Inside the Bizarre Movement to Make John McAfee Cyber Czar

Despite support from the hacking collective, McAfee says he's still not interested in the hypothetical Cybersecurity position.
December 6, 2016, 9:00pm
Image: Jake Offenhartz / Motherboard

On Monday afternoon, as Donald Trump continued finalizing his cabinet from his transition base atop Trump Tower, a group of thirty demonstrators gathered below to make a very specific recommendation: "That Donald Trump put America first and name John McAfee, the most qualified expert, to be our nation's Cybersecurity Czar."

The event was part of a public campaign organized by the hacking collective Anonymous, aimed, oddly enough, at "securing America from Hackers." For the remainder of the day, the protesters alternated between chants of "Make the internet safe again" and "We want McAfee," as they distributed flyers highlighting the software magnate's unique qualifications to confused passersby. While not all of the protesters were affiliated with Anonymous, the requisite Guy Fawkes mask was worn by nearly everyone.

Stephanie Lee (right, holding the sign) and Mary Blake. Image: Jake Offenhartz / Motherboard

"We're newly passionate about cybersecurity," said Stephanie Lee, a senior citizen who'd learned of the protest on Facebook and come to check it out with a friend. Both women expressed concerns about Russian hacking, and both seemed excited by the possibility of McAfee's appointment. "The virus guy," Lee said, "that's who we want right now."

McAfee, who founded the eponymous antivirus software nearly three decades ago, is much more than just the virus guy. In 2012, he became entangled in a homicide case while living in Belize, then spent the next two years on the run. Since then, he's launched a failed bid for the Libertarian Party nomination, earned headlines for engineering various tech-related hoaxes, and been the subject of a Showtime documentary alleging he committed rape and murder.

Jake Offenhartz / Motherboard

While such behavior wouldn't necessarily disqualify him from serving in Trump's administration, the efforts to make McAfee cyber chief are doomed for another reason: He doesn't want the job. Reached over the phone, McAfee read a prepared statement (copied in full below) outlining his reasons for denying the hypothetical offer.

"I believe that the US government is filled with deadwood, ossified practices and procedures, does not reward innovation and creativity, and is in fact completely dysfunctional," he said. "It needs a 35-year-old hacker with balls of brass and nothing to lose."

To that end, McAfee offered two recommendations: Chris Roberts and Eddie Mize. Roberts is best known for allegedly causing a plane to veer off course by hacking into its in-flight entertainment system. And Mize, according to McAfee, "could put you on the top of the FBI's most-wanted list by tomorrow."

"This is the reality we're living in," he continued. "They have this power you need to understand, and that is the first thing that people need to tell Trump. There is nothing a great hacker can't do."

After getting off the phone, I returned to the protest to break the news that McAfee wasn't interested. The group had shrunk substantially by then, and the few remaining protesters were following the campaign's advice to not speak with press. The mention of McAfee's recommended hackers seemed to elicit some nodding approval, though their masks made it difficult to be sure.

Eventually, a musician and organizer from Trenton, New Jersey broke the silence. "At this point," he said, "we just want someone there who understands this universe."

A few weeks before this protest, Anonymous-themed Twitter account @YourAnonNews tweeted a link to a Newsweek story about the draft McAfee movement, and the following message accusing the entire movement of being staged: "FRAUD ALERT: We know of no Anonymous groups supporting @officialmcafee ego stroke, orchestrated by @ihazcandy."

FRAUD ALERT: We know of no Anonymous groups supporting AnonymousNovember 25, 2016

@ihazcandy is reportedly a friend of McAfee's. Reached by phone, McAfee denied paying protesters to appear in front of Trump Tower. As McAfee said during our conversation when asked about hired protesters: "Well, if that is the case than I have no idea who did it, because I don't have the money and I certainly know nothing whatsoever about it. I know nothing about it. I had publicly stated over and over again, I have no interest, let's move on with life."

Updated December 6, 5:55 pm ET to include the tweet from @YourAnonNews and again at 6:56 pm to add McAfee's comments on allegations he paid protesters.

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