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Bombastic software pioneer and sometimes-yacht-based fugitive John McAfee has been dead for more than a month. His widow, his lawyer, and the government of Spain, where McAfee died in a jail cell, all confirm that he has passed away.
Just don’t tell that to the more than 130,000 people who have followed a series of newly created Telegram accounts purporting to belong to a still-alive McAfee.
In life, McAfee was an anti-virus software entrepreneur who would later become involved in failed presidential bids on the Libertarian Party line, cryptocurrency evangelism, conspiracy theories, high-seas living, New Age healing, murder and sexual-assault allegations (he was not charged) and, according to prosecutors, millions of dollars in tax evasion. He died in a Spanish jail cell on June 23, of apparent suicide, while awaiting extradition to the U.S. on tax charges.
McAfee’s larger-than-life persona and some of his fringe stances made him a folk hero of conspiracy movements like QAnon, which McAfee even referenced during his life. Shortly after McAfee’s death, in fact, his Instagram account—which had been run by other people while he was in jail—posted a large “Q” image, sparking a frenzy of conspiratorial chatter.
The Instagram account was later removed. But beginning in mid-July, a trio of accounts on the Telegram platform have emerged, all purporting to be very-much-dead McAfee. Since then, those accounts have racked up followers by pushing QAnon-like ramblings and providing a countdown clock for revelations that—shockingly—never materialized. Now the fake McAfee accounts are sowing discord in the QAnon world, elbowing in on the audience of longer-running QAnon influencers.
McAfee’s former lawyer, Andrew Gordon, confirmed that the accounts were not legitimate.
“I have been in close contact with John’s widow, Janice McAfee, who identified the body some weeks ago,” Gordon told The Daily Beast. “There is no reason to suspect John might still be alive, and certainly not that he would be running any Telegram channels which he did not open prior to his death.”
But the accounts, which launched between July 18 and July 22, have gone to lengths to pose as McAfee, even preemptively attacking Gordon.
On July 20, the largest account (currently more than 125,000 subscribers) authored an introductory post claiming that, “I Would Describe Myself As Quite Sane and Lucid, Which is Why I’m Still Alive. John McAfee.”
It then posted several of McAfee’s personal documents, and a short screed against Gordon, whom it accused of profiting from McAfee. The other, smaller fake McAfee accounts (including one that launched two days before the largest channel) copy-pasted the same message.
In fact, those supposedly identifying documents, including a scan of McAfee’s gun license from 2012, were easy to obtain online. A multi-media documentary group, for instance, is trying to sell versions of the documents as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a form of digital art. The McAfee Telegram channels appeared to copy McAfee documents straight from the documentary group’s online listings, even going so far as to urge people to join the documentary group’s chat room.
Administrators of the Telegram channels are not listed on the platform, and so could not be reached for comment for this story. But when reached for comment, an administrator for the documentary group’s chat room told The Daily Beast that his organization had nothing to do with the McAfee imposters, and that they had been flummoxed by claims that the subject of their project was still alive.
“We are not associated with that Telegram, and have no idea who is or who is pushing such conspiracy theories,” the administrator said. “To the best of our knowledge John David McAfee is indeed dead and not alive. The same goes for Elvis and Tupak. [sic] We are documentarians, perhaps the guys at ghost hunters can help out.”
The Telegram accounts, however, appear well-versed in McAfee-related conspiracy theories.
In July 2019, internet sleuths postulated that McAfee ran a YouTube channel that uploaded drone footage of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s island. (The Daily Dot questioned the theory at the time, noting that some of the uploads appeared to have taken place while McAfee was in jail.) That YouTube account went silent approximately a year ago, then resumed posting pro-Trump conspiracy videos in early July. The McAfee Telegram accounts have linked to the account’s new videos multiple times.
Not all of the Telegram references are conspiratorial throw-backs. Shortly after their launch, the accounts began posting cryptic messages in the style of the QAnon conspiracy theory. In garbled messages, the posts claimed an imminent release of information on Donald Trump’s foes. Despite a countdown clock included in some of the messages, the prophesied moment (early last Friday morning) came and went without any revelations. In replies to the fake McAfee posts, fans tried to “decode” the messages, asking each other if they knew how to access “the dark web” for more information.
QAnon fans are no strangers to disappointment, of course. “Q,” their theory’s anonymous progenitor, assured followers for years that Hillary Clinton or her allies were on the verge of arrest, or that Trump was about to reveal a child sex-trafficking plot by his political foes. Those prophecies never materialized, and Q has since stopped posting.
In Q’s absence, a network of conspiratorial influencers have tried adopting the movement’s followers. Some of those B-league paranoiacs have appeared to take issue with the fake McAfee accounts, which represent a new would-be prophet muscling in on their turf.
“I usually never call out people,” one of those large accounts told its 145,000-plus followers on Monday. “But this one here needs to be called [FAKE] [INFILTRATION].” The account went on to implicate the fake McAfees in a conspiracy theory about China.
Ron Watkins, another prominent QAnon influencer, also denounced the McAfees as dupes. Watkins is a former administrator of the site where “Q” used to post, and was the subject of a documentary series accusing him of personally controlling the “Q” account. (Watkins denies the allegation.)
On Sunday, Watkins warned followers of the McAfee account co-opting QAnon fandom. (He could not be reached for comment.)
“The John McAfee telegram account didnt [sic] announce anything at the end of the countdown,” he wrote. “None of the alleged 31 terabytes of deadman’s switch data has materialized. Now his account is posting Q-style drops and signing them as McAfee. Be careful.”