Bruce Wilson has been looking deeper into ties between Invisible Children, the group behind "Kony 2012," and a secretive fundamentalist Christian organization known variously as The Family and The Fellowship—which, as it turns out, is said to be a force behind Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill. For a primer on The Family, by the way, there's no better place to start than Jeff Sharlet's book.
At least two of Invisible Children's programs have involved collaboration with The Fellowship and and its members, and by 2007 -- according to accounts from both Invisible Children and Fellowship members -- Invisible Children had partially merged its developing school and mentoring programs in Uganda with The Fellowship's Ugandan educational and leadership training system, which works to raise up a cadre of elite Jesus-centered leaders who will transform their nation along "Biblical" lines - with one apparent objective being the categorical elimination of homosexuality.
I disagree with the approach taken by Invisible Children in particular, and by the White Savior Industrial Complex in general, because there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them.
Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, who was involved in the making of the Kony 2012 video, was detained in San Diego yesterday morning after being found masturbating in public, vandalizing cars, running through traffic and screaming in his underwear. NBC San Diego reports:
Several people attempted to calm him down and when officers arrived they said he was cooperative.
"He was no problem for the police department however, during the evaluation we learned that we probably needed to take care of him," said [Lt. Andra] Brown at a press conference. "So officers detained him and transferred him to a local medical facility for further evaluation and treatment."
The SDPD suspects Mr. Russell was under the influence of something.
From the first time I watched "Kony 2012," I always sensed a link with the storyline of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Book of Mormon musical. But sweet fancy Moses, I did not know how closely linked the two truly were.
Here's where the money has been going to: Invisible Children founder Jason Russell's vanity dance musical numbers which start off with exploitative footage of suffering children. How did no one else catch this? It makes the Kony 2012 video look subtle and sane. He's basically using this to fund his desire to make Glee.
This is where the millions are being spent: vanity musicals. Did Trey Parker write this??!! Russell has mentioned repeatedly how his ambitions were to make musicals. He intimated that he was going to make the musical popular again á la Glee, but this didn't work out—so he ended up in advocacy. It was that chat at the evangelical conference. So, here's a direct youtube link to 9m 10secs in the video where he talks about making musicals, and casually talks about his dream of documenting genocide.
That bit with the t-shirt with the African child on it is just... I'm speechless. Wonder why they've removed it from their YouTube channel, since it looks so damn expensive? It's insane, isn't it? I mean, seriously: it makes Scientology videos look charmingly naive.
Bonus round, below. Brooker asks, "Can ANYONE explain how this EPIC visual embarrassment helps Africa? OH GOD THERE'S MORE. Also: how much did this cost, did donations fund it, and what the TWIRLING FUCK does it mean?"
Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" video has been viewed by millions online around the world. By view counts alone, it is now the most viral video in history. It is now the first ever YouTube hit publicly screened in the northern Ugandan town of Lira—and it didn't go so well.
The screening was hosted by African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET), an NGO founded by Victor Ochen (LRA abductee turned peacekeeper) mentioned in this previous Boing Boing post. Ochen and AYINET thought Ugandans who had been personally affected by the LRA and Kony deserved an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.
Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire attended the AYINET screening of Kony 2012 last night, and tweeted that local radio stations heavily publicized the event in advance. "There were 5000+ people at the screening," she says, "Many rode bicycles from villages to see the #kony2012 video in Lira."
Having heard so many great things about the film, the crowd’s expectations were high.
People I spoke to anticipated seeing a video that showed the world the terrible atrocities that they had suffered during the conflict, and the ongoing struggles they still face trying to rebuild their lives after two lost decades.
The audience was at first puzzled to see the narrative lead by an American man – Jason Russell – and his young son.
Towards the end of the film, the mood turned more to anger at what many people saw as a foreign, inaccurate account that belittled and commercialised their suffering, as the film promotes Kony bracelets and other fundraising merchandise, with the aim of making Kony infamous.
One woman I spoke to made the comparison of selling Osama Bin Laden paraphernalia post 9/11 – likely to be highly offensive to many Americans, however well intentioned the campaign behind it.
The event ended with the angrier members of the audience throwing rocks and shouting abusive criticism, as the rest fled for safety, leaving an abandoned projector, with organisers and the press running for cover until the dust settled.
Kagumire adds this morning that AYINET has suspended further screenings, "not to further harm victims or provoke any violent response."
Invisible Children's bracelets and t-shirts aren't likely to receive a warm welcome in Uganda, either. Kagumire says "The Northern Ugandan people want the government to stop Kony 2012 tshirts from entering the country; the video sparked heated talks on 5 radio stations in Lira... one caller said #kony2012 t-shirts cannot cross Karuma. It would be too provocative."
(Photo: The Kony 2012/Invisible Children guys posing with SPLA soldiers on the Sudan-Congo border in April 2008. Photograph by Glenna Gordon.)
Over at Alternet, Bruce Wilson digs in to the sources of funding for the group behind "Kony 2012," and discovers 990 IRS tax forms and yearly financial disclosure reports from the nonprofit and its major donors "tell a story that’s jarringly at odds with the secular, airbrushed, feelgood image" it has cultivated.
(...) What does Invisible Children share in common with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council (pegged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group”), or the Fellowship Foundation — one of the nonprofit entities of the Washington-based evangelical organization also known as “The Family” (covered in two books by journalist Jeff Sharlet) whose leader Doug Coe has been captured on video celebrating the dedication inspired by Hitler, Lenin, and Mao ?
What does IC have in common with the ministry of California evangelist Ed Silvoso, who works directly with leading Ugandan author and promoter of the Anti Homosexuality Bill (also called the “kill the gays bill”) Julius Oyet — who claims that “even animals are wiser than homosexuals”?
The answer? — all of these ministries – the Discovery Institute, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, The Fellowship Foundation, The Call, Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism, and Invisible Children – received at least $100,000 in 2008 from what has emerged in the last decade as the biggest funder of the hard, antigay, creationist Christian right: the National Christian Foundation.
A related digging-through-the financials post at Demand Nothing argues that the group works in a manner similar in style to "evangelical modes of operation" because they are effectively "a continuation of the same tactics used by more explicitly christian charities that operate in Africa and internationally." Snip:
But in that flood of attention, one set of voices has gone largely ignored: Africans themselves. Writers, journalists, activists; people of African descent who live and work and think about life on the continent. In this post, we'll round up some of their replies to #Kony2012.
• Above, a video by Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan multimedia journalist who works on "media, women, peace and conflict issues." She writes, "This is me talking about the danger of portraying people with one single story and using old footage to cause hysteria when it could have been possible to get to DRC and other affected countries get a fresh perspective and also include other actors."
• Ethiopian writer and activist Solome Lemma writes that she is disturbed by the "dis-empowering and reductive narrative" evidenced in Invisible Children's promotional videos: "[It] paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of child and youth advocates who have been fighting to address the very issues at the heart of IC’s work." Update: Here's another from Lemma on "Seven steps for critical reflection." She urges those concerned about human rights in Africa to "think before you give."
• Musa Okwonga, a " football writer, poet and musician of Ugandan descent," writes in an Independent op-ed: “I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism. I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots... Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken."