When people outside of crypto think of John McAfee, they think computers, cybersecurity, anti-virus software. But in the world of crypto and blockchain, you think of a yacht in tropical waters, passionate — and sometimes, admittedly, inebriated — tweets on tech and crypto... and an enviable amount of partying.
When I called McAfee to talk on record, he was sitting at a table outside a cafe in Cuba with palm trees and patches of blue sky behind him.
We talked about McAfee’s presidential campaign in the United States, his relationship with the U.S. government, cryptocurrency mass adoption and why he’s actually a patriot in exile.
John McAfee: Libra is a universal, digital identification that's going to be rolled into the cryptocurrency, meaning that everything that you do with that currency can be monitored and traced back to you.
Now, I'm a firm believer in privacy and even anonymity when it comes to our financial transactions.
We each have the right to earn a living and to do what we wish with the money that we earn. I mean, if not, then we are still under the control of the financial system we're trying to escape from.
That is the purpose of digital currency: to give control of currency back to the people rather than to governments and institutions that can control the currency that we use.
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And you need to understand how important currency is. If we don’t have freedom of currency, we don't have freedom of anything.
To get that freedom, we have to have a decentralized system, and we have to have a system that provides a degree of privacy — because without privacy, then we still are controlled.
The reverse of privacy is a system where everything that you do is known. This is what Facebook has produced.
Please God, we cannot tolerate this. Now, they can produce it, but we do not have to use it.
Please understand that using Facebook is the abdication of everything that we have worked for for almost 10 years. So understand what it is, let them do what they want, but please, God, do not accept it as your standard of currency.
It will be the end of your freedom and the end of your privacy.
Exile in Cuba
OC: So, you're in Cuba right now. Are you getting a sense of cryptocurrency use there or people's relationship to crypto or blockchain.
JM: Well, keep in mind Cuba is a very unique country. It's the only communist country in the Caribbean area — the closest communist country to America. Cryptocurrency has had very little impact on the economy here, on the people. And very few people understand it or know anything about it.
For safety reasons, I'm trying to keep my mouth shut here and talk about crypto in other parts of the world because I really have no choice of anywhere else to go.
But, I can't go anywhere. I was run out of America; I went to the Bahamas. I went to the Bahamas because America was charging me with income tax violations.
Well, it's true. I haven't paid taxes in eight years, and I never intend to pay them again.
To me, they are unconstitutional in America and they're illegal.
I went to the Bahamas because they have no income tax at all. According to international law, you cannot extradite someone from a country where the crime that you are extraditing them for is not a crime in that country. So, if you have no income tax, not paying it is not a crime.
So, the U.S. then manufactured a bunch of other things — murder, money laundering and racketeering — which every country would have to extradite me for.
Their intent was to drop those charges as soon as they collected me and delivered me to America, and then continue to prosecute me on income tax. Now, I don't want to play those games, so I came to Cuba.
Cuba has never extradited an American citizen and if they extradite me, it would be an extraordinary exception.
OC: Can you explain your stance a little bit more about income tax? Why do you say it’s illegal in the U.S.?
Our constitution states very clearly, Congress shall pass no laws to inhibit, restrict or in any way hinder an individual's ability to earn a living.
Now, if you're taking 25% of my money, if you're making me work for you — the government — for one quarter or one third of the year, I insist that is inhibiting my ability to make a living.
OC: So, you're running your presidential campaign in exile. And the base of your campaign and your personal ideals is economic freedom, as you've been describing.
But on the other hand, Cuba is actually very low on the economic freedom index. I'm wondering if you see any contradiction in that.
JM: Well, not in the least. Let me ask you who creates that index? Is Cuba asked about it? Do people come to Cuba and actually study what's happening here? Let me tell you something: This is the most entrepreneurial society I have ever been in.
Yes, the government does restrict absolutely everything in terms of your making a living. However, there is an undercurrent just below that. There is an economic, entrepreneurial system, which I have never seen before. It's the same thing in every communist country — in Russia, it was the same.
So, you know people are making $20 a month, and yet, they're buying cars that cost $60,000. Now, how do you do that? Ask simple questions, right? They're doing it by being creative, by adhering to the laws of the government and at the same time, managing to make a good living.
Keep in mind, America has strangled the Cuban economy for 63 years through embargoes. They can't get building materials, they can't get paint to paint their frigging houses. They can't get parts to maintain their cars.
One of the first days I was here, I bought a Bic lighter and along the bottom were seven tiny, little holes. And I asked the person: What is this? He said, “Oh it's been refilled.” They will refill a throw away lighter seven-10 times until the flint wears out. It costs $0.10 to have them refilled, rather than $2 to buy a new one. I've never seen creativity like that before.
So, people all band together to figure out how they can live. Jesus, I've never seen anything more entrepreneurial.
So, do not buy America's garbage propaganda, because I promise you: All those indexes, they have to pass the U.S. government's approval.
They have the airplanes, the bombs, the battleships. They tell the world what to do. They think they are the world's policeman. So, don't buy all this s--- about being that low on the index. How do you know? Come here and take a look. I promise you: You will be startled.
Running for U.S. president
OC: I want to ask a little bit more about your plan to run for president of the U.S. If you were president, what would the role of cryptocurrency be in the U.S.?
JM: Okay, let me start off by saying this is my second run. I ran in 2016 under the Libertarian Party. I lost to Governor Johnson for the primary nomination. I did not want to win in 2016.
In 2016, I thought the largest problem America faced was it was lagging behind in cybersecurity. So, I spoke on the national stage for a year about that and that's all I talked about.
Now, I could not possibly be president even if I had a platform, even if I wanted to, if I dressed in a business suit and didn't curse. No matter what I did, I can't be president. Jesus, God — I'm John McAfee. However, I can certainly run for president.
So, let's not talk about what I would do the first day in office. Let's talk about what I'm going to do while running, which is to raise awareness — not just in the U.S., but around the world.
I want to educate people about how fiat currencies are their prison and the means that governments use to make a society of slaves.
This is a terrible situation. You have a prison of the mind — certainly in America. And this is what I want to educate people about. We take control first of our economy, of our currency, of our ability to survive, buy food, clothes and shelter. Without the currency, you cannot do that. That is how you're controlled. So, this is what I'll be talking about.
McAfee vs. the U.S. Government
OC: Last month, you tweeted about having terabytes of incriminating data on corruption in governments. Could you go into a little more detail about what kind of data we're talking about and how you got the data? Can you share some of it or reveal some of it?
JM: Let me give you an example of the kind of data. I was in the Bahamas. The U.S. government had manufactured these charges against me to get me extradited from the Bahamas so they could try me for the IRS crimes. The people who operate illegally with the U.S. government in the Bahamas were the head of the police force and the head of the armed forces in the Bahamas.
So, I outed those people. They both had secret bank accounts. I published the name of the bank, the account numbers on the secret accounts. The deposits that came in to these accounts, the dates, the amount and from who and the withdrawals in cash totaling many times their annual salary. So, now I'm wanted in the Bahamas.
This is hard data that I have on almost everybody in the world. Why? Because people tell me everything. When someone finds out a piece of information, I'm probably the first person they gave it to. I have it on everybody, Okay? I don't want to bring anything down. I've never had a problem with the CIA other than that they keep harassing me.
The CIA is as fragmented as any other element of our government, there are decent people and there are crooks.
And believe me, I could bring down the U.S. government, like I almost brought down the Bahamian government.
OC: How does the CIA harass you? Have you seen people following you?
JM: Oh, my security sees them all the time. They alert me to them: “Oh, this car is following us,” and I say, “Well, get the license number.” I have it checked out and it's always owned by some obscure element of the U.S. government.
Of course they're following me — God almighty, I am a rebel. I'm an outrage to the stability of the U.S. corrupt government. Not the whole government, good Lord. There are some decent people there. But unfortunately, there are many indecent people. James Comey of the FBI. Jesus, God. One of the most corrupt individuals in the world — a total scumbag.
I mean there are many people in high positions that can control what's going on. Now, I haven't released anything. However, if anything happens to me... absolutely. I've got dead man switches everywhere. Within a day of my disappearance or untimely death, there will be every newspaper in the world pouring through more documents than they could have 100 people pour through in 100 years.
So, no — it will be chaos. But right now, I just want to be able to live happily, try to make a better world for my children and grandchildren and fish from time to time.
OC: It sounds like you're succeeding at the moment.
Promo in the crypto industry
OC: You’ve openly spoken about promoting projects, and often on your Twitter, you'll do a video about a particular company. Can you talk a little bit about your vetting process for these companies, given our industry is known for seeing a large number of scams?
JM: Well the first thing I do is I have the company checked out.
I would say 90% of what's happening in crypto is a scam.
The problem with that is, since it is, trolls and others can point to anything and say, “That's a scam,” and people will believe it. It's a very complex and subtle interchange of energies. But the first thing I do is I say, “Are you real? Are you people real?” and have the people checked out. It's a very trivial thing: Have you ever been in jail? Have you ever run out on another company and left people hanging? It's simple.
But before I even do that, it has to be a project that appeals to me.
Then, I do my thing. And people call them scams — or I don't care what they call them. I've checked them out. They're doing the best they can. They don't all succeed. There is not a universal success rate for anything in life. But they all attempt it. They all try and they all have good developers and — for whatever reason — if they do not, it's not because there was a scam or because they weren't trying. It's simply because it didn't work.
OC: Do you generally invest in the companies that you promote?
JM: No, I do not. I wish I was in a position to invest. Keep in mind, especially now that the IRS has shut down all my banks, I'm living hand-to-mouth. So, no. But what I invest is my time and my advice.
I think my advice — you know, coming from a 74-year-old man who's been in business since he was 23 — is worth something. And people generally take my advice.
People do stupid things — I don't know why. They're looking for the money before they build the product. It doesn’t work that way: You're not going to sell something that doesn't exist. Or, they won't put the product out soon, so they can get the money now rather than making sure it doesn't have bugs.
Listen, you have to have a solid product, because if you put something out and you promoted it and it's got a bug, then everybody fails. You're dead in the water after all of this work. Wait another two months. Advice like this is just invaluable to young people.
Mass adoption of crypto
OC: What needs to happen for people to use cryptocurrency on a mass scale?
JM: We have to have more friendly user interfaces. You're not going to get the average plumber and give him a crypto wallet and say, “This 150-digit number is an address. It means something. You must copy it somehow or take a picture of this.”
No. Please, God. That scares people. We need something that has a name. Frank Smith. Okay, I want to send Frank Smith 50 Bitcoins or five or a fifth or whatever. That's cool. By the way, I don't think crypto trading is the end-all for crypto. I mean, that might be the entry point, but the end-all is where we f---ing buy things with the crypto that we have, for heaven's sake, rather than trading it constantly. But that's coming... that will come.
I think in 10 years there'll be no fiat anywhere in the world. Everything will be electronic, everything will be cryptocurrency.
In five years, I think the majority of people will be using crypto for the majority of their purchases. I mean, already you can buy houses, cars, almost everything with crypto — some services even.
You can even buy prostitutes — both male and female — with crypto these days. I think in two years time, we're going to see a quadrupling of both the number of businesses that accept crypto and the number of people that are using it not to trade, but to actually buy and sell.
OC: But people also need to be convinced that cryptocurrency is better for them to use than fiat currency.
JM: Here's an example — and if this doesn't sell you, nothing will. Let's say I'm doing business with somebody in England or Germany — in another country — and in order to get started, I've got to make a down payment. All right, so I've got to get out of bed, get dressed, hop in my car, drive to the bank, fill out a bunch of forms, sign them, get approval from the bank and they will say, “Well, within 24 hours, it'll be there.”
Or I can not get out of bed, grab my smartphone — even if I do have to copy and paste a 150-character string — push send and go back to sleep. I've got 60 seconds versus an entire hour.
Which would you rather do? This is one example. Please, God. It's so superior to our current system that there is no way the current system can survive.
Bitcoin price predictions
OC: Recently, crypto analyst Mati Greenspan pointed out that there is an 86% chance that Bitcoin will be worth less than 50K by 2020. Are you concerned about the bet that you made?
JM: No, good Lord. Listen, anybody with common sense, and who can add and subtract and multiply, actually can count the total transactions in the world every year. And look at the number of dollars and yen and British pounds and euros and Chinese yuan. So, that's about $2,000 trillion. There's only 21 million Bitcoins and actually 7 million of those are lost forever.
If Bitcoin were the only currency, it would be worth a trillion dollars per Bitcoin. Now, it's not the only currency.
Take the growth at this point, the number of users and the fact that it's going to be three times as large by the end of 2020. If it's not worth a million dollars, then something's wrong with math.
I can't lose this bet. It's not possible mathematically. Understand, the market is an artificial thing right now. As Bitcoin gets more and more utility, it will be less artificial and more real. And it's getting that way right now. So, to those that go “nah, that's impossible,” please go back to school and take fourth grade math — that's all you need. Figure it out.
OC: All right. Well, I think that's all I have for today. Thank you so much for your time.
JM: Thank you very much.
This interview has been edited and condensed.