Liberty U is home to rightwing religious extremists, just for starters and detractors of Jason Russell and his group are popping up all over the intertoobs. From an Alternet piece entitled, Invisible Children “Kony 2012″ Leader Suggests It’s About Jesus and Evangelizing:
Is one of the biggest viral video in history Christian fundamentalist propaganda? Invisible Children’s founder lays out his agenda at Liberty University.
“A lot of people fear Christians, they fear Liberty University, they fear Invisible Children – because they feel like we have an agenda. They see us and they go, “You want me to sign up for something, you want my money. You want, you want me to believe in your God.” And it freaks them out.” — Jason Russell, speaking at Liberty University, November 7, 2011
Is Invisible Children a nonprofit devoted to human needs, or is it a ministry devoted to bringing souls to Jesus ? Judging by a talk co-founder Jason Russell gave last November at Liberty University, it would seem to be a bit of both.
A few days ago, Russell’s Invisible Children nonprofit began to blitz the Internet with posts on social media promoting the nonprofit’s new KONY 2012 video, which by now has received over 36 million hits. The media campaign has already provoked a backlash of well informed criticism, from academics and other with expertise concerning Joseph Kony and the LRA, and the conflict in Northern Uganda and the surrounding region (see links and material, below transcript).
Foreign Affairs charges Invisible Children with misrepresenting the facts, and Foreign Affairs guest contributor Michael Wilkerson notes the deceptive nature of the KONY 2012 video, narrated by Jason Russell, which mentions only in passing that Joseph Kony is no longer in Northern Uganda (his LRA hasn’t operated there for years).
So far few have noticed the decidedly evangelical ties of Invisible Children. But that’s not surprising: Judging from the organization’s website and promotional material, Invisible Children would seem to be non-religious, purely devoted to the health and well-being of children in Northern Uganda and the surrounding region, to “ending genocide”, and to capturing Joseph Kony.
On its face, the effort appears secular, and evangelizing is not mentioned as an objective.
But in a November 7, 2011 appearance at Liberty University, as part of Liberty’s Fall Convocation speaker series, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell hinted that Invisible Children was also an evangelizing effort, and during his talk Russell coached Liberty University students on what could be characterized as extremely low-key, or stealth, evangelism.
Joining Russell onstage during his November 7 Liberty University appearance was Alex Harris, credited with playing a key role in driving Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential bid. At 20:20 into the 39 minute discussion, Harris received a question from the Liberty University student audience – “What is the greatest challenge to the millennial generation, in impacting the world for Christ ?”
Religious wingnut extraordinaire Jerry Falwell founded Liberty U. That should tell you all you need to know about that specific place of..cough..higher learning.
Misinformation is worse than almost anything when we are talking about something going viral and Russell and his group are being accused of it all over the place. Yes, Joseph Kony is a horrible, evil man, that isn’t the point. What IS the point is why Russell and his Invisible Children group waited this long to release the video that has gone viral in a matter of days, as Kony hasn’t been in Uganda since 2006, or what they are doing with the millions they are collecting from unsuspecting people who watch his video and are rightfully horrified by it.
Michael Deibert, over at HuffPo has a good read up about the history of the region and the fallacies contained in the viral video, Kony 2012. Another read that questions the motives and what Invisible Children does with all the money can be read here. From a Guardian piece on the group:
Kony 2012 has become a surprise hit around the world some 25 years after Kony founded his militia and a decade after the peak of its reign of terror in northern Uganda. But its makers, a group called Invisible Children, have been widely criticised by Ugandan journalists and otheraid agencies for being self-promoting (the video spends much of its 28 minutes on its maker, Jason Russell and his young son, Gavin) and opaque about its use of funds – and for concentrating on an issue that has dramatically changed in recent years.
“They are focusing more on an American solution to an African conflict than the holistic approach which should include regional governments and people who are very key to make this a success,” said Victor Ochen, the director of African Youth Initiative Network based in Lira, the site of one Kony’s worst massacres in Uganda.
“They are advocating for a mechanism to end war with more attention to a perpetrator not victims. Campaigning on killing one man and that’s the end is not enough … There are many people who are caught up in this war. Invisible Children has good access to international media but they have no connection with the community they claim to represent.” Ugandan writer Angelo Opi-Aiya Izama wrote on his blog: “To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement … its portrayal of his alleged crimes in northern Uganda are from a bygone era.” He added that the main problems in the area now are child prostitution, HIV and a mysterious and incurable neurological disorder, known as nodding disease, which has afflicted more than 4,000 children.
Izama said that although the LRA is still preying on civilians in neighbouring countries, it was no longer an unknown problem. He said: “The LRA leader is the subject of an international manhunt by a joint force of Ugandan, Congolese, Sudanese and Central African troops. This effort is assisted by US combat troops.”
All I know is this: There are far more questions than answers about the individuals heading the group Invisible Children, and why they chose now to release the short video and push their $30 kits on unsuspecting kids and college students worldwide.
That the group wants more military intervention doesn’t sit well with me either, as it seems to care more about raising money and promoting more military responses than anything else. Again, from the Guardian piece:
Invisible Children’s accounts show it is a cash rich operation, which more than tripled its income to $9m (£5.68m) in 2011, mainly from personal donations. Of this, nearly 25% was spent on travel and film-making. Most of the money raised has been spent in the US. The accounts show $1.7m went on US employee salaries, $850,000 in film production costs, $244,000 in “professional services” – thought to be Washington lobbyists – and $1.07m in travel expenses. Nearly $400,000 was spent on offices in San Diego.
Questions were raised on Thursday about its operation after it emerged that Charity Navigator, a US charity evaluator, gave the organisation only three out of four stars overall, four stars financially, and two stars for “accountability and transparency”. Noelle Jouglet communication director, responded in a statement saying: “Our score is currently at 2 stars due to the fact that Invisible Children currently does not have five independent voting members on our board of directors. We are currently in the process of interviewing potential board members, and our goal is to add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013.”
The three founders of the group, who advocate direct military intervention in response to the LRA, were also criticised for posing with guns alongside members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in 2008. In a statement the group responded : “We were there to see Joseph Kony come to the table to sign the Final Peace Agreement. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was surrounding our camp for protection since Sudan was mediating the peace talks. We thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, “Haha – they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace’.”
The group , which employs around 100 people, is expected to raise millions of dollars from their Kony2012 video but has so far not said how much has been donated or how it will spend the money. Visitors are invited to click a button and buy T shirts, bracelets and posters, ranging from $30-$250. “People will think you’re an advocate of awesome”, runs the sales pitch. (emphasis mine)
Sales pitch is right. And it doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy that giving this group a friggin dime will do anything to help the victims of Kony or find the disgusting human known as Joseph Kony. What is clear is that Russell and his group also promote more military intervention in the region over all else.
Because Jason Russell surely isn’t educating people, but he IS taking every dime they give him and his cough… non-profit group, Invisible Children. One fact you won’t find Russell and his group telling you is that the US has already spent two decades trying to find Kony and bring him to justice. Or that Kony left Uganda in 2006.
So its a Buyer Beware scenario folks…don’t buy what this guy is selling if you have even one question about what they are doing and why.