The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Extremists of all time. This list of famous Extremists is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Extremists.
With an HPI of 79.24, John Wilkes Booth is the most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 53 different languages on wikipedia.
John Wilkes Booth (May 10, 1838 – April 26, 1865) was an American stage actor who assassinated United States President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865. A member of the prominent 19th-century Booth theatrical family from Maryland, he was a noted actor who was also a Confederate sympathizer; denouncing President Lincoln, he lamented the recent abolition of slavery in the United States.Originally, Booth and his small group of conspirators had plotted to kidnap Lincoln to aid the Confederate cause. They later decided to murder him, as well as Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Although its Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee, had surrendered to the Union Army four days earlier, Booth believed that the Civil War remained unresolved because the Confederate Army of General Joseph E. Johnston continued fighting. Booth shot President Lincoln once in the back of the head. Lincoln's death the next morning completed Booth's piece of the plot. Seward, severely wounded, recovered, whereas Vice President Johnson was never attacked. Booth fled on horseback to Southern Maryland; twelve days later, at a farm in rural Northern Virginia, he was tracked down sheltered in a barn. Booth's companion David Herold surrendered, but Booth maintained a standoff. After the authorities set the barn ablaze, Union soldier Boston Corbett fatally shot him in the neck. Paralyzed, he died a few hours later. Of the eight conspirators later convicted, four were soon hanged.
With an HPI of 78.85, Charles Manson is the 2nd most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 79 different languages.
Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox; November 12, 1934 – November 19, 2017) was an American criminal and musician who led the Manson Family, a cult based in California, in the late 1960s. Some of the members committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. In 1971, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, including the film actress Sharon Tate. The prosecution contended that, while Manson never directly ordered the murders, his ideology constituted an overt act of conspiracy.Before the murders, Manson had spent more than half of his life in correctional institutions. While gathering his cult following, Manson was a singer-songwriter on the fringe of the Los Angeles music industry, chiefly through a chance association with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, who introduced Manson to record producer Terry Melcher. In 1968, the Beach Boys recorded Manson's song "Cease to Exist", renamed "Never Learn Not to Love" as a single B-side, but without a credit to Manson. Afterward, Manson attempted to secure a record contract through Melcher, but was unsuccessful. Manson would often talk about the Beatles, including their eponymous 1968 album. According to Los Angeles County District Attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, Manson felt guided by his interpretation of the Beatles' lyrics and adopted the term "Helter Skelter" to describe an impending apocalyptic race war. During his trial, Bugliosi argued that Manson had intended to start a race war, although Manson and others disputed this. Contemporary interviews and trial witness testimony insisted that the Tate–LaBianca murders were copycat crimes intended to exonerate Manson's friend Bobby Beausoleil. Manson himself denied having instructed anyone to murder anyone. Manson's notoriety was an emblem of insanity, violence, and the macabre influenced pop culture. Recordings of songs written and performed by Manson were released commercially, starting with Lie: The Love and Terror Cult (1970). After his incarceration, some of his songs were covered by various artists. Although he was originally sentenced to death in 1971, his sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole after the California Supreme Court invalidated the state's death penalty statute in 1972. He served his life sentence at the California State Prison, Corcoran, and died at age 83 in late 2017.
With an HPI of 75.74, Ted Bundy is the 3rd most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 59 different languages.
Theodore Robert Bundy (born Cowell; November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, he confessed to 30 murders he committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978. Bundy's true victim total is unknown, and is likely significantly higher.Bundy was regarded as charismatic and handsome, traits that he exploited to win the trust of both his victims and society as a whole. He would typically approach his victims in public places, either feigning a physical impairment such as an injury, or impersonating an authority figure, before bludgeoning them into unconsciousness and taking them to secondary locations to be raped and strangled. Bundy often revisited his victims, grooming and performing sexual acts with the corpses until decomposition and destruction by wild animals made any further interactions impossible. He decapitated at least twelve victims and kept their severed heads as mementos in his apartment. On a few occasions, he broke into dwellings at night and bludgeoned his victims as they slept. In 1975, Bundy was arrested and jailed in Utah for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. He then became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in several states. Facing murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults in Florida, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in 1978. For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two trials. Bundy was executed at Florida State Prison in Raiford on January 24, 1989. Biographer Ann Rule described Bundy as "a sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human's pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of death and even after." He once described himself as "the most cold-hearted son of a bitch you'll ever meet," a statement with which attorney Polly Nelson, a member of his last defense team, agreed. "Ted," she wrote, "was the very definition of heartless evil."
With an HPI of 72.83, Lee Harvey Oswald is the 4th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.
Lee Harvey Oswald (October 18, 1939 – November 24, 1963) was a U.S. Marine veteran who assassinated John F. Kennedy, then president of the United States, on November 22, 1963. Oswald was placed in juvenile detention at the age of 12 for truancy, during which time he was assessed by a psychiatrist as "emotionally disturbed", due to a lack of normal family life. After attending 12 schools in his youth, he quit repeatedly, and finally when he was 17, joined the Marines. Oswald was court-martialed twice while in the Marines, and jailed. He was honorably released from active duty in the Marine Corps into the reserve, then flew to Europe and defected to the Soviet Union in October 1959. He lived in Minsk, Byelorussia, married a Russian woman named Marina, and had a daughter. In June 1962, he returned to the United States with his wife, and eventually settled in Dallas, where their second daughter was born. Oswald shot and killed Kennedy on November 22, 1963, from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository as Kennedy traveled by motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. About 45 minutes after assassinating Kennedy, Oswald shot and killed Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit on a local street. He then slipped into a movie theater, where he was arrested for Tippit's murder. Oswald was charged with the assassination of Kennedy, but he denied responsibility for the killing, claiming that he was a "patsy". Two days later, Oswald was fatally shot by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters. In September 1964, the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had acted alone when assassinating Kennedy. This conclusion, though controversial, was supported by investigations from the Dallas Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Secret Service, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations.Despite forensic, ballistic, and eyewitness evidence supporting the official findings, public opinion polls have shown that most Americans still do not believe that the official version tells the whole truth of the events, and the assassination spawned numerous conspiracy theories.
With an HPI of 70.46, Ted Kaczynski is the 5th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.
Theodore John Kaczynski ( kə-ZIN-skee; born May 22, 1942), also known as the Unabomber (), is an American domestic terrorist and former mathematics professor. He was a mathematics prodigy, but abandoned his academic career to pursue a primitive life.In 1971, Kaczynski moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water near Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills to become self-sufficient. He witnessed the destruction of the wilderness surrounding his cabin and concluded that living in nature was becoming impossible. He resolved to fight industrialization and its destruction of nature through terrorism. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 others in a nationwide bombing campaign against people he believed to be advancing modern technology and the destruction of the environment. He issued a social critique rejecting leftism, opposing industrialization, and advocating a nature-centered form of anarchism. In 1995, he sent a letter to The New York Times promising to "desist from terrorism" if the Times or The Washington Post published his essay, Industrial Society and Its Future, in which he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary in attracting attention to the erosion of human freedom and dignity by modern technologies that require mass organization.Kaczynski was the subject of the longest and most expensive investigation in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) up to that point. The FBI used the case identifier UNABOM (University and Airline Bomber) before his identity was known, resulting in the media naming him the "Unabomber". The FBI and Attorney General Janet Reno pushed for the publication of Industrial Society and Its Future, which appeared in The Washington Post in September 1995. Upon reading the essay, Kaczynski's brother, David, recognized the prose style and reported his suspicions to the FBI. After his arrest in 1996, Kaczynski—maintaining that he was sane—tried and failed to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers because they wanted him to plead insanity to avoid the death penalty. In 1998, a plea bargain was reached under which he pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to eight consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole.
With an HPI of 68.43, Zodiac Killer is the 6th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 50 different languages.
The Zodiac Killer is the pseudonym of an unidentified serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s. The case has been described as the most famous unsolved murder case in American history, becoming a fixture of popular culture and inspiring amateur detectives to attempt to resolve it. The Zodiac murdered five known victims in the San Francisco Bay Area between December 1968 and October 1969, operating in rural, urban and suburban settings. He targeted young couples and a lone male cab driver, and his known attacks took place in Benicia, Vallejo, unincorporated Napa County, and the city of San Francisco proper. Two of his attempted victims survived. The Zodiac himself claimed to have murdered 37 victims, and he has been linked to several other cold cases, some in Southern California or outside the state. The Zodiac originated the name himself in a series of taunting letters and cards that he mailed to regional newspapers, threatening killing sprees and bombings if they were not printed. Some of the letters included cryptograms, or ciphers, in which the killer claimed that he was collecting his victims as slaves for the afterlife. Of the four ciphers he produced, two remain unsolved, and one was cracked only in 2020. While many theories regarding the identity of the killer have been suggested, the only suspect authorities ever publicly named was Arthur Leigh Allen, a former elementary school teacher and convicted sex offender who died in 1992. Although the Zodiac ceased written communications around 1974, the unusual nature of the case led to international interest that has sustained throughout the years. The San Francisco Police Department marked the case "inactive" in April 2004, but re-opened it at some point prior to March 2007. The case also remains open in the city of Vallejo, as well as in Napa County and Solano County. The California Department of Justice has maintained an open case file on the Zodiac murders since 1969.
With an HPI of 68.39, Ed Gein is the 7th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
Edward Theodore Gein (; August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984), also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul, was an American murderer and body snatcher. Gein's crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety in 1957 after authorities discovered he had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein also confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and hardware store owner Bernice Worden in 1957. Gein was initially found unfit to stand trial and confined to a mental health facility. By 1968, he was judged competent to stand trial; he was found guilty of the murder of Worden, but he was found legally insane and was remanded to a psychiatric institution. He died at Mendota Mental Health Institute from respiratory failure, on July 26, 1984, aged 77. He is buried next to his family in the Plainfield Cemetery, in a now-unmarked grave.
With an HPI of 67.74, Albert Fish is the 8th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.
Hamilton Howard "Albert" Fish (May 19, 1870 – January 16, 1936) was an American serial killer, rapist, child molester, and cannibal who committed at least three child murders from July 1924 to June 1928. He was also known as the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, the Moon Maniac, and The Boogey Man.Fish was a suspect in at least five murders during his lifetime. He confessed to three murders that police were able to trace to a known homicide, and he confessed to stabbing at least two other people. Fish once boasted that he "had children in every state", and at one time stated his number of victims was about 100. However, it is not known whether he was referring to rapes or cannibalization, nor is it known if the statement was truthful.Fish was apprehended on December 13, 1934, and put on trial for the kidnapping and murder of Grace Budd. He was convicted and executed by electric chair on January 16, 1936, at the age of 65.
With an HPI of 67.33, John Wayne Gacy is the 9th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
John Wayne Gacy (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. Gacy regularly performed at children's hospitals and charitable events as "Pogo the Clown" or "Patches the Clown", personas he had devised. He became known as the Killer Clown due to his public services as a clown prior to the discovery of his crimes. Gacy committed all of his murders inside his ranch-style house near Norridge, a village in Norwood Park Township in suburban Chicago. Typically, he would lure a victim to his home and dupe him into donning handcuffs on the pretext of demonstrating a magic trick. He would then rape and torture his captive before killing him by either asphyxiation or strangulation with a garrote. Twenty-six victims were buried in the crawl space of his home, and three others were buried elsewhere on his property; four were discarded in the Des Plaines River. Gacy was convicted of the sodomy of a teenage boy in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1968 and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, but served eighteen months. He murdered his first victim in 1972, had murdered twice more by the end of 1975, and murdered at least thirty subsequent victims after his divorce from his second wife in 1976. The investigation into the disappearance of Des Plaines teenager Robert Piest led to Gacy's arrest on December 21, 1978. His conviction for thirty-three murders (by one individual) then covered the most homicides in United States legal history. Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980. On death row at Menard Correctional Center, he spent much of his time painting. He was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.
With an HPI of 67.28, Jim Jones is the 10th most famous Extremist. His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.
James Warren Jones (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was an American preacher, political activist and mass murderer. He led the Peoples Temple, a new religious movement (NRT), between 1955 and 1978. In what he called "revolutionary suicide", Jones and the members of his inner circle orchestrated a mass murder–suicide in his remote jungle commune at Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978. Jones and the events which occurred at Jonestown have had a defining influence on society's perception of cults. As a child, Jones developed an affinity for Pentecostalism and a desire to preach. He was ordained as a Christian minister in the Independent Assemblies of God, attracting his first group of followers while participating in the Pentecostal Latter Rain movement and the Healing Revival during the 1950s. Jones' initial popularity arose from his joint campaign appearances with the movements' prominent leaders, William Branham and Joseph Mattsson-Boze, and their endorsement of his ministry. Jones founded the organization that would become the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis in 1955. In 1956, Jones began to be influenced by Father Divine and the Peace Mission movement. Jones distinguished himself through civil rights activism, founding the Temple as a fully integrated congregation, and promoting socialism. In 1964, Jones joined and was ordained a minister by the Disciples of Christ; his attraction to the Disciples was largely due to the autonomy and tolerance they granted to differing views within their denomination. In 1965, Jones moved the Temple to California. The group established its headquarters in San Francisco, where he became heavily involved in political and charitable activity throughout the 1970s. Jones developed connections with prominent California politicians and was appointed as chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission in 1975. Beginning in the late 1960s, reports of abuse began to surface as Jones became increasingly vocal in his rejection of traditional Christianity and began promoting a form of communism he called "Apostolic Socialism" and making claims of his own divinity. Jones became progressively more controlling of his followers in Peoples Temple, which at its peak had over 3,000 members. Jones's followers engaged in a communal lifestyle in which many turned over all their income and property to Jones and Peoples Temple who directed all aspects of community life. Following a period of negative media publicity and reports of abuse at Peoples Temple, Jones ordered the construction of the Jonestown commune in Guyana in 1974 and convinced or compelled many of his followers to live there with him. Jones claimed that he was constructing a socialist paradise free from the oppression of the United States government. By 1978, reports surfaced of human rights abuses and accusations that people were being held in Jonestown against their will. U.S. Representative Leo Ryan led a delegation to the commune in November of that year to investigate these reports. While boarding a return flight with some former Temple members who wished to leave, Ryan and four others were murdered by gunmen from Jonestown. Jones then ordered a mass murder-suicide that claimed the lives of 909 commune members, 304 of them children; almost all of the members died by drinking Flavor Aid laced with cyanide.
Pantheon has 83 people classified as extremists born between 1787 and 1987. Of these 83, 20 (24.10%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living extremists include Ted Kaczynski, Zodiac Killer, and Edmund Kemper. The most famous deceased extremists include John Wilkes Booth, Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy. As of April 2022, 12 new extremists have been added to Pantheon including Patricia Krenwinkel, Samuel Little, and Stephen Paddock.
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Which Extremists were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Extremists since 1700.