John McAfee was born at the height of World War II, a period during which the question of Freedom was being decided for the entire world. John has carried with him his entire life both the fraught energy of the period, and the budding optimism that followed it. Never one to rest on his laurels, he started out life by earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Roanoke College and never looked back.
Upon entering the workplace, McAfee’s innate talent as a programmer landed him jobs at some of the largest and most successful companies and institutions of all time. Working at NASA, Univac, Xerox and Lockheed Martin made for an impressive resume yet failed to satisfy the strongest drives of his human spirit. He constantly felt as if he needed to do more – that he had not yet found his calling.
Revolutionizing an Industry.
While working at Lockheed Martin, McAfee received a copy of one of the first computer viruses. Studying this problem, McAfee’s natural sense of curiosity and his visionary outlook combined with his technological acumen and strong desire to help others. The result was McAfee Associates, vendor of the very first anti-virus protection system. Not content to just start a company, McAfee in reality had founded an entire multi-billion dollar industry.
This would not the the last time McAfee helped to pioneer a new industry and change entire paradigms. As the founder of Tribal Voice he developed one of the very first instant messaging apps. He continued to start several more successful companies during his career, and has mentored countless others to similar success.
A Lesson In Corruption.
In 2008, the financial crisis that destroyed so many lives and injured countless others also took its toll on McAfee. As with every other misfortune in his life, McAfee’s optimistic individualism compelled him to find even greater purpose, and he dedicated himself to the task of studying plants from the jungles of Belize in order to harness their medicinal properties for the benefit of all.
The jungles of Belize offer many tantalizing prospects to a student of science, but also threaten peril to those that refuse to conform to the mold. And while McAfee was aware that bribery and corruption was a major part of the culture there, even he could hardly be prepared for the level of depravity to which the government would descend. McAfee’s refusal to pay a multi-million dollar bribe led to his house being ransacked, McAfee being tortured, and his dog being shot while he helplessly looked on.
After this incident, McAfee did everything he could to expose the corruption of the government of Belize to the world. After again refusing a bribe he was not visited again, for in the calm before the storm the government was planning something much worse. What they were up to came into focus when one of McAfee’s neighbors was found murdered in the style of execution favored by government execution squads, and the government announced that they would like to”question” McAfee in custody.
Realizing this desire for the likely death sentence that it was, McAfee declined to be questioned and instead began a storied and dangerous adventure to escape Belize through Guatemala and, eventually, home to America. That story, with elements familiar to fans of both Jack London and Jack Kerouac, captured the public imagination and elevated McAfee even further into legend status. And through his blog and coverage in the media, we were all able to live The Great Escape along with him.
Returning home meant, for McAfee, returning to business. He had left Belize with nothing, and had literally to start from scratch. So again he built businesses, while at the same time pursuing a career as a prolific author and media personality. Many people would have looked back, taken a deep breath, and been content with a life full of achievement and adventure. Many, many people, but not John McAfee.
It did not take long once back in America to see that things weren’t right here either. Corruption, while less bloody, is as much a problem here as in Belize. The government, run by people that have made careers out of a desire to control others, has become insane. It had come to view the citizenry, free thought and real democracy as its enemies. And at the same time, it is blundering incompetently towards a technological future that it is ill-prepared for and that could spell the end of our society.
Something must be done. Taking a moment to reflect on where McAfee has been is an excellent reminder that he may be one of the only people alive that can lead us where we need to go as a nation. And as he meets more and more Americans on the campaign trail they are coming to see with their own eyes what the story suggests. More than just a businessman – more than just a smart man – McAfee is, in the tradition of rugged individualism and human courage that saturates the American Story, a Force.
JOHN PERKINS has written nine books that have been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than seventy weeks and translated into over thirty languages. His new book: The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Berrett-Koehler) comes out Feb, 2016. He has lectured at Harvard, Oxford, and more than 50 other universities around the world, and been featured on ABC, NBC, CNN, NPR, A&E, the History Channel, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Der Spiegel, and many other publications. For more information go to