According to most dictionaries a traitor is someone who is guilty of treason or treachery, in betraying friends, country, a cause, or trust. Though no one loves a traitor there are some cases where things are not as black-and-white as they may appear at first glance. For example, is someone who betrays a government that oppresses its people a traitor or a hero/martyr? Is someone who betrays a project that would kill or harm thousands of people a traitor or a savior? You be the judge. Here are 25 most hated backstabbing traitors in history.
Aldrich Hazen Ames was arrested by the FBI in Arlington, Virginia, on espionage charges on February 24, 1994. At the time of his arrest, Ames was a thirty-one-year veteran of the CIA, who had been spying for the Russians since 1985. It is believed that Ames compromised the second-largest number of CIA agents—second only to those betrayed by Robert Hanssen.
Patrick Stanley Vaughan Heenan
Heenan was a captain in the British-Indian Army and was convicted of treason after spying for Japan during the Malayan campaign of World War II. Heenan was reportedly killed in February 1942 by his wardens while in custody during the Battle of Singapore.
John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh, also known as the “American Taliban,” is an American citizen who was captured as an enemy combatant during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in November of that year. He’s considered by many to be the most famous American traitor of the twenty-first century.
John Anthony Walker Jr.
John Anthony Walker Jr. was a US Navy chief warrant officer and communications specialist convicted of spying and selling navy secrets to the Soviets for eighteen years in what has been described as one of the most damaging espionage operations of the Cold War. He died last summer while still in prison. He would have become eligible for parole this year.
George Plantagenet, First Duke of Clarence
Though a member of the House of York, the first Duke of Clarence switched sides to support the Lancastrians, before reverting to the Yorkists. He was later convicted of treason against his own brother, King Edward IV, and was executed allegedly by being drowned in a butt (a large barrel) of Malmsey wine.
Arguably one of the most infamous Filipino traitors in history, Pedro Paterno was a highly educated lawyer, writer, and ambitious schemer who changed sides whenever it suited him. When the Philippine-American War broke out, he advocated accepting American sovereignty, something he was previously against. After his capture by the Americans, Paterno formally switched sides and joined the American-sponsored First Philippine Assembly before dying of cholera in 1911.
The Cambridge Five
The Cambridge Five spy ring loosely refers to a number of spies recruited from Cambridge University in England. While there is debate over how many members were part of the ring, the ring is most known for five members, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Don MacLean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. Perhaps the most famous spy ring of the twentieth century, the Cambridge Five caused severe damage to the United States and Britain, both in terms of the depth and value of the intelligence that was compromised.
Robert Philip Hanssen is a former FBI agent who spied for Soviet and later Russian intelligence services against the United States for twenty-two years from 1979 to 2001. He was arrested on February 18, 2001, in Virginia, and was charged with selling US secrets to the USSR and later Russia for more than $1.4 million in cash and diamonds throughout his tenure as a spy. He is currently serving fifteen consecutive life sentences at ADX Florence, a federal super-max prison in Florence, Colorado.
Before we say anything about the man, we consider it fit to inform you that the mask V was wearing in V for Vendetta is a stylized depiction of Guy Fawkes, the best-known member of the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up the House of Lords in London in 1605. As for Guy Fawkes? He’s another controversial personality and opinions vary about him.
According to some historians he was a rebel who fought for the people, while according to others he was a traitor who fought for the Spanish against the Brits and the one who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot. Keep in mind that even nowadays there are people who refer to him as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.”
Shūsui Kōtoku was a Japanese socialist and anarchist who played a leading role in introducing anarchism and Western political traditions to Japan in the early twentieth century, particularly by translating the works of contemporary European and Russian anarchists, such as Peter Kropotkin, into Japanese. He was considered a radical journalist and a traitor who tried to harass Japanese culture and politics, and he was executed for treason by the Japanese government.
Even though Vanunu has been internationally characterized as a hero and symbol of peace, in Israel he’s considered the ultimate traitor. Why? See, this former Israeli nuclear technician openly cited his opposition to weapons of mass destruction and revealed details of Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986.
He was subsequently lured to Italy by a Mossad agent, where he was drugged and abducted. He was then transported to Israel and ultimately convicted in what was characterized by the American media as an undemocratic and barbaric trial that was held behind closed doors.
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was a German army officer and aristocrat who was one of the leading members of the failed July 20th plot in 1944 to assassinate Hitler and remove the Nazi Party from power. Along with Henning von Tresckow and Hans Oster, he was one of the central figures of the German Resistance movement within the Wehrmacht. For his involvement in the movement he was executed by firing squad shortly after the failed attempt, known as Operation Valkyrie.
According to Armenian historians Meruzhan Artzruni, Lord Prince of Vaspurakan, was an evil man who conspired with the Persian king Shapur II against his liege-lord, King Arshak II, whom he betrayed to the Persians. He was eventually captured by Arshak II’s son, King Papas, and executed.
Tokyo Rose, whose real name was Iva Toguri, is the most infamous Asian-American traitor of World War II. After college, Rose visited Japan and was stranded there after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Forced to renounce her US citizenship, Rose found work in radio and was asked to host “Zero Hour,” a propaganda and entertainment program aimed at American soldiers. After the war, she was returned to the US and convicted of treason, serving six years in prison. Gerald Ford finally pardoned her in the mid-seventies. She died in 2006.
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling was a Norwegian politician and officer, commonly known as one of World War II’s most infamous traitors. He held the office of Minister President of Norway from February 1, 1942, to the end of the war, while the elected social democratic cabinet of Johan Nygaardsvold was exiled in London. Quisling was tried for high treason and executed by firing squad after the war. The term “quisling” has become synonymous in many European languages, including English, with traitor.
Wang Jingwei was the president of the Reorganized National Government of China, a puppet government controlled by Japan during the Second World War. Although some scholars consider him an important contributor to the Xinhai Revolution, his collaboration with the Imperial Japanese stigmatized him as a traitor in the eyes of most Chinese historians and civilians.
Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were American citizens executed in the 1950s for their conspiracy to commit espionage. In 2008, after decades of some sources portraying the Rosenbergs as innocent, Morton Sobell, who had close ties with them, admitted he was a spy and stated that Julius had spied for the Soviets, but Ethel had not.
Adolf Tolkachev, also known by the CIA code name “GT/VANQUISH,” was one of the most valuable spies the agency ever had. Some sources say he single-handedly paid the CIA’s rent while he worked for them, passing information from a Moscow research institute that designed electronic systems for Soviet aircraft. This intelligence saved the United States billions and years of unnecessary research, probably exceeding the value of the Soviet defector Viktor Belenko, whom Tolkachev cited as an example he wished to follow. He was finally captured by the KGB and executed for treason.
Unknown to Xerxes, the narrow pass that Leonidas and his men used to resist the invaders was not the only way around Thermopylae. There were other paths known only to locals. After two days of seeing his soldiers being destroyed by the Spartan forces, Xerxes had an unexpected visitor. Hoping for a great reward, Ephialtes (whose name ironically means “nightmare” in Greek) told the king about a track that led over the hills to Thermopylae. I am pretty sure you know the rest of the story thanks to the movie 300.
Benedict Arnold’s name has been synonymous with the word “traitor” in the US for ages. Even though he was an early American hero of the Revolutionary War who fought bravely for his nation’s freedom, he would later become one of the most infamous traitors after he switched sides and fought for the British. This is the main reason Arnold’s undeniable contributions to American independence are largely underrepresented in popular culture today.
Mata Hari was a Frisian (a Germanic ethnic group) exotic dancer who was captured in France and accused of spying for Germany during World War I. Despite maintaining her innocence she was executed by a firing squad in France under charges of espionage in favor of Germany.
Even though many historians disagree and consider Brutus a patriot who saved Rome from the catastrophic consequences Caesar’s delusional and emperor-like behavior could have had for the empire, the fact remains that Brutus’s name is synonymous with treason and the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Robert Ford is probably the most famous outlaw-traitor in the history of the Wild West. He was a member of Jesse James’s gang and the one who killed the most famous American outlaw of the nineteenth century by shooting him in the back. Ford killed James not only for the $10,000 reward he planned to split with his brother Charles, but also because the Missouri governor had promised the brothers their crimes would be pardoned.
After Ford murdered James, he didn’t receive a hero’s welcome as he’d hoped, or even the entire reward. Instead, he was labeled a coward and became a drifter. Ironically, Ford met his end when a fellow outlaw shot him in the chest, seeking fame for killing the ultimate coward/traitor.
Mir Jafar was the first Nawab of Bengal under British East India Company rule and rose to power after betraying the last independent Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-Ud-Daulah, at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. His desire to become nawab was so perverse that it led him to make a secret pact with British Major-General Robert Clive where he would withhold his division from the fighting, and allow the slaughter of the Army of Bengal in Plassey.
Undoubtedly the most famous and hated traitor in history, Judas was an educated man from a family with a strong religious background who belonged to the Sicarii, the most radical Jewish group, some of whom were terrorists. As we all know, Judas later became one of the twelve apostles and betrayed Jesus with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver.