The John McAfee circus rolls on

The John McAfee circus rolls on

The John McAfee circus rolls on

Dave Lee
North America technology reporter

  • 21 September 2015
  • From the section Technology
  • comments

The John McAfee circus rolls on

Image caption

John McAfee held court for around 30 minutes for anyone who would listen

Just over a year ago, I was in a big room at Def Con, a hacker conference held in Vegas each year, when suddenly all the doors were locked, and a security team marched in and combed the area.

Moments later, John McAfee arrived – the ex-online security tycoon, ex-fugitive, ex-lots of things I've not got time to mention here.

With him that day, dramatic tales of stalking, surveillance, attempts on his life. From who, he wasn't that specific – "the mafia!", "too many people!" – only that they were following him down the road, and hiding behind trees. He feared for his life, he told me later on camera (but not after I was patted down for weapons).

So imagine my surprise when earlier today I looked up from my laptop screen to see McAfee prowling the press room at TechCrunch Disrupt, a yearly event for start-ups held in San Francisco. You don't have to go to John McAfee anymore – he'll come to you.

His entourage, if you could call it that, was much smaller this time – consisting of his wife, what looked like a couple of assistants, and a documentary maker from Spike TV who bore the sorts of strains you'd expect of someone who is following someone like John McAfee around for hours every day.

"Hello John," I said. "We met at Def Con last year."

He sat down, tucked into a free sandwich, and started a bizarre, long-winded rant. I've posted a snippet of it on the BBC Tech Facebook page.

McAfee is running for President.

Of the United States.

He says his campaign is in full swing. I asked who's paying. He said he doesn't need money for coverage, as there's "the internet", and he'll be hosting a range of online chats with people to discuss "real politics".

He's said he'd run the numbers and it would be a landslide.

I'll paraphrase his logic.

He's in tech, so he'll get the techie vote. That's strategy number one.

Strategy number two is to do with tattoos. He said he has lots of tattoos all over (I didn't check), and that because one in five Americans has been inked – that's a lot of votes too.

(I asked a heavily-tattooed American friend, Cassie, if McAfee's logic made any sense to her. "Nooooooo. Is he even for real?")

And then the next piece of McAfee's logic surfaced. He said that since presidential hopeful Ben Carson wouldn't, in his view, win the Republican nomination, the only black person involved in the presidential race would be McAfee's wife Janice. Therefore black people would obviously vote for him.

A dangerous, and insulting, assumption, I offered – but by now the man was in full flow.

And it's here he thrives. He's a tech celebrity, still, and so he had a captive audience. But the appeal was, as usual, spectacle over substance.

He said the media is broken beyond repair and that he doesn't need it, making some of us wonder why he'd come to hang out in the press room.

And then he was gone, but not before offering a wager – $1 that he'd win the election.

I took him up on condition I could come to the White House and pay him in person. "Sure," he said. "But you're not getting the exclusive."

I'll survive, I think, but you do wonder what McAfee could possibly come up with next.

For many years, McAfee was known as a man who wasn't afraid to say what he felt was important, and with immense expertise in cyber security, he was certainly worth lending an ear.

Now you get the impression he doesn't mind what he talks about, so long as someone, anyone, is there to listen.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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