Calling a dictator crazy is like calling cat fuzzy. It's pretty much a given. Yet some dictators go above and beyond just genocide and repression, and travel so far into balls out madness that you have to give them some sort of credit. These 12 ruthless bastards not only ruled with an iron fist, but also flirted with insanity.
12. Rafael Trujillo
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was the twice president, but usually just unelected military dictator ruler, of the Dominican Republic. From 1930 until his assassination until 1961, he ruled with an iron fist, and presided over the deaths of some 50,000 people — of which around 30,000 were killed in a single massacre. Generally known as “ El Jefe” or “The Boss” he pressured all adults to join his political party — the only one available — and required 10% of their income to be donated to him. If you weren’t a member, you could be arrested for vagrancy. The capital, the main province, and the country’s highest peak were all renamed in his honor, and all churches were required to post signs saying "Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra" (God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth). Even though he was viciously brutal, the USA didn’t intervene because he was strongly anti-communist, even when he ordered the slaughter of tens of thousands of Haitians near the border. Class act, all the way.
You know things are pretty whackadoodle when someone as balls out dictator crazy as Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi is pretty high on this list. De facto leader of Libya since their 1989 coup, his full title is "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution". Nice, huh? Anytime he travels, he’s accompanied by a voluptuous blond nurse and a special bodyguard cadre of 40, all of whom are female virgins hand picked by him. He also tends to erect a tent wherever he’s visiting, and stays inside. In 2009 he famously invited 500 Italian models to attend a party, and spent the entire time giving a lecture to convert them to Islam, and gave them all copies of the Koran.
10. Saddam Hussein
A very recent example of a slightly bonkers dictator, Hussein knew the advantage of good PR, especially among his own people. He knew all the tricks to make himself seem impressive: the lush palaces with gold fixtures, the insertions into local mythology. Rumor is that he claimed to be the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar II and frequently compared himself to Saladin. For some time propped up by American support for being secular, he was THE Middle Eastern bad guy through the 90s and 00s. His face was everywhere throughout Iraq, and was always sure to live in the lap of luxury, even while the poor starved. Not particularly crazy, but what was odd is all the paintings of him in the place of mythical heroes, seemingly to cement his place in the mythos of the people. He was also a prolific novelist, publishing four books and numerous works of poetry under the name “the author.” Allegorical works with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the crotch, they aren’t exactly what one would consider light handed.
Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (aka Zaire) from 1965 until 1997. Not so Democratic, I guess. A strong man leader and big fan of execution and torture, he had many political opponents hanged in front of audiences of tens of thousands. One of his victims was an ex-Minister of Education and rebel leader, who was promised amnesty. Instead, his eyes were gouged out, his genitals were ripped off, and his limbs were amputated one by one before finally being killed. While his country starved he enriched his own fortune, drove a fleet of Mercedes, and the only public servants being regularly paid were the ones on who his safety relied. He would charter Concorde jets to take shopping trips in Paris with his family, and had an airport especially constructed. The evening news was always preceded with an image of his face, smiling through the clouds, looking down from the heavens. One awesome thing he did manage, was he organised the famous Rumble in the Jungle between Ali and Foreman, though paying each fighter $5 million seems a tad excessive.
8. Idi Amin
Military leader and President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, Amin is just about the textbook definition of a military strongman. He presided over one of the worst eras of human rights abuses imaginable, with ethnic persecution, political killings, nepotism and outright corruption marking his reign. During part of his time in charge, Uganda was appointed to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which is one of life’s horrible ironies. He titled himself "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". That’s right, Conqueror of the British Empire. Under his reign at least 15,000 people disappeared, including any ethnic minority he didn’t like, religious leaders, journalists, artists, senior bureaucrats, judges, lawyers, homosexuals, students and intellectuals, criminal suspects, and foreign nationals, and may have been instrumental in the killing of 500,000 individuals. At one point, he decided he was "the uncrowned King of Scotland," had an immense party wearing a kilt, sent an official notice to the Queen of England, saying "I would like you to arrange for me to visit Scotland, Ireland and Wales to meet the heads of revolutionary movements fighting against your imperialist oppression", and then a telex saying "Dear Liz, if you want to know a real man, come to Kampala." He had balls, you have to give him that.
7. Jean-Bédel Bokassa
Also known as Bokassa I of Central Africa, he became the military ruler of the Central African Republic in 1966, appointed himself Emperor in 1976, and was overthrown in 1979. Anyone who declares themselves an emperor you can pretty much guarantee is batshit nuts. Loudly proclaiming his masculinity and power, as soon as he took over all adults had to prove they had jobs or they would be imprisoned, and morality police started watching dancehalls and bars. Due to the presence of Uranium in the country’s soils, his penchant for brutal torture was ignored by allies France and USA. He insisted that all school children were a ludicrously expensive uniform with his face on it, and then arrested kids who didn’t — killing around 100 of a group of protesting children, some personally. He reportedly kept the bodies of his enemies strung up in his palace, and had his cook prepare their flesh for him. In his later years, he declared himself the 13th Apostle, and that he had frequent secret meetings with the pope.
6. François Duvalier
Perhaps better known as Papa Doc, Duvalier ruled Haiti as President For Life from 1957-1971. Using a combination of voodoo influence and a cult of personality, his rule saw the murder of some 30,000 Haitian. He managed to get huge amounts of money from America as he was anti-Communist, which he personally pocketed. Duvalier maintained much of his power by bringing back the traditional voudou religion, and claiming that he was the physical manifestation of the spirit of the nation. He announced himself as a voudou priest, and modeled his look after the spirit Baron Samedi, claiming to be personally chosen by the spirits, Jesus and God for his role. His son succeeded him, and was just as bad.
5. Nicolae Ceau?escu
Ruler of Communist Romania from 1965 to 1989, he’s something of a classic Communist Dictator, heavily entrenched in his own cult of personality to ludicrous levels (he called himself "The Genius of the Carpathians"), and was eventually thrown into a televised show trial along with his wife during a revolution, after which they were executed. In 1966 in order to deal with a falling Romanian population, he made abortion illegal unless you were older than 42 or already had four kids. You received major state benefits if you had five children, mothers of 10 were considered “heroine mothers,” and divorce was just about banned. He decided to follow in the footsteps the Asian Communist model, and modeled his rule on the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese styles: emphasizing ideological control of children, public works, and the destruction of the intelligentsia. While his country starved and basic food supplies were impossible to come by, he would undertake televised visits to stores, their shelves teeming with fresh produce specially shipped in. Fattened cows would be transported around the country in order to be at farms in time for his inspections, and at one point he inspected what turned out to be a plastic diorama of food.
4. Pol Pot
Pol Pot doesn’t really rate at all on the “ha ha, he’s such a wacky dictator” scale, but rather on the horrifying slaughter of millions scale. When the Khmer Rouge took Cambodia, things went so terrifyingly bad that it boggles my mind. All residents of the cities were forced into the countryside, and put on starvation rations as part of the assault on the non-peasant classes. Two bowls of rice soup a day, that’s it. Anyone with an education, or even wearing glasses, was seen as an enemy and subjected to horrible treatment. All private transportation and land ownership was outlawed. Pol Pot took power as the semi-anonymous “brother number one," and his extreme paranoia stopped him from taking outside help, even as some 2 million of the population starved to death. Ethnic minorities were forced to dress like the majority, and viciously repressed. Families were collectivised, and people forced to grow up in mammoth groups. This was under the guise of a policy known as Year Zero, where all history and culture must be destroyed and crafted again from scratch. Crazy, and terrifying.
3. Enver Hoxha
Hoxha lead Albania from 1945 until his death in 1985, that’s 40 years of Communist crazyness. His reign started well, with just about eradicating malaria, massively increasing literacy, and dramatically improving the role of women in Albanian society. He was also hard line. Like, crazy hard line. He broke off contact with the USSR and China for not being Communist enough, and tried to completely cut off imports and exports. Visitors to the country were forced to go through a disinfectant bath. He famously built 750,000 bunkers across the country, to protect the meagre 3 million inhabitants. Every schoolbook required quotes from him about whatever subject they were teaching. Beards were banned to stop the spread of Islam. You needed a permit to own a fridge or typewriter. It only took four years after his death for Communism to crumble in Albania.
2. Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov
The Turkmenbashi. Leader of the Turkmens. Ruler of Turkmenistan, and more crazy than a guy fucking a snake in the mouth. How crazy? He built an immense gold statue of himself that rotates over the course of 24 hours so as to always face the sun. He introduced a new alphabet, he renamed all the days of the week and months, mostly after himself and his family. He banned lip syncing at concerts, long hair and beards on men, news reporters weren’t allowed to wear makeup, and gold teeth outlawed. He renamed the Turkmen word for bread after his mother. You know what’s even crazier? He was in power until he died of heart attack in 2006. Just about every street, school, and even a meteorite were named after him. His face was required on every clock. You needed to memorize his book in order to get a driver’s license. He ordered an ice palace built in the desert. He's just about the gold standard of madness.
1. Kim Jong Il
And yet, there’s one dictator even crazier. No one can top Kim Jong Il, whose birth was foretold by a swallow, and marked by a double rainbow and a new star in the sky. He always travels in a private armored train. He loves cinema, and has an immense film collection, especially of Elizabeth Taylor — so he kidnapped South Korean movie makers to force them to jump start the North Korean film industry, and film a kaiju movie. He built a fake city facing the southern border in order to intimidate his opponents. The DMZ guards have an axe enshrined that was used to kill American soldiers. In his first golf game, he shot five hole-in-ones, and scored 38 under par. He owns 17 palaces. He invented the hamburger. When on painkillers after surgery, he insisted all his staff have the same dose, so they would share the risk of getting addicted. He’s the world’s largest buyer of Hennesy. He plans to beat North Korea’s hunger problem by breeding giant rabbits. He deported all short people out of the capital. He has staff to check his rice to make sure each grain is the same size. He doesn’t poop. You just can’t beat that level of crazy.