An Instagram post uploaded after John McAfee’s death was announced Wednesday appeared to be a shoutout to the QAnon conspiracy theory, turning the apparent suicide in prison of a notorious software impresario into a surreal moment while sparking a frenzy of baseless speculation.
Posted around 4 p.m. Wednesday, the image showed just a black letter “Q” on a white background. It came after McAfee was found dead of what Spanish authorities believe to be suicide in a prison cell earlier the same day. A court had just approved his extradition to the United States on charges of tax evasion, and he was wanted in Belize for the murder of his neighbor.
The post was not the first time someone besides McAfee appeared to post to his Instagram. The account’s previous post, a “Free McAfee” image, was uploaded Oct. 5, the day he was arrested in Spain. In 2019, after a different arrest, another post indicated that the account was being run by McAfee’s social media team. “We are under good information our dear friend John McAfee is being unlawfully detained by authorities. We thank everyone for the outpouring of support,” the 2019 post read.
Neither McAfee’s lawyers nor Instagram immediately responded to requests for comment.
The millionaire founder of McAfee Associates, maker of the once-ubiquitous McAfee Antivirus Software, and notorious fugitive had long made fomenting conspiracy theories a prominent aspect of his public persona, and reports of his death gave rise to an e pluribus unum of conspiracy.
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Newsmax host Steve Cortes tweeted to his 222,000+ followers, “So...if Jeffrey Epstein got Vincent Fostered then...did McAfee just get Jeffrey Epsteined?” Tim Pool, a social-media personality on the right, tweeted to his 820,000 followers, “Bull F--KING S--t.” Progressive social media personality BrooklynDad_Defiant wrote to more than 900,000 followers, “John McAfee died today. They said it was suicide. But HE says he didn't do it. WOW.”
McAfee had courted a relationship with the fringe throughout his life, writing trollish tweets that implied he knew the identity of the person behind the QAnon conspiracy theory, which falsely claims enemies of Donald Trump are party to a Satanic pedophile ring.
An Instagram post on McAfee’s account from November 2019 showed a photoshopped collage of McAfee holding a gun before a cowering Jeffrey Epstein and bore the caption, “I never said Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. I said he didn't commit suicide. Not the same. Could be alive.” (One of his possibly less-than-serious tweets also referenced anal fisting.)
All evidence to date points to Epstein, a pedophile financier, dying in jail by suicide, despite conspiracy theories suggesting otherwise. But just as they did after Epstein’s death, commenters on both Instagram and Twitter paid tribute to McAfee’s conspiratorial ethos with the hashtag #JohnMcAfeeDidntKillHimself.
McAfee himself appeared to take action some time ago to ensure future reports of his death would be questioned. The same month as his Epstein post to Instagram, he got a tattoo of the word “$WHACKD.”
He wrote on Twitter, “Getting subtle messages from U.S. officials saying, in effect: ‘We’re coming for you McAfee! We’re going to kill yourself.’ I got a tattoo today just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whackd. Check my right arm.”
He had recently launched a cryptocurrency of the same name that advertised itself with an image of Hillary Clinton eating pizza, a none-too-subtle nod to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
If his embrace of bogus conspiracy theories was well-documented, McAfee’s legal woes are just as extensive. He was arrested in Barcelona in October 2020 at El Prat Airport en route to Istanbul, standing accused of avoiding taxes on selling the rights to his life story and cryptocurrency promotion. The Securities and Exchange Commission also accused him of earning $23 million by making misleading and outright false recommendations for cryptocurrency investments.
In 2012, Belizean authorities found McAfee’s neighbor Gregory Faull “lying face up in a pool of blood with an apparent gunshot wound on the upper rear part of his head.” Faull had filed an official complaint against the software mogul for “roguish behavior.” McAfee remained the prime suspect in Faull’s death, and a judge ordered him to pay $25 million in 2019 after Faull’s relatives filed a wrongful death suit. A former employee, Allison Adonizio, also accused McAfee of drugging and raping her in a 2016 documentary.
He also faced another wrongful death suit, this one worth $5 million, relating to the 2006 death of his young nephew.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a characterization of Tim Pool’s political identification.
—with reporting by Kelly Weill
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.