We are trying to hit as many high schools, churches, and colleges as possible with this movie. We are able to be the Trojan Horse in a sense, going into a secular realm... it's not driven by guilt, it's driven by an adventure and the adventure is God's."-- Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, in 2005 conference audio obtained by LGBT rights nonprofit Truth Wins Out.
[image, right: Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey, on White House nationally televised human rights panel]
On Monday, as part of a policy initiative spearheaded by an address President Barack Obama gave at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the White House live-streamed video of several panel discussions on human rights, one of which featured Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey.
Less than two weeks prior, on April 13, 2012, Keesey presided over an IC public relations push in Northern Uganda that culminated in a riot, with Ugandans infuriated by IC's KONY 2012 videos pelting Invisible Children leaders with rocks, according to the Uganda Monitor.
The apparent disconnect between Invisible Children's White House-enabled public relations push and on-the-ground sentiment of Ugandans whose needs IC purports to champion can be in part explained by a little-known fact -- Invisible Children is a ministry, tied closely to the evangelical right, which launched its KONY 2012 campaign with a February 23, 2012 rally at the giant Mt. Soledad Cross overlooking San Diego.
The evangelical right has been of one the domestic American political constituencies most bitterly opposed to the Obama Administration; for that reason it is strange for the administration to promote one of the movement's most successful "stealth" ministry initiatives.
The facts are clear -- although Invisible Children representatives routinely proclaim their organization to be secular, In 2007 the IC nonprofit officially applied to become one of the elite, dues-paying Christian ministries in the right-wing evangelical Barnabas Group, and an extensive further body of evidence ties Invisible Children to the politicized religious right -- including to the Ugandan branch of The Fellowship, credited by MP David Bahati with inspiring and providing "technical support" for the Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill.
Along with Invisible Children, other ministries in the Barnabas Group include the Family Research Council, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an antigay hate group, and the Focus On The Family-affiliated Lamplighter Ministries, whose agenda includes the "infiltration" of Hollywood. Other Barnabas stealth ministry efforts seek to evangelize Jews and Muslims, and even apartment building residents.
Human Rights, and Concentration Camps
In his Holocaust Museum speech, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. intent of continuing the hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony, indicted in 2005 for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
But Kony is not the only agent in the region to have been charged by an international judicial body. Also in 2005 Uganda, a key U.S. ally in East/Central Africa, was charged by the International Court of Justice at the Hague with human rights abuses as well as systematic looting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (PDF file of ICJ ruling.)
A 2010 UN Mapping report event went so far as to suggest that U.S. allies Uganda and Rwanda may have committed genocide in the DR Congo, where millions of civilians have died in conflicts that have raged over the past several decades in the resource-rich country.
Other human rights abuses committed by Uganda, with whom the U.S. government and Invisible Children has partnered in the hunt for Joseph Kony, include the following; last year, Ugandan troops and police forced an estimated 20,000 Northern Ugandans from their lands and burned their homes; at present, the regime of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is engaged in a brutal crackdown against its political opponents; the Ugandan army has even been accused by human rights groups of raping and looting in the DR Congo during its ongoing American-assisted hunt for Joseph Kony.
These accusations fit a pattern of anti-civilian violence attributed to the Ugandan government and the UPDF (the Ugandan army) which, beginning in 1996, violently forced hundreds of thousands of Northern Ugandan Acholi tribe members into internment, or concentration, camps -- as Dr. Adam Branch, author of Displacing Human Rights: War And Intervention In Northern Uganda (Oxford University Press, 2011) explains:
The UPDF drove hundreds of thousands of Acholi peasants out of their villages and into camps through a campaign of intimidation, murder, torture, and bombing and burning entire villages... After the formation of the camps, the UPDF announced that anyone found outside of the camps would be considered a rebel and killed... but by the mid 2000s [the camps] had grown to around a million, encompassing nearly the entire rural population of Acholi subregion.(Displacing Human Rights: War And Intervention In Northern Uganda, page 92)
Forced displacement had devastating consequences for the interned civilians... with excess mortality levels reaching approximately 1,000 per week by the mid-2000s. Moreover, the camps were tragically unprotected, and accusations that the government soldiers failed to protect the camps, refused to respond to LRA incursions, and thus turned civilians into easy targets for the LRA, were heard regularly from camp inhabitants.
Meanwhile, in the United States since the nonprofit's formation, Invisible Children has relentlessly promoted, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, a picture of Joseph Kony's LRA as the most significant human rights violator in Northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the LRA has taken up operations since being driven from Ugandan territory.
On page 92, Adam Branch sums up, "The irony, of course, is that the [Ugandan government-created] internment camps were, by far, the greatest cause of children's-and adults'-suffering in Northern Uganda and, if anything, made abductions by the LRA easier."
Public Relations v. Reality
Branch's perspective, which notes the Ugandan government's massive human rights violations, is the dominant one among the relatively few academics and journalists who have bothered to research and write on the Acholi camps. In the U.S., that perspective is overwhelmed by Invisible Children's aggressive, Internet-driven, government-assisted public relations machinery.
Launched from Invisible Children's February 23, 2012 rally at the Mount Soledad Cross overlooking San Diego, sixteen IC vans with IC leaders and volunteers have brought Invisible Children's formulaic presentations to young audiences in schools and colleges across America. These emotionally-driven presentations typically feature screenings of Invisible Children's KONY 2012 videos, followed by testimony by former LRA members now working for Invisible Children.
Then came the early March breakout of Invisible Children's KONY 2012 video, with over 100 million views worldwide and which was widely criticized for giving the impression that Joseph Kony's LRA, driven from Northern Uganda six years ago, was still operating in the region.
Outside of IC's carefully stage-managed video and school presentation settings, many former LRA members and victims have harsh words for Invisible Children's efforts, and two KONY 2012 video screenings in Uganda over past weeks have prompted Ugandans to throw rocks, both at movie screens, during a March 2012 screening, and, the following month, at Invisible Children leaders themselves.
Ugandans pelt Invisible Children leaders with rocks
On Friday, April 13th, 2012, CEO Keesey presided over an abortive Invisible Children push to win local support in Northern Uganda -- the setting for much of the nonprofit's breakthrough viral video KONY 2012.
Following the day's parade of Ugandans wearing identical orange Invisible Children T-shirts and accompanied by a marching band, Invisible Children held a nighttime screening of its KONY 2012 and KONY 2012 Part II: Beyond Famous videos, in a sports stadium in the Northern Ugandan city of Gulu.
Some among the estimated 10,000 Ugandans gathered for the screening became sufficiently enraged by the Invisible Children videos that they started to pelt the screen, and IC organizers, with rocks. Ugandan police, in turn, shot tear gas at the crowd and fired their rifles into the air (by some accounts, police fired directly at the audience), causing panic.
One death and "dozens" of injuries were reported, according to the Uganda Monitor which also quoted LRA kidnapping victim Margaret Aciro, whose lips and ears were cut off by Kony's troops, as stating,
"I watched the Kony 2012 video but I decided to return home before the second one (Kony 2012 Part II) because I was dissatisfied with its content. I became sad when I saw my photo in the video. I knew they were using it to profit."
Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, the Rt. Rev John Baptist Odama, whose daughter committed suicide as a result of her treatment while kidnapped by Kony's LRA, also had harsh words for Invisible Children's video screening:
This is catastrophic, it's causing chaos. It is igniting more, actually, a situation of starting afresh the war... This film could have been prepared with a consultation. For example, the stakeholders could be consulted -- "We would like to project a film like this, what do you think?" People should have been asked before, instead of having the film shown now.
Odama now heads the Acholi Leaders Peace Initiative, an effort that has joined with Western nonprofits such as Oxfam, and other African religious and human rights groups, that have spoken out collectively, warning that the type of militarized approaches to conflict in East/Central Africa promoted by Invisible Children will only provoke further violence in the region.
A recent video featuring Odama, from the Fetzer Institute, which promotes nonviolent approaches to conflict, explores the power of community-based forgiveness in healing the scars of war-torn Northern Uganda.
In agreement with such nonviolent approaches are relevant academics such as Adam Branch, and former LRA members such as Victor Ochen, who has formed a nonprofit to help victims of LRA violence and told the UK Guardian, for a story published April 20, 2012, "We get the feeling that Invisible Children care more about their videos than about victims". Ochen went on to state,
Many of the LRA are our abducted family members -- a military offensive will kill lots of innocent people. A coherent policy of amnesty, reparations, truth telling and accountability is the way to rebuild this society. Invisible Children's campaign just encourages young people in America to call for war -- they're inspiring a generation of warmongers. This must be rejected in the strongest possible terms.
They also don't seem to recognise that the more Kony feels threatened, the more he's dangerous. This campaign will only worsen their violent acts.
African academic Chioke I'Anson, who along with Ochen met with Invisible Children representatives for an April 17, 2012 NYU panel discussion moderated by journalist Amy Goodman, later expressed his misgivings in an op-ed published by the NYC Black Star News service:
What is clear from the talk is that IC is a business... They act as though they are not concerned with the dignity of victims. They seem unable to admit even the possibility that they, as an organization, can make mistakes or missteps for which they are responsible.
They speak of victimhood only to establish the superiority of the victims who work for or support them, to the exclusion of all others. In doing so, they silence the voices of those they are trying to help. Like their colonial predecessors, they sustain the subaltern. They speak like politicians that are unwilling to meet on the terms of the discussion.
... They have shown that they have to answer neither to critical thinkers, nor to historians of public policy, nor to the victims that they claim that are trying to serve.
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