McAfee is arrested and deported to Miami – where he is ignored by U.S. authorities and he takes to the back roads. Now a fugitive he travels incognito where ever he goes and never travels with less than ten guns.
At least that’s how he tells the story.
According the Belize authorities, McAfee was assembling a private army and trafficking in narcotics while he was in Belize .
In an interview with Joshua Davis, for Wired.com, in December, 2012, before he fled Belize, McAfee said, “Maybe what happened didn’t actually happen,” as he pulled out a revolver and loaded one round in the gun, spun the cylinder and placed the barrel against his temple. Davis said he then pulled the trigger. Nothing happens. He pulls it three more times in rapid succession. With the gun still to his head, he starts pulling the trigger incessantly. “I can do this all day long,” he says to the sound of the hammer clicking. “I can do this a thousand times. Ten thousand times. Nothing will ever happen. Why? Because you have missed something. You are operating on an assumption about reality that is wrong.”
A rather unusually way to make a point about perception of reality.
BACK IN THE USA
Having evaded capture by the Belizean authorities McAfee went on the run here in America claiming he was being stalked by hit squads from Belize who placed a $650,000 price on his head. Since his return to the US he has stayed in a number of different locations – always trying to stay one step ahead of the hit squads he believes are out to kill him.
In March, 2014 he gave an interview with John Swartz of USA Today. He is chain smoking cigarettes, sleep deprived, is surrounded by guns and a pit bull patrols his 40 acre spread in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee .
He says, he has narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in Portland in September, traversed the country with his wife to avoid hit squads and hardly slept a wink. At the same time, he’s a frequent Fox TV contributor and was able to launch a start-up, Future Tense, based in Montreal. Its first product, DCentral 1, is about to be released. (“Our program makes you aware of apps that track you,” he says. “No one is anonymous.”)
“This is one of those things where truth is stranger than fiction – of which I am intimately familiar,” says McAfee, who triggered worldwide headlines when he escaped the Central American country in disguise using old-fashioned tradecraft.
“This is the age of paranoia, with the NSA, hit squads, government snooping – you name it,” McAfee says, checking the sight on his Ruger pistol.
McAfee says the FBI takes the threats against him seriously – so seriously that he is in almost daily contact with an agent. He shows Swartz texts to back up his account. McAfee says the FBI has offered to place him in protective custody, but he is loath to accept such a fate because he considers the prospect of working in a grocery store in the Deep South under an assumed name “akin to a death sentence” of stultifying anonymity.’”
Dave Joly, an FBI spokesman in Denver, would neither confirm nor deny McAfee’s claims.
Interestingly, Spike TV (aka: the testosterone channel) will be airing a six part series as part of its original programming titled “The McAfee Project.” For now the project is still in development.
Whether he is a paranoid crackpot or a crusader for justice, (or both) John McAfee can say without equivocation that he has led an interesting life to say the least. And the best part is, that crazy journey started right here in little ol’ Woodland Park.
He is a genius, a crackpot, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.