Twelve weeks before the murder, John McAfee flicks open the cylinder of his Smith & Wesson revolver and empties the bullets, letting them clatter onto the table between us. A few tumble to the floor. McAfee is 66, lean and fit, with veins bulging out of his forearms. His hair is bleached blond in patches, like a cheetah, and tattoos wrap around his arms and shoulders.
More than 25 years ago, he formed McAfee Associates, a maker of antivirus software that went on to become immensely popular and was acquired by Intel in 2010 for $7.68 billion. Now he’s holed up in a bungalow at his island estate 15 miles off the coast of Belize. The shades are drawn so I can see only a sliver of the white sand beach and turquoise water outside. The table is piled with boxes of ammunition, fake IDs, Frontiersman bear deterrent, and a single blue baby pacifier.
McAfee picks a bullet off the floor and fixes me with a wide-eyed, manic intensity, his light blue eyes sparkling. “This is a bullet, right?” he says in the congenial Southern accent that has stuck with him since his boyhood in Virginia.
“Let’s put the gun down,” I tell him. I’d come here to investigate why the government of Belize was accusing him of assembling a private army and entering the drug trade. It seemed implausible that a wildly successful tech entrepreneur would disappear into the Central American jungle and become a narco-trafficker. Now I’m not so sure.
But he explains that the accusations are a fabrication. “Maybe what happened didn’t actually happen,” he says, staring hard at me. “Can I do a demonstration?”
He loads the bullet into the gleaming silver revolver and spins the cylinder.
“This scares you, right?” he says. Then he puts the gun to his head.
My heart rate kicks up; it takes me a second to respond. “Yeah, I’m scared,” I admit.
“We don’t have to do this.”
“I know we don’t,” he says, the muzzle pressed against his temple. And then he pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. He pulls it five times in rapid succession. There are only six chambers.
“Reholster the gun,” I demand.
He keeps his eyes fixed on me and pulls the trigger a sixth time. Still nothing. 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.”
It’s the same thing, he argues, with the government’s accusations. They were a smoke screen—an attempt to distort reality—but there’s one thing everybody agrees on: The trouble really got rolling in the humid predawn murk of April 30, 2012.