Politicians Who Were Really Weird People

Power corrupts, as the old cliche goes. Or is it the corrupt who seek power? In the cases of the world's weirdest politicians, it definitely seems to be the latter.

Almost anywhere in the world, observers will notice that politicians are often weird people. But being weird does not mean being stupid. Many of them managed to avoid justice for crimes they committed while amassing near-absolute power, sometimes at the cost of millions of lives. Despite their privileged positions (or maybe because of them?), the politicians on this list have done some truly bizarro things in the pursuit of sex, money, and power. And that does not just include taking run-of-the-mill antics like lying or sexting too far. Dictators in particular have gone off the deep end, collecting the feces of fellow world leaders, inventing the most ridiculous stories, and much, much more. Here are some of the worst offenders. 

William Pelley

In 1929, William Dudley Pelley, a former Hollywood screenwriter-turned-mystic, claimed to have received an occult message prophesying the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. When Hitler was elected in 1933, Pelley decided to imitate his rise to power, founding the Silver Legion, a likely imitation of the Nazi Brownshirts, to that end.

Pelley figured becoming president was the easiest way to implement his "Christian Economics," namely the re-institution of slavery, banning Jews, and enacting universal basic income for white Americans, contingent on an individual's loyalty to Pelley's regime. The plan reportedly had Jesus Christ's personal approval, given to Pelley in a revelation. His movement strangely garnered a lot of popularity but little support. People loved his theatrics and ability to work the crowd — unsurprising for a guy who made his living writing movie scripts. In the 1936 election, however, he only appeared on the Washington State ballot, suggesting most Americans viewed his candidacy as a joke.

After briefly flirting with violent revolution, Pelley opted to quit while he was ahead. He disbanded the Silver Legion in 1939 because Uncle Sam, he claimed, was doing such a great job rounding up communists that the legion's services were no longer needed. He got 15 years for sedition anyway, left prison in 1950, and reinvented himself from an occult wannabe Nazi into a UFO expert.

Saparmurat Niyazov

Saparmurat Niyazov, the late president of the post-USSR country Turkmenistan, went further than most in turning his personal whims into law. He banned anything that annoyed him, including beards, gold teeth, ballet, circuses, makeup on TV, and lip syncing. And no grandfathering either — those who already had gold teeth had to get them removed. In addition, he decided that everyone had to share in his personal problems, banning public smoking not due to health risks, but because heart problems forced him to kick the habit.

Niyazov also enjoyed mandating and renaming things. Government officials had to take a yearly "Walk of Health," a 23-miles desert trek with no breaks or shade. He, on the other hand, would fly in his helicopter to greet (or lambast) the walkers at the end. Not content with the calendar, he renamed the months of January and April to Turkmenbashi after his own nickname and Gurbansoltan after his mother respectively, also fiddling around with the days of the week.

Niyazov was not shy about his eccentric philosophy — he wrote a whole book about it called the "Ruhnama," after which he rechristened the month of September. This mix of Niyazov's moral philosophy, Turkmen history, and poetry was required reading in Turkmen schools and for adults who wanted to find a job, particularly in the government — or for Turkmen Muslims wishing to get to heaven. Niyazov and God reportedly struck a deal to allow anyone who read it thrice a free pass to paradise.

Kim Jong-Il

The reclusive late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il seems to have missed the key lesson in how propaganda works: Make it believable. Instead, Kim and his propagandists embellished his image with outrageous stories no one could possibly have believed. Among them were: walking at three weeks of age, speaking at eight weeks, writing 1,500 books in three years, making 11 holes-in-one on an 18-hole golf course, claiming anonymous French designers considered him an international fashion icon, and inventing the burrito and burger.

In terms of weirdness, those were just the start. Among Kim's tall tales, his divine-birth story takes the cake in the bizarro department. According to the story, a shining star (likely echoing the Star of Bethlehem), a swallow, and a rainbow predicted his birth in a small cabin on North Korea's most sacred mountain, marking him for greatness. In reality, he was probably born in the USSR. None of this propaganda is really a surprise, considering his insecurities about being only 5-foot-3.

The real Kim was no less bizarre than the propaganda. From forcing his staff to inject themselves with his painkillers to trying to solve his country's famine by importing giant rabbits from Germany rather than accepting foreign food aid and refusing to eat rice whose grains were not perfectly identical in length and color, he was certainly a character — and not in the good way.

Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris stands as the forgotten giant of the Founding Fathers, chiefly for his authorship of the Constitution's Preamble. He was also considered a bit odd due to the type of women with whom he chose to involve himself. If one is going to take a lover, make it someone not involved with multiple other men — especially a Catholic bishop. Morris, however, disregarded that wisdom during his 1788-98 European sojourn, entering  a love rectangle involving himself, French Lady Adélaïde de Flahaut, her 63-year-old husband, and her other lover, Bishop Charles Talleyrand of Autun, who would later be a key figure in the Louisiana Purchase. 

After leaving that behind, he married his housekeeper Anne Cary Randolph in 1809, when he was 57 years old. Anne had been accused of adultery (and incest, by 18th-century standards) with her brother-in-law on the Bizarre Plantation back in 1792 and of killing their child, presumably to cover up the affair. Despite the problems, it seems their marriage was a happy one, producing a son named Gouverneur Morris Jr. in 1813. While Morris seems to have dodged consequences of his womanizing, he could not escape his own eccentricities. After coming down with a painful urethral blockage, he decided to clear it using a piece of whale bone or baleen as a catheter. Instead, he got an infection and died.

Muammar Gaddafi

Late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's obsession with his image cultivated a fair share of eccentricities — like giving George Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a locket with his face on it, or gifting other leaders gold watches with Gaddafi giving a military salute on the dial. When it came to accommodations, Gaddafi was very particular. If staying in a rented facility or a hotel, he only slept on the first floor, possibly because he was afraid of flying and heights, although he often made speeches from high places.

For the 2009 U.N. Summit, Gaddafi decided to stay in his air-conditioned tent, which he requested to pitch first in New Jersey and then in New York City's Central Park. Local municipalities shot the plan down, so he tried in vain to pitch his tent in the NYC suburb of New Bedford on land owned by none other than Donald Trump. New Bedford put the kibosh on that idea, too.

Gaddafi had a penchant for beautiful women, keeping a handful of Ukrainian nurses on staff, all of whom called him "daddy." Although nurse Oksana Balinskaya denied any sexual relationship with the dictator to CNN, there was always the suspicion that something more was going on. Additionally, he had an all-female bodyguard force who were dubbed the "Revolutionary Nuns" — a cadre of expert female marksmen and martial arts fighters who reportedly swore to abstain from sex while in his service and were permitted to wear heels and makeup while guarding Gaddafi.

Francois Duvalier

Haitian doctor-turned-dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier was a strong believer in the power of Haitian Vodou, which he claimed gave him powers of life and death over other world leaders. Using Vodou, Duvalier took credit for President John F. Kennedy's assassination by curse — revenge for Kennedy's attempted overthrow of Duvalier in concert with the Dominican Republic, despite Duvalier's anti-communist credentials. Duvalier himself survived a handful of assassination attempts, but he believed that, at least on the 22nd of every month, Vodou spirits protected him from death.

On the other hand, Duvalier was paranoid that his enemies would use Vodou on him, something that emerged in his struggle against Clement Barbot, head of Duvalier's feared secret police, les Tontons Macoutes. But those who serve dictators too well often are sidelined as threats. Barbot was no exception and got 18 months in prison for his ambition. Upon release, he began fighting Duvalier's regime in the streets with a campaign of bombings and shootings against government targets.

The standard response would have been a manhunt followed by the trial, imprisonment, and execution of Barbot and his supporters. Duvalier, however, believed that Barbot was evading the authorities by transforming into a black dog. Thus, Duvalier had his men hunt down and kill all black dogs in Port-au-Prince, hoping that one of them would be Barbot. Duvalier's men eventually killed Barbot in a separate raid — in human form, of course.

Robert Potter

North Carolina Jacksonian Democrat Robert Potter had the brains and education to be a national success, but he nuked his own political career thanks to a strange obsession that his wife, Isabel Taylor, was cheating on him with her own relatives. Taylor was one of the most beautiful and eligible women of Granville County. According to Texas Navy Association President and state historian Jerry Patterson, cited in the Austin-American Statesman, the paranoid Potter "somehow conjured up the idea his wife was having an affair" with her relatives.

Potter's concerns seemed unfounded. One of the accused was Taylor's 50-something minister-cousin. The other was her stepmother's 17-year-old nephew. Instead of simply divorcing her for adultery or investigating to see whether his suspicions had any merit, Potter went medieval and castrated both men. Unfortunately for the representative, they both survived to press assault charges against him. Incredibly, after a stint in Orange County jail (pictured above), he escaped with just a $1,000 fine and two years in prison.

Prison, however, did not end the saga. Potter doubled down, claiming, despite two guilty pleas, that the presiding judge was attempting to lock him up on politically motivated charges and nearly got himself sued for libel. The North Carolina legislature eventually expelled him. Potter moved to Texas, where his wild ride ended with a bullet to the head while trying to escape rival vigilantes by swimming across a lake.

Joseph Stalin

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and in more ways than one. Not only did Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin use his power to murder millions — in his quest for global superpower status, he secretly collected foreign leaders' feces for clues on how to manipulate them.

According to a BBC interview with former KGB operative Igor Atamanenko, Stalin had the toilets of visiting world leaders diverted away from the sewage system into collection boxes. Soviet agents then sent stool samples to a secret lab run by notorious NKVD (the KGB's predecessor) head and mass murderer Lavrentiy Beria for chemical analyses. The content of the samples would reportedly reveal the personality of the foreign dignitary. "[I]f they detected high levels of amino acid Tryptophan," Atamanenko said, "they concluded that person was calm and approachable... a lack of potassium in poo was seen as a sign of a nervous disposition and someone with insomnia."

The main target of this "study," according to Atamanenko, was Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, who complained during his visit to Moscow that Stalin had only brought him over to have him eat and go to the bathroom. Stalin was reportedly unimpressed with Mao's stool. Too weird to be true? When the BBC reached out to the Russian FSB (the KGB's successor), the agency said, "We cannot comment on this story." If it's false, why not just deny it?

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong, chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and founder of the People's Republic of China, failed to absorb a key lesson that if one is going to propagandize a population, it should at least be believable. Instead, he invented crazy stories that covered up for his bizarre personal behavior and hygiene.

The Chinese dictator was an avid swimmer — so much so that at 73, he was supposedly able to swim across the Yangtze River at an eight-minute-per-mile pace without tiring (the current world record is 14:06). Mao's real life was stranger than fiction. According to his personal physician Li Zhi Sui's memoir "The Private Life of Chairman Mao," the dictator refused to brush his teeth, instead rinsing his mouth with tea. "A tiger never brushes his teeth. Why are a tiger's teeth so sharp?" Mao explained. Unsurprisingly, his teeth eventually rotted and fell out. Although he liked swimming, he hated baths.

Mao was also obsessed with his bed. If he left Beijing, it accompanied him, all the way to Moscow, if necessary. He refused to sleep anywhere else. But the bed had another feature that offered insight into the Chinese leader's bizarre personality: It had a 4-inch incline at one end. According to Dr. Li, the incline allowed Mao to more easily have sex with the numerous young women he had brought to him. Many of those women probably walked out with STDs, because for some reason, Mao refused treatment for those, too.

Silvio Berlusconi

Thirty-five criminal cases for fraud, sexual misconduct, and corruption, an eccentric personality, and the inability to stay quiet — that was the political career of late Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. His "greatest hits," to quote the headline of a CNBC article, are too many to list. But to get an idea, he bizarrely referenced American President Barack Obama's skin color, saying, "I bring you greetings from a person ... who is sun-tanned ... Barack Obama ... You wouldn't believe it, but they go sunbathing at the beach together — his wife is also sun-tanned." That wasn't the first one, either. During a visit to the ruined city of L'Aquila in 2009, he encountered an African Catholic priest helping earthquake victims, per the Daily Mail. After complimenting the priest on his tan, he told another aid worker, "You've got a tan as well — I wish I could stay here and get some sun ... Hold me tight and call me Papa!"

Then there were the women. Berlusconi once told his younger female supporters at a public rally to marry older men for their money, adding that he had a line of young women waiting to marry him because he was good in bed. When called out for such remarks, he said, "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone." One Italian clearly disagreed, hitting him in the face with a model of Milan's cathedral.

Anthony Weiner (aka Carlos Danger)

In 2013, rising star Democrat congressman Anthony Weiner seemed to have moved on from his 2011 crotch-posting scandal (the first of several), and was running for mayor of New York City. It looked like he had a real shot at winning too. But he flamed out in another sexting scandal that ranks among the 2010s' most bizarre political moments, in which Weiner and adult actress Sydney Leathers exchanged a series of X-rated messages in 2012 using the avatar "Carlos Danger."

The sexting itself was not the strange part. Had Weiner not been a politician, no one would have cared — studies have found more than three-quarters of Americans engage in it. The weird part was Weiner's choice to hide behind what Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake called a "cartoon-character-esque pseudonym ... [that was] both ridiculous and terribly embarrassing." Weiner claimed it was just a joke, but fellow candidate Erick Salgado accused him of insulting New York's Hispanic voters by using a Spanish-language pseudonym.

Just when it seemed the whole situation could not get any stranger, Weiner picked up an endorsement from Jimmy McMillan of "the rent is too damn high" fame. "We all are freaky. He just exposed his freaky-ism in the wrong way," McMillan told the New York Observer. "He created a character called 'Carlos Danger.' Ooh, that is a marketing bonanza ... He can make a billion dollars out of that in one month." 

George Santos

George Santos was considered a rising GOP star after winning New York's Democratic-leaning 3rd congressional district, composed of parts of Queen and Nassau County on Long Island. He seemed like a good deal, except for the strange habit of lying about virtually every single detail of his life.

The first set of Santos' lies were likely meant to further his campaign among New York GOP voters. He claimed his mother survived 9/11 and died from cancer caused by inhaling debris, even though she had not been in the United States since 1999. He bizarrely accused the Chinese government of trying to kidnap his niece in 2023, and claimed to have attended the prestigious Horace Mann School, despite never graduating high school. He also lied about attending college and working for Goldman Sachs.

While Santos could be forgiven for one or two lies, given politicians lie about or embellish personal stuff all the time, some of Santos' other fabrications were patently absurd. He reportedly claimed to have starred on Disney's "Hannah Montana" and helped produce a Spider-Man musical, something anyone with two minutes, a smartphone, and an internet connection could disprove. When CNN host Piers Morgan confronted him (via New York Magazine), Santos said he thought he would get away with it, forgetting that no 21st-century politician is safe in the world of smartphones and the 30-second Google search.