Showtime's entertaining new documentary on John McAfee, Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee, begins with grainy police-car camera footage of the Silicon Valley legend being pulled over and handcuffed by a cop in August 2015. The disoriented and disheveled McAfee boasts to the cop: "I'm John McAfee, you've probably read about me."

"I don't know who you are," replies the cop.

(Watch Investopedia's exclusive interview with McAfee here.)

"Really?" McAfee is not so much offended as completely surprised. "I'm the guy who invented the McAfee antivirus, I'm the guy who was accused of murder in Belize and ran to Guatemala... I'm wanted  by the FBI." 

Basically, McAfee doesn't need a Showtime exposé; even while seemingly inebriated and under arrest, he is in charge of his own spin. And the murder charges are part of his c.v. at this point.

(Cybersecurity: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You)

The documentary attempts to get to the bottom of the murder. Filmmaker Nanette Burstein comes up with a reasonably compelling theory about which hit man performed the execution and the precise motives. She even lines up a slew of witnesses attesting not only to the events themselves, but to McAfee's decidedly questionable character. For example, a research scientist who worked for McAfee's dodgy Belize pharmaceutical company claims he spiked her orange juice and sexually assaulted her. A former bodyguard claims that McAfee, for no real reason at all other than an apparent love of maximum melodrama, started tooling around the gang-ridden slums of Belize to form his own personal army, the likes of which one would expect to see protecting a dictator of a banana republic. 

Per the choice of the word "gringo" in the documentary's title, Burstein compares McAfee to a colonialist, saying at one point that McAfee is the worst kind of over-privileged white man overseas: power-mad, dominating the natives and able to get away with literal murder because of his money. Jules Vasquez, a journalist interviewed for the documentary, likens McAfee to Joseph Conrad's iconic character Kurtz from the novel "Heart of Darkness" – a westerner king among jungle natives. Says Vasquez, "I think he really wants to create a sort of cult or mystique around himself as a white man around the edge like Colonel Kurtz, and here he is in the heart of darkness."

There's just one problem with this documentary, and it's a big one: It does not really matter whether Burstein's theory is correct. Even if she were to find a smoking gun and get a full on-camera confession from the hit man, it's apparent that McAfee has subverted the system and is in the clear. He knows it, the Belize government knows it, the US government knows it, and even Nanette Burstein knows it. Everyone in Belize seems so fearless in going on record about their possible involvement in an alleged murder that it almost cancels out their testimonies. It's like one of those murder mysteries in which everyone confesses that they did it, with the result that the inspector – who clearly cannot arrest every single person in Belize – has no choice but to drop the case.

The flaws in the documentary, though, are not Burstein's fault.  McAfee is a master manipulator of media. Burstein shares her email exchange with McAfee in which she asks him whether he fled to Belize because he lost his fortune in the 2007-2008 financial crisis: "I have been sued numerous times. I started the rumors that I lost my money. It worked."

So was McAfee lying back then, or is he lying now? Only this Houdini of legal and media escape knows for sure.


Investopedia Interview: John McAfee

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