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Rumors surrounding John McAfee’s death linked to QAnon conspiracy

It didn’t take long for conspiracy theories to start.
John McAfee speaks during the C2SV Technology Conference+ Music Festival at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California, on September 28, 2013.
John McAfee speaks during the C2SV Technology Conference+ Music Festival at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California, on September 28, 2013. [ LIPO CHING | San Jose Mercury News ]
Published Jun. 29

John McAfee, the British-American entrepreneur behind McAfee Antivirus, the first commercial antivirus software, was found dead in a Barcelona prison cell on June 23.

McAfee’s lawyer, Javier Villalba, and the Catalan justice department said his death appeared to be the result of suicide.

In October 2020, the U.S. Justice Department said McAfee had been arrested in Spain, charged with “tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns,” and was awaiting extradition to the United States. If McAfee had been extradited and convicted in the United States, he could have faced up to 30 years in prison.

The Spanish courts approved McAfee’s extradition to the U.S. on June 23, hours before he was found unresponsive in his prison cell. His extradition was not finalized, however. The court ruling was open for appeal, and the Spanish Cabinet still needed to approve a final extradition order, according to the Associated Press.

The Catalan justice department said medics tried unsuccessfully to revive McAfee, 75.

“Judicial staff have been dispatched to the prison and are investigating the causes of death,” the department said in a statement. “Everything points to death by suicide.”

The U.S. State Department in a statement to the Washington Post said it was “closely monitoring local authorities’ investigation into the cause of death,” and was “ready to provide all appropriate assistance to the family.”

Conspiracy surrounding his death

Villalba, McAfee’s lawyer, told Reuters he saw no warning signs that McAfee might take his own life. The Washington Post reported that McAfee’s widow, Janice McAfee, said she last spoke to her husband hours before he was found dead. She said he was not suicidal when they spoke.

His widow and lawyer are not the only people hesitant to believe McAfee took his own life. When the news of McAfee’s death became public, it didn’t take long for conspiracies to emerge online.

Social media users have posted “John McAfee Didn’t Kill Himself,” and used the phrase as a hashtag, promoting the idea that McAfee’s death wasn’t the result of suicide. Business Insider reported that the phrase was popular on Twitter hours after McAfee’s death was reported.

The theories resemble those that surrounded registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in jail in 2019. The “Epstein didn’t kill himself” theory was promoted by QAnon supporters — and the McAfee conspiracies have ties to QAnon as well.

The conspiracies were likely fueled when the Instagram account that belonged to McAfee posted a plain image of the letter “Q” minutes after news organizations reported his death. The “Q” is believed to be a reference to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers believe former President Donald Trump was working to bring down a secret world order and child trafficking ring led by prominent Democrats and celebrities.

QAnon conspiracy theorists often try to spin major news stories — such as high profile suicides, the coronavirus pandemic and even the cargo ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal — to promote their beliefs.

It is unclear who had control of McAfee’s Instagram account when the “Q” image was shared. The account has since been removed.

The conspiracies have also been bolstered by some of McAfee’s old tweets.

In 2019, McAfee tweeted a message about suicide, accompanied by a picture of the phrase “$WHACKD” tattooed on his arm.

“Getting subtle messages from U.S. officials saying, in effect: ‘We’re coming for you McAfee! We’re going to kill yourself,’” the tweet said. “I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”

In 2020, after his arrest in Spain, McAfee tweeted about suicide again.

“I am content in here,” the tweet said. “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.”

The tweets have fueled further speculation online that the official reports about McAfee taking his own life are untrue.

A Spanish judge ordered an autopsy for McAfee on June 24, but officials said the results could take weeks.

In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 and online chat support is also available. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor from anywhere in the U.S. at any time, about any type of crisis.

Madison Czopek