The reported suicide of notorious tax fugitive, Bitcoin proponent and antivirus software pioneer John McAfee has prompted an outpouring of tributes and conspiracy theories today.

After years of evading United States taxes and authorities, a Spanish court had ordered McAfee’s extradition just hours before he was found dead, with the 75-year-old expected to face a life sentence in the U.S. should he have been extradited.

Former National Security Agency employee and whistleblower Edward Snowden criticized the global reach of U.S. enforcement and warned that McAfee’s untimely end may not be the only one as “Julian Assange’s story could end much the same.” He tweeted:

“Europe should not extradite those accused of non-violent crimes to a court system so unfair — and a prison system so cruel — that native-born defendants would rather die than become subject to it.”

Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson praised McAfee’s contributions to computer science, describing him as “one of the most enigmatic and interesting people in the cryptocurrency space and the history of computing.” “He was also a deeply troubled person,” added Hoskinson, noting McAfee’s well-documented personal traumas and substance abuse issues.

“The reason for the suicide seems self-evident — McAfee was 75 years old, and the extradition to the US was approved, he was looking at over 30 years in jail, if convicted, and likely would have been [...] it seem that he decided to choose ending his life there in a Spanish prison rather than a U.S. prison.” 

Bitcoin influencer and podcaster Anthony Pompliano remembered McAfee as “kind, funny, and incredibly intelligent,” sharing an image of himself alongside the antivirus pioneer and his wife Janice Dyson, wielding heavy munitions from the houseboat the pair had used to evade authorities for years.

Kim Dotcom, an internet entrepreneur who is fighting his own extradition charges from New Zealand over his file-sharing network, Megaupload, lamented McAfee’s drug abuse taking away from his potential, stating:

“A pioneer in data security. I always thought he partied too hard, should have avoided the drugs and focus on using his brilliant mind for good. When he had a sober mind it was all about freedom.”

QAnon and conspiracy theories

Despite McAfee’s own legal representatives in Spain, informing Reuters that McAfee had hanged himself rather than face life in prison, the internet is predictably ablaze with conspiracy theories asserting McAfee had not died at his own hand.

The flames were fanned shortly after his death was reported when McAfee’s official Instagram account shared an image of the letter “Q,” igniting excitement among QAnon conspiracy theorists. Business Insider reported that QAnon influencers on Telegram with “hundreds of thousands of followers” were sharing posts doubting the suicide story.

McAfee’s own tweets have been reposted endlessly on Thursday, including one from December 2019 claiming the government was threatening to assassinate him and not to believe any version of events where he committed suicide. However, the tweet was promoting his “WHACKD” crypto token, which referenced the death of Jeffrey Epstein and linked to a site where the token could be purchased.

Other conspiracy theorists zeroed in on a post from June 2019 where he claimed to have a “31+ terabyte” trove of data with evidence of government corruption that he claimed incriminated “a CIA agent” and “two Bahamian officials” that he would release if he were ever arrested. However, McAfee was arrested in October 2020, and no such evidence trove has been released. 

It’s worth bearing in mind McAfee was no stranger to making bold and outlandish claims, including promising he would devour his own phallus on national television should the price of Bitcoin fail to exceed $1 million by 2021, that he had performed sexual intercourse with a whale, and that he had synthesized a new narcotic compound in Belize.

McAfee’s tweets from prison had also taken on an increasingly sombre tone in recent weeks. In May, he revealed he had discussed suicide with a fellow inmate.

He also spoke of being “an old man lost in a near infinite Twitter verse — like tears in rain” and admitting to “having a down day.”

McAfee’s Spanish lawyer, Javier Villalba, told Reuters he believed that McAfee simply could not tolerate being locked up:

“This is the result of a cruel system that had no reason to keep this man in jail for so long.” 

If you need help in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255. In Australia call Lifeline on 131114 or look up the service nearest to you.