5 Evil Figures Who Had Surprising Pasts
Pol Pot, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Timothy McVeigh are among them
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2015 2:19 PM CST
A portrait of the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is placed on a truck with a military hardware driven in a parade just outside Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015.   (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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(Newser) – Adolf Hitler's early life as an aspiring artist is well-documented, but who knew that other mass murderers and despots had hopeful beginnings? A rundown, per Ozy:

  1. Pol Pot: The soon-to-be Cambodian despot lived it up in Paris as a foreign student of radio electronics in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But he failed his course for three straight years and returned to Cambodia in 1953, just as the country was wriggling free of French colonialism. As ruler, Pol Pot oversaw more than 1 million deaths.
  2. Jim Jones: Before leading a murderous cult, Jones was a community organizer and head of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He also took a stand that helped force a hospital to racially integrate. He later founded and led the People's Temple, which poisoned more than 300 children at Jonestown in 1978.
  3. Ayatollah Khomeini: Iran's "Supreme Leader" spent much of his adult life as a lecturer and teacher, studying Islamic philosophy and mysticism. He also wrote poetry and at least 25 essays and books; sadly, one of his poems issued a fatwa on author Salman Rushdie's head. His current regime is said to have killed up to 20,000 political activists.
  4. Timothy McVeigh: His role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing—which murdered 168 and injured hundreds more—is well-known. Less famous are his actions as a US Army soldier in Operation Desert Storm, where he killed two Iraqi soldiers on his second day and earned a Bronze Star. Executed for his crimes, McVeigh didn't receive a military service or honors at his funeral.

Read about another surprise despot—who was once a heavyweight boxing champion—at Ozy.
 

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