We've talked about the real life superhero movement, that silly but mostly sweet trend of well-intentioned people dressing up in costume and fighting crime. While they don't always help the way they think they do, it’s at least proof that there are many among us who see the bad things around us and want to make things better.
And then there’s the flip side. What's a world without superheroes, after all, if there are not supervillains, too?
Trouble is, most of the people who might qualify as supervillains don’t have the same restrictions on them that superheroes do. Specifically, that whole “obeying the law” thing. Some just ignore it, others work within it, some are outside it, and others more or less become the law.
So here are a few real people who read a bit like villains from comic books and cartoons. Some are despicable warlords, and others are elected officials. All of them, though, are responsible for some serious evil.
15 War Machine
Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver, an MMA fighter known by the moniker “War Machine,” is a perfect example of the dumb muscled thug supervillain. He made news this past August for allegedly beating and trying to rape his ex-girlfriend Christy Mack. He took to the road to escape the inevitable manhunt, claiming in a few online posts that he was innocent. Right.
With law enforcement and Dog the Bounty Hunter in hot pursuit, War Machine never had much of a chance. He was caught and arrested about a week later. He then attempted suicide in October, but was stabilized and placed on suicide watch.
14 General Butt Naked
The trick with including warlords on the list of “real life supervillains” is that while they’re despicable, they might not have that comic book supervillain quality. No such issue with General Butt Naked.
Born Joshua Milton Blahyi, General Butt Naked was a commander in the Liberian Civil War. He claims to have fought naked – hence the name – and also to have killed and eaten children. Multiple. It’s alleged that he butchered thousands, and also that he enslaved children into his army, was active in the blood diamond trade.
He has said that his deprivations were a result of a close relationship he had with the devil. He’s since claimed to have been converted to Christianity, and now works as a preacher.
13 James McCormick
James McCormick is a different kind of supervillain. He’s not a warlord or a thug, but more like the CEO of the Acme Corporation from Looney Tunes. That doesn’t make his impact on the world any less negative.
See, McCormick made around $78 million selling bogus bomb detectors – which were little more than golf ball finders with cosmetic adjustments – to countries around the world, including Iraq. Unlike Wile E. Coyote, the people who used his devices didn’t just bounce back. Many of them died as a result of using the devices, victims of the bombings they thought they were protecting themselves from. Worse, some countries might still be employing the junk to try and keep safe.
In 2013, McCormick was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
12 Vladimir Putin
Putin definitely makes the comparisons to supervillains easy. Between the staged photographs of Putin riding horses, his collection of black belts in martial arts, and the whole invading neighbouring countries thing, it seems like Putin is out to build a legend – maybe something along the lines of Marvel’s Doctor Doom. Just with more repressing gay people.
Unlike Doom, Putin is a bit less willing to take ownership of his shittiness. Time and again, he has denied Russian involvement in the Ukraine invasion, instead claiming that the Western world is out to get him and the people of Russia.
11 Tony Abbott
Abbott isn’t a violent villain, but if ever there’s a remake of Captain Planet, you can bet one of the baddies will be based on him.
See, as Prime Minister of Australia, Abbott has made it his mission to destroy all life on planet Earth.
That’s only a minor exaggeration. As PM, he and his party have repealed the Australian carbon price, killed the climate commission, maintained fossil fuel subsidies despite slashing all kinds of other programs, and possibly irreparably damaged the great barrier reef. He's also worked hard to tear up the Tasmanian forest, and opened an enormous coal mine. He once called coal “the foundation of our prosperity,” proving he’s either an idiot or hates life on earth. Your choice.
10 Teodoro Obiang
Mugabe gets a lot of heat for being a vile tyrant, but there are some who suggest there is a greater evil in the ranks of African dictators. In an article titled “Who's Africa's Worst Dictator?“ Slate points to Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang as a top contender.
On his resume, he has “working for violent dictator uncle,” “deposing and executing said dictator uncle,” “governing using a system based on rampant abuse, torture, and theft,” and “stealing $700 million in oil money” to his name.
He’s living the high life, needless to say. He has also been accused of cannibalism, because what else was left for him to do?
9 Damon Hininger
He’s like the villain in an old sci-fi film. What does Hininger do? He’s President and CEO of the Corrections Corporation of America. What does that do? It’s a private corrections company, meaning its profits are based on the demand for places to stick criminals.
Here’s the thing: that means that if there is less demand for criminals – say, if certain drugs get legalized, or punishments for some crimes are made less severe – then profits for the company will go down. That just won't do. So, like most influential corporations, CCA lobbies government to try to get what it wants. Which is more people in jail. Get why he’s evil?
8 Peter Popoff
Peter Popoff is an exposed fraudster. Back in the 1980s, his faith healing nonsense was exposed by James Randi, who proved he had no special spiritual gift, but was instead just ripping off the desperate people who turned to him for help. What a guy.
Like any good gimmicky supervillain, Popoff got right back on his horse, doing the exact same fake faith healing he’d done for so long. And his fans returned, because he’s a televangelist, and how could the TV be lying?
This man of God declared bankruptcy in 1987, and is now a multimillionaire with fancy cars and a huge mansion. Classic villainy.
7 Scott Lively
What to say about Scott Lively? He’s a bigot, first of all, but he’s a next level bigot. He’s the American genius who helped criminalize homosexuality in Uganda. He has a big following among those anti-gay Russian groups that helped criminalize 'gay propaganda' (i.e. people, just being open about who they are). He claims homosexuality is worse than genocide.
Basically, this is a man who flies around the world doing his best to ruin the lives of gay people everywhere. If that’s not some crazy, supervillainous nonsense, I don’t know what is. A lawsuit against him, specifically in reference to his despicable acts in Uganda, is set to begin soon.
He’s also a global warming denier, which should be shocking to nobody.
6 The Koch Brothers
Alone, they are multibillionaire ultra-conservatives bent on buying as much of the American government as possible. Together, they’re that, but twice.
These are two men responsible for the formation and funding of that political sideshow known as the “Tea Party.” They’re in the oil and petrochem business, so naturally a good amount of their money goes toward misleading the public into believing that global warming doesn’t exist. Needless to say, the candidates they support tend to be a few crayons short of a full box.
Some of the holdings owned by the Koch brothers include Stairmaster, Brawny paper towels, Lycra, Teflon, and various oil pipelines, fertilizer plants, and Canadian oil sands refineries.
5 Bashar Al-Assad
Syria has had a rough go of it in recent years. The Syrian civil war has taken a heavy toll, and the rise of ISIS has complicated the situation by throwing yet another terrible faction into the mix.
This conflict’s OG of being terrible in Syria, though, is Bashar Al-Assad. The brutal President has indulged in typical dictatorial nastiness – violent crackdowns on anyone protesting against his regime, allying with the terrorist group Hezbollah, torturing and imprisoning just about anyone he likes – but has also set himself apart by allegedly employing chemical gas attacks as a means of destroying opposition to his rule.
At the moment, it’s a toss-up between this guy and the #1 villain on our list for control of Syria. Hopefully both just vanish sometime soon.
4 Luis Garavito
The really terrifying villains in comic books are the ones without the powers. They tend to try a little harder to make a real stain on the world. Still, real life always trumps, and guys like the Joker have nothing on Luis Garavito.
Garavito is a man who has confessed to raping, torturing, and killing 140 children. He was charged with killing 172. It’s thought that the true toll of his madness exceeds 300.
Sadly, as in comic books, it seems Garavito will escape justice. Though he was convicted of his crimes, the maximum possible penalty in his native Colombia is 30 years. Because of his assistance in finding the bodies of his victims, that was knocked down to just over 22. If he behaves, he might shave even more off that sentence.
3 Comrade Duch
The Khmer Rouge rebels of Cambodia are noted for being among the most disgusting war criminals in modern history. Comrade Duch is noted as being one of the worst of that lot.
For a time he oversaw the S-21 detention centre, where torture and killings were an everyday occurrence. In that time, over 12,000 people were murdered under his watch.
This was a part of the larger Cambodian Genocide, which saw 2 million people butchered under the harsh rule of Pol Pot. For his part in the crimes, Duch was sentenced to 19 years in prison, later amended to life.
2 Kim Jong-Un
As much as we like to laugh at the North Korean dictator, there’s no denying that he’s a next-level supervillain of a man.
This is a guy who, as the third in the line of North Korean dictators, has continued with the same horrid policies as his father and grandfather. More specifically, that includes keeping open forced labour camps, murdering dissidents, and threatening to engulf the world – more specifically, usually American and South Korea – in the flames of nuclear war.
He’s parodied in the film “The Interview,” in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play interviewers sent over to assassinate Kim. North Korean hackers are suspected of being involved in the recent Sony hack, with The Interview suggested as being a primary motivator for the attack.
1 Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
This opportunistic SOB jumped at the chance to unite a bunch of crazies and wage war on the people of Iraq and Syria, bent on creating a united Islamic Caliphate under his guidance. You know his group by the name ISIS, or ISIL.
His group is noted for killing civilians, beheading just about anyone they feel like, and posting videos of the killings to the internet to try and galvanize support for their idiot crusade. He’s like the villain from Iron Man 3, only far, far worse.
The man has a $10 million bounty on his head, and has been called “the most wanted man in the world.”