Idiots Guide: Worst People on Earth # 3: Viktor Bout (Merchant of Death)

Terrifying reports of ethnic in fighting and/or cleansing. Civil wars. Regional terror. Genocide. These unfortunate events have become all too common occurrences in international news. Africa in particular has been a hot spot of civil unrest and abject brutality. What often gets overlooked and/or under reported are the people and organizations that make these human atrocities possible, and I’m not talking about the combatants. I’m referring to those who produce, introduce and/or distribute the weapons of death that supercharge these savage human conflicts, and misery. In short, the ‘Merchants of Death’. The people who have no problem profiting off the murder and mayhem of their fellow human beings. Where there is arguably some moral ambiguity and/or intellectual argument as to the legality of drug trafficking, there is zero ambiguity as to the horrific effects of weapons trafficking means to society at large. Idiots Guide’s series on the ‘Worst People on Earth’ highlights perhaps the most egregious illegal arms dealer on planet earth in modern times, a man they call Viktor Bout. Regardless of your position on personal gun ownership, we can certainly all agree that the wholesale distribution of tens of thousands of light armaments, AK-47’s, grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns, missiles, and the like, are not the path to peace and prosperity anywhere in the civilized world. Ask the people of Uganda how they feel about these weapons in the hands of their version of the lunatic fringe. When you hand powerful weapons of death to ideological zealots with terrorist proclivities, you can expect the kind of carnage we’ve seen on an industrial scale in Africa, and the Serbian/Croatian conflict prior to that. Both geographic conflicts involving ‘ethnic cleansing’, perhaps the very worst ideology of the human condition. I submit that people like Viktor Bout are among the worst examples of the human race. In fairness, is he the person actually doing the mass killing? No. Is he the person responsible for providing the material means (i.e. arming) the murderous combatants who are? Absolutely. You need a match to ignite gasoline.

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Who is Viktor Bout? He is a Russian national from Tajikistan, Russia a remote mountain region near the Pakistan border. He deals illegal weapons and other contraband on an international scale with global consequence. In fact it is estimated that he is/was the single largest private arms trafficker on earth. He has made untold hundreds of millions, perhaps into the billions in his illicit trade that is responsible for the death of tens of millions. There is not an armed conflict on this earth that Bout hasn’t provided some if not all of the weapons. He has a fleet of planes that numbers in the multiple dozens, as well as an organization of over 300 people. It takes a cold, calculating person to willingly provide the material means for the erasure of millions of human souls. To brazenly profit from human misery on a global scale. Staggering numbers that would make Satan blush. How did Bout come across the weapons he sells on the black market? Mostly stolen from the vast stockpiles of armaments left over from the fall of communist Russia. He found an eager, willing, and cash rich clientele in the growing number of rebel groups in Africa. Groups who have largely profited from narcotics sales, the plunder of innocent civilians, and ‘blood diamonds’. Viktor Bout clearly doesn’t care, or see any moral conflict with providing material means for rape, mutilation, and genocide across the African continent specifically, and the world in general. There is no way that he can claim ignorance to the consequence of his business dealings. How he sleeps at night should be a case study. Perhaps his brain produces an enzyme that might be of value to the medical community in dealing with insomnia.


As a result of international pressure and outrage, in 2002 Interpol finally issued an arrest warrant for Bout. However, when you are a man behind a private firm that grosses hundreds of millions of dollars per year, you tend to have powerful friends, and the protection and entitlement that comes with it. Bout was a very hard man to find, let alone prosecute. However, the international community started to aggressively target his planes and cargo for inspection. The United States firmly involved in the ‘war on terror’ starting immediately after 9/11 became intimately involved in trying to bring Bout’s reign to an end, since he was also providing material support for terrorist organizations. A huge ‘no, no’ in the mid to late 2000’s.

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Interestingly in 2008, it was the American DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) who was finally able to bring down and capture Viktor Bout, something that Interpol and others couldn’t manage for almost a decade prior. They were able to charge him with conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, in this case F.A.R.C. He was arrested in Thailand and then extradited to the waiting arms of the United States. On November 2nd 2011, Viktor Bout was convicted of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and of course for attempting to provide aid to a terrorist organization (FARC). He was sentenced to 25 years in U.S. Federal detention. All of his other criminal arms deals in Africa, and beyond were not prosecuted. However, it is highly unlikely that the ‘Merchant of Death’ will ever have the opportunity to deal in mayhem, again. The sad reality is that all of the weapons he provided to terrorists groups around the world are still causing misery and death to this very day.