When idealists become criminals or use criminals

When we think of an idealist, we might think of a doctor who joins “medicine sans frontieres” to bring medicine to people who can’t afford it or have access to it. We might also think of a believer in a utopian ideology, whether Nazism, or Communism. We don’t think of a criminal.

But even though the Nazi regime punished thieves and murderers, it approved of its idealists throwing babies into ovens and grown men off cliffs. Surely murder is criminal?
In fact, some Nazi leaders romanticized the members of the “Poachers Brigade” as pure, primitive German types. SS ReichsFuhrer Himmler created this brigade, which was led by a drug addict and alcoholic named Oskar Dirlewanger, who also had been involved in a sexual liason with an underage girl. Oskar’s brigade was made up of criminals imprisoned for hunting on the property of others. That doesn’t sound so bad, (and maybe the romanticizers liked the idea of people who break the rules) but then murderers and even the clinically insane were added to the membership. The brigade killed at least 30,000 civilians in Belarus, often by herding victims into a barn and setting it on fire.

Moving to another ideology: those of you idealists out there who like Karl Marx, note that Marx once said there was nothing grander under heaven than the mind of a criminal. What did he mean by that?
I think what is common to these ideologies is that the “end justifies the means”, and people are valued who can be callous and ruthless in pursuit of a goal.

Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

This would explain why Hugo Chavez appointed Henry Rangel Silva to be the chief of strategic and operational command of Venezuela’s army. Rangel Silva was designated in 2008, by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), for materially assisting the narcotics trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a narco-terrorist organization.

Perhaps drug dealing in service of revolution is considered good in the mind of Chavez, but at some level he must realize drugs cause human tragedy.

Criminal networks also come in useful when a rogue regime tries to sell arms without getting caught. North Korea’s communist regime sells nuclear and missile technology to Iran and Syria and Burma using links with criminal networks. This raises the alarming spectre of North Korea selling directly to the criminal networks themselves.
Says Ryan Mauro in an article Buying Destruction: “Far too often the discussion about North Korea focuses on whether the regime will sell nuclear weapons, but a huge arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, conventional weapons, and personnel including special forces, scientists and hackers could also come onto the black market. A South Korean think tank recently concluded that North Korea has 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and the capability to produce much more. It is wishful thinking to believe that none of that large arsenal will be transferred out of the country, either as part of an official sale by the government or a deal with corrupt officials.

When Gordon Chang, an expert on Asia and author of Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World , was asked by FrontPage how likely it is that these criminal networks will buy powerful weapons or expertise, he responded by asking, “How likely is it that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?”
An article by Jeff Nyquist on Russia says the following:
“In the Soviet Union,” Kalashnikov explained, “there was strict discipline in the nomenklatura [ruling elite], keeping it effective in its own way. In Russia today there is something different at work. We call it ‘solidarity within a criminal organization.’ To join the ruling elite means to become part of criminal businesses. This kind of relationship is stronger, and the discipline more severe, than during Soviet times. For example, I had an advisory position in the Moscow city government. I was offered the directorship of a company. They were interested in having me in their organization. They said, if you accept it is final. You will be involved in embezzlement and the stealing of resources, and you will become one of ours, and there is no way out. This was quite clear to me. It is a one-way ticket. So it is not corruption, but a criminal organization based on joint activity, joint interest, and absolute incompatibility with what you in the West may understand as normal business, and normal politics. That is the tragedy of Russia today, that it is run by real gangsters, becoming another sort of threat for the rest of the world. It is not corruption, but a criminal organization that has taken a huge country with all of its weapons. Now the question may arise, how did it happen?”

Back to North Korea: (Ryan Mauro’s article)
“Criminal activity is very much a way of life] for the North Korean government. The government actually has a specific section called Bureau 39 that oversees the drug trafficking, counterfeiting of currency, money laundering and other criminal ventures. Defectors say that government trucks and facilities are used to transport opium and turn it into heroin for export. Diplomats regularly smuggle contraband. In 2003, Australia intercepted a North Korean ship trying to deliver 150 kilograms of heroin. The Australians were so fed up with North Korea’s sponsorship of drug trafficking that they blew up the seized ship in 2006.”

“It is estimated that the leaders of the country earn about $1 billion annually from this black market activity to help fund their lavish lifestyles while their people live in poverty. In addition, about 40 percent of North Korea’s exports are said to be arms sales. The regime makes at least $2 billion from sales to Iran alone. This illegal trade has already reached the United States. In 2007, it was discovered that a Chinese crime group had smuggled drugs, money, illegal cigarettes, and $1 million in weapons including machine guns and rocket launchers into the country from North Korea.”

Lao GaiMy guess is, that if you are in a modern Chinese Lao Gai, or an old Soviet gulag, or a Venezuelan prison, you are hated more by the regime if you are a dissident than if you are a criminal. I don’t have any evidence for this, but it would make sense – these are regimes that use criminals and criminal methods when their agenda requires it – but if you are a political dissident, you are a much more of a threat.

A criminal has this in common with a totalitarian ideologue – they are not bound by inhibitions and constraints.  The end justifies the means.  The two roles can co-exist in the same person.  A psychopath can believe in something greater than himself.  Also, the distinction between ideologues of nationalistic racism versus ideologues of socialism isn’t always that clear.  For instance, North Korea preaches socialism, but also preaches a form of extreme racism.  And recently, mostly Moslem marchers in Paris, France, said things like “Hitler did not finish the job.” (referring to Jews, of course), though it was Moslem voters that made the difference in pushing the current socialist government of France into power.

The book Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder describes the “Poachers Brigade”


3 thoughts on “When idealists become criminals or use criminals

  1. Your ‘Nazi About To Kill Woman And Child’ picture is cropped. This photo depicts a Wermacht soldier defending German farmers against an Allied advance. If you actually bothered to look you’ll notice the woman and child are stood in the foreground, whereas the rifleman is behind them.

    1. When I look at the picture, it seems that the rifleman is pointing his gun at the woman. It doesn’t look like he is pointing is gun past the woman at an enemy force. How do you know the picture is cropped?

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