John McAfee wants you to know he’s dead serious about running for President.
You’d be forgiven for being skeptical. McAfee, who describes himself as an “eccentric millionaire,” made a killing in the early ‘90s when he departed from his namesake anti-virus software company. Since 2012, McAfee has mostly made headlines for his action-movie-like exploits in Central America, where he was wanted for questioning (not as a suspect) by Belizean police in the murder of his neighbor. So when his presidential campaign came out of nowhere this week, it felt like a stunt at least in part.
First, TPM obtained a Sept. 7 email in which McAfee announced his intention to run for President. Then he filed his statement of candidacy with the FEC the next day and launched a new website. A campaign announcement video followed Wednesday night. Curiously, the software pioneer didn’t utter the standard, if banal, phrase “I’m running for President” on either the campaign site or in the announcement video.
“It just appears obvious to me,” McAfee told TPM in a Thursday phone interview when asked why he didn’t say those magic words. “But again, what is obvious to me isn’t always obvious to the American public.”
McAfee may become less of an enigma to U.S. voters in the coming weeks during what is sure to be an unconventional campaign. He says he doesn’t plan on hitting the trail or debating any other candidates. What he proposes instead is something of a direct line between candidate and voter, facilitated by the Internet technology he’s mastered over the course of his career, where the American people can follow him and debate him freely over the web.
“I do not intend to go on the campaign trail and shake hands and kiss babies,” he told TPM. “I intend to run a brand new sort of campaign entirely based on wherever I am.”
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of TPM’s conversation with McAfee.
TPM: Your announcement was something of a surprise this week. How did this all come about and what motivated you to take such a big step?
McAfee: I’ve been pushed by my friends and my fans for over a year to run for President. I merely assumed it would be a quixotic sort of idea. I’m now taking it very seriously. I made a statement on my Facebook page which put my position in very clear perspective. … So I’m taking it seriously. I’m running because I was pushed into it. And yet I really feel an obligation to myself, to my friends, family and the American people to do what I can.
You’re running under what you call the Cyber Party. What’s that all about?
We live in a world where everything is interconnected by cyber science. It’s the sciences of computer processing and electronic communications. In China, you cannot become the top leader of the country unless you are a computer programmer or understand computer architecture to a great extent. Why? Because it is like being illiterate. It’s like a congressman saying, “I cannot read or write and I don’t understand many words. But I do have advisers that explain words to me.” Which is [inaudible]. No. It’s the same thing today. We have a largely illiterate [inaudible] and executive branch of the government as proven by the fact that the Office of Program Management [Ed. note: It’s the Office of Personnel Management] allowed China and Russia very easily to steal 21 million records of every American who’s ever worked for the U.S. government since the 1950s, including all of the people with top-secret clearances, many of which are covert agents in foreign countries, putting their lives at risk and the security of America in a very tenuous position. This is unthinkable in countries like Japan, China or Russia and could not be done. Why? Because they are literate in the science of cyber sciences. We have to change that in America. We have to understand that our country has changed and the basic fabric of our society is based upon cyberscience. To be illiterate in that area is unforgivable if you are in government.
So would you say that you’re sort of a single-issue candidate right now? Or can we expect any policy platforms from you in the future on other issues?
Absolutely. We’ve got a lot of policies and my campaign manager who’s sitting in the room with me right now, Drew Thompson, he has a baseball bat and he said he will break my kneecaps if I deviate from the rules of this interaction in any way whatsoever. So I cannot tell you because he [inaudible] what the exact detailed policies are. But I can promise you that the number one will be privacy. Privacy, not necessarily cybersecurity, but privacy of the American individual. We know now from a number of sources, including Edward Snowden, that we have been spied upon by our government to an enormous degree and that we have very little privacy left. If you take any street corner in any city and look up, you will find 10-15 cameras and extremely sensitive microphones able to pick up and hone in on conversations. We are being watched, monitored and listened to at an alarming rate. Yet without privacy, what is society? What is humanity? You, and me and every human on this earth, we choose privacy hundreds of times per day. When you talk to the grocery clerk you choose a level of privacy. You will not reveal the deepest details of your life. To your spouse, maybe you will, maybe you won’t. But with every relationship that we have we have a different set of privacy rules. Without these, society would collapse because if everyone knew everything about everyone else we would have chaos and you know this for a fact.
There was actually a big shouting match on the Republican debate stage last month between Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, and Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, over government surveillance. Rand Paul has styled himself as the pro-civil liberties candidate in the GOP who’s representing people who are concerned about privacy. How can you better address that issue?
First of all, I’m not concerned about what Rand Paul or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone else has to say, or in debating them. No matter what I say to them, I am not going to get their vote. If I debate anyone it will be the American public. Not just the right or the left, or the young and the old, the male and the female, the gay or the straight, but everyone. Because we are all living under the burden of the same nightmare of loss of privacy, loss of freedom in an insane paranoid government. They say that they are protecting us through the Transportation Security Administration, yet when you are standing in line with your shoes off and your belt off, your outer clothing off, while your personal belongings are being scrutinized closely and you have your hands in the air and you’re being patted down, do you feel like you’re being protected? I do not. I feel like the enemy. And if I feel like the enemy, if my heart says I feel like the enemy, maybe I am. Maybe the government perceives me as the enemy. That’s the first sign of a paranoid government. So I’m not representing left or right, I’m not trying to represent a special interest or a way of thinking. No. I’m trying to get everyone to see the reality that we all, all of us, live under the same insanity and it must be fixed. So I’m not even going to debate any of these people because no matter what I say to them, I promise you they won’t vote for me. But I’ll be happy, and I’ll create a facility using my own understanding of cyber science, I can debate the entire American public. The entire American public. And would be happy to do so. Because it is their minds that I am interested in. I’m not interested in the minds of my competitors and trying to change them. That’s nonsense. I don’t have the time for that and no one should.
Obviously you filed the proper paperwork with the FEC to run for President. But I’m curious as to why you don’t say in your campaign announcement the actual words “I’m running for President,” or have that anywhere on your campaign site?
Well it should be very clear I’m running for President. I just told you, I’ve told everybody in the press for the past 24 hours and maybe if you want I can put that also — Drew, can I do that? — he just shook his head yes so we’ll do that. But it just appears obvious to me but again what is obvious to me isn’t always obvious to the American public. So especially if we go through the popular press. No offense intended here.
It just struck me as curious.
You are in a profession that is more besieged than the American citizen is by the government in that you are trying—not you personally, but the entire American press—trying to find a place of relevance in the world of the Internet, especially the printed press. My heart goes out to you, it does. But the problem for people like me is it’s far more lucrative to paint me as an off-the-wall madman than it is to paint me as someone serious because, really, who wants to read about someone serious. You’d much rather read about the colorful madman. I understand that and I do not fault you for it. But I do want you to print these words if you can.
Also, Spike TV announced yesterday before your campaign video came out that they’re filming a docu-series about you.
Unfortunately, that director is right here outside the door. I did not let him in the room. But I am wearing his microphone and there’s cameras looking through the window. Yes, they have been doing that and will continue to do so for the next six months. They’re doing a six-part miniseries.
So what would you say to someone who sees the timing of those announcements and thinks, “Oh McAfee has a reality show to promote; this is all just a publicity stunt?”
Well, if I were making any money off the Spike thing, that’d be great. In fact, if you would want to call the producers for me and say, “Why shouldn’t McAfee get paid?” then that would make some sense. But believe it or not, I am not getting paid. I just agreed to do this at the behest of a friend, Francois Garcia. I do not know why. He must be a hypnotist or something. But I simply agreed to do this at the behest of a friend who is actually producing this series. So no, and you may call Spike TV and they may verify that we’re not giving him a dime. [Ed note: Spike TV spokesman David Swartz confirmed via email that McAfee wasn’t being compensated for the series.] In fact, you know, why don’t you suggest that I renegotiate the contract and then we can connect the two events? No, I had nothing to do with the timing of that release. It’s all Spike TV taking advantage of what is happening in the world to try to make a dime. No offense to Spike.
The director, by the way, is Billy Corben, the director of “Cocaine Cowboys” who actually is a very decent young man. He’s misguided and still wet behind the ears but a very decent person. He’s listening to these words as I’m saying them, of course. Spike TV I know nothing of. I’m just doing this, again, just because I’m doing it.
Now we only have a few more minutes so if you want to get to some real questions I’d be happy to address them.
Your whereabouts always have been a subject of intense interest. Where are you now? You’re living in Tennessee, campaigning out of Alabama?
I’m living in Tennessee. My campaign headquarters is Opelika, Alabama. The reason we’re here is that it’s one of the six cities in America that has a one gigabyte fiber-optic link to the Internet, which I will absolutely need for my presidential campaign because I do not intend to go on the campaign trail and shake hands and kiss babies.
I intend to run a brand new sort of campaign entirely based on wherever I am. If I’m in my bedroom, the CEO of my company’s office (sic), wherever. I’m in some strange conference room they put me in today. They call it the Orange Room. So, it will be a different sort of campaign. It will reach the American people in a way that no other candidate has ever reached the American people. I will be the first truly accessible presidential candidate.
You’ve said in other interviews that you’re willing to discuss your “checkered background.”
Oh absolutely. In fact, there’s no mud that you can throw at me that I’ve not already thrown at myself. Go ahead with the questions.
I’m curious as to what would you say is your biggest regret, in life or in business, if you have any regrets?
Well, honestly it’s difficult to say. If I said I had any regrets, then that would have changed the course of my life. Where I am right now is I think where I should be. If I had not done everything exactly as I have done them, I would not be sitting here right now. So it’s difficult to say. I have done things which people have judged as wrong. I myself, if I were to go back, might think them through differently. But we have all made mistakes. None of us are perfect, no matter what we may say. Unlike President Clinton, I also smoked marijuana but did inhale and took other drugs as well. So you may judge me for that or not, that is entirely up to you. But I am as open as could possibly be and I am not afraid of revealing anything to you that I have ever done.
So you’d say voters can trust you despite your DUI arrest last month and the episodes in Belize and Guatemala a few years back?
Yes. Absolutely. If you really look at the episodes in Belize and Guatemala a few years back, at what really happened, there was nothing that I would have done any different. I was being extorted by a third-world banana republic, and refused, and paid the consequences. If you don’t read the American press and go back and actually read the Belizian press you will see exactly what happened. As for the DUI, I was taking a prescription medication called Xanax. I had never taken it before. That was the first day I had ever taken it and I was arrested two hours after taking my first dose. I don’t function on it, I do admit that. My lawyer insists the case will be dismissed. Even if not, again, if you judge me based on that and say that my vision is therefore corrupted because I had a DUI, then that’s certainly your choice as a U.S. voter. I think that many people will see beyond that.
Do you think that it could be a liability if you were to become commander-in-chief that, as you’ve also said in some previous interviews, there still may be some people who are out to get you from the time you spent in Central America?
Well, no. Actually, I think that’d be great. The Secret Service is there to try to prevent the assassination of U.S. Presidents. So far, they’ve been statistically, largely successful. So no, that does not concern me. Neither does Belize concern me. They’ll be the least of my problems.
Here’s the biggest problem. Everybody in the campaign is going to tell you what they’re going to do when they become President. Now, why is it that you make jokes about presidential promises? Because it’s not the President’s fault.
It wasn’t Obama’s fault that he couldn’t close the base in Cuba. He got into the Oval Office completely unaware of the reality of the nightmare behind the curtain. Because 90 percent of our government is unseen. Edward Snowden proved that. We had no clue the NSA was spying on us. We assumed they were spying on our enemies. But they had assumed we are the enemy.
So for me to say I’m going to do this and this — it’s like a doctor and a curtain. Behind the curtain, doctor, I have a patient who is sick. What are you going to do? Well I don’t have a clue, unless you let me get behind the patient and let me examine him. And then, if he’s a decent doctor, he will then quickly do something. Anybody who tells you different is either a fool, or self-deluded or is lying. One of those three. Because there is no way, from the perspective—no, Hillary Clinton is different. Because she actually lived through a presidency, of her spouse being President, and probably has some insights that nobody else has. But other than her, there is not a single candidate who can tell you what to do because they haven’t handled the patient. Then they pull the curtain back and find a brand new automobile or a case of the measles. They don’t have a clue. Neither do I. But I do know this. I am quick on my feet. And I am quick-thinking. I have lived through situations that have taught me a great deal. If anybody can help cure the patient, it’s me.
How does McAfee make it to the White House? What’s your path there?
Doing exactly what I’m doing. Talking to the press. Being honest and open. Creating a campaign that — my campaign manager just gave me the throat sign, I’ve gotta cut it off here — creating a campaign that America hasn’t seen yet. Something that makes me accessible, using technology, something the American public and these campaigns have never dreamed of. My campaign manager and everyone around me truly believes that I will make it to the office. The problem is, can I actually do anything to cure the patient any better than anybody else? I do not know. I will make my best effort.
TPM illustration by Derick Dirmaier. Images via AP, Canadian Press Extra, and Shutterstock/guteksk7.