Kony 2012’s Latest Controversy: Invisible Children Gets Funding From Anti-Gay Groups

Autostraddle Editor’s Note: Launched earlier this month, the now-legendary and massively viralKony 2012” video has sparked a wave of activism and, subsequently, a wave of controversy. Released by an American filmmaker working with advocacy group Invisible Children, the video hopes to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, the ringleader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, responsible for over 30,000 child abductions. Invisible Children is advocating for amped up efforts to capture Kony, save the children, and bring Kony to justice. The 30-minute video, which asks its viewers to use social media to spread the message and buy “action kits,” has 78 million views (and counting) and the twitter support of many prominent celebrities.

There’s a lot of discourse on both sides and a lot of opposing points that might not actually be mutually exclusive. Personally, what struck me about the video is that apparently everyone working for Invisible Children is white, which was one of many aspects that gave it a distinctly colonialist/White Man’s Burden feel (the unnecessary centrism of the filmmaker’s son was a bit strange to me too). Also if you look on their website, almost the entire US team is white! (Go here and where it says “United States” click on “All US” to see only the US team.) (Please correct me if I’m wrong). The video is supposed to be about, I guess, Americans helping Africans, but due to the overwhelming whiteness of the filmmaker’s team, it feels very much like it’s actually about white people helping Africans, and I don’t like that. My instinct — which is only that, it’s not a thesis — is that Jason Russell isn’t a money-seeking opportunist, but he is really ignorant, irresponsible and narcissistic, which are dangerous qualities to have when combined with power. I personally wouldn’t give them any money or participate in this campaign. But we’re all incredibly open to hearing what you think about it.

I’ve read a lot of good things about what other people think about it! The Visible Children website has criticized the campaign at length and Kony 2012 has responded to that in detail. We’ve also read interesting reports including Gender Without Borders’ 5 African Women Respond to the Kony 2012 Campaign, The New York Times‘ African Critics of Kony Campaign See a “White Man’s Burden” for the Facebook Generation, Foreign Affairs‘ Joseph Kony is Not in Uganda (and other complicated things), The International Herald-Tribune‘s Kony 2012 Is a Distraction From Issues Ordinary Ugandans Care About, Ethan Zuckerman’s Unpacking Kony, Project Diaspora’s TMS Ruge’s Kony 2012 is Not a Revolution, Senior Research Fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda’s Kony 2012 From Kampala, The Atlantic‘s The Soft Bigotry of Kony 2012, Acholi Times’ Open Letter to Jason Russell and Jezebel’s handy How You Should Feel About Kony 2012, The Campaign That’s Taking Over the Internet. [ETA: A commenter pointed out this excellent article from The Globe & Mail: The Horror and the Hashtag]

Is this similar to the question we all had to answer when The Gay Girl in Damascus was revealed to be a straight white guy— is the fact that awareness was raised at all more important than how it was raised? I didn’t learn much from the video, but I learned a lot reading criticism of the video, so.

Jezebel has given us permission to re-print this article about Invisible Children’s ties to anti-gay groups, which may or may not be relevant to your interests. What’s your take on the whole thing?

By Katie J.M. Baker

We’re still waiting on the new Kony 2012 video, supposedly slated to go live later today, that will answer all of our concerns about Invisible Children’s finances and goals, but we have some idea of what we can expect: earnest proclamations about how “uncomplicated” it is to bring Joseph Kony down and reassurances that Invisible Children does spend some of their money (37%) on-the-ground in Africa. Here’s what we’re nearly 100% sure we won’t see: answers regarding the nonprofit’s antigay, creationist donors.

Alternet’s B. E. Wilson researched 990 IRS tax forms and yearly reports from Invisible Children and 990s from its major donors and found deep financial ties to evangelicals and major funders of antigay organizations. Wilson thinks that the hundreds of thousands of dollars given by infamous gay bashers proves that, that from the first year it launched, “Invisible Children had appeared on the radar screen of some of the world’s largest Christian fundamentalist grant-making organizations.”

Invisible Children’s first yearly report in 2006 gives “special thanks” to the “Caster Family Foundation” and their 2007 report straight-up thanks Terry and Barbara Caster. The Caster family is one of the biggest financial backers of California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8. And Philip Anschutz, who helped fund the Discovery Institute and supported Colorado’s 1992 anti-gay marriage Amendment 2, gave $5,218 that year as well.

But one wonders what kind of “special thanks” Invisible Children has given to the National Christian Foundation, which has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the nonprofit over the past few years. The National Christian Foundation is the largest, most active funder of the Far Christian Right, and states on its website that they “make certain every dollar that comes to us is ultimately distributed according to our Christian mission” and that they only fund nonprofits “enable followers of Christ to give wisely to advance His Kingdom.” They decided that Invisible Children deserved $350,000 in 2007 and $414,000 in 2008. Other groups that received donations include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, The Fellowship Foundation, The Call, and Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism — all extremely active antigay fundamentalist organizations.

Some of these groups have ties to Uganda, too, like Ed Silvoso, who works with Julius Oyet, the Ugandan author who claims that “even animals are wiser than homosexuals” and has been working to promote the Anti Homosexuality bill (also called the “kill the gays bill”) in his country.

Should we expect Invisible Children’s founders to explain their connection to the gay-bashing Bible Belt — perhaps particularly their connection to the Anti Homosexuality bill in Uganda — in their upcoming explainer video? Yes. But chances are they won’t.

Invisible Children Funded By Antigay, Creationist Christian Right [Alternet]

Image via [Invisible Children]

Originally published on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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  1. This is depressing, but not entirely surprising.
    I’m feeling hipster-ishly self-satisfied with the fact that I assumed this was a scam from the get-go. Or maybe reassured. There’s so much information out there now that it’s nice to feel like I’ve got a handle on what’s legitimate and what’s pure bullshit.

  2. I don’t like antigay groups or creationist groups, but Invisible Children does good work as far as I know and I am not all that concerned about where they get their funding. Would I rather they only get funding from groups that I can totally get behind? Sure. But, I also acknowledge that sometimes people that I don’t generally agree with do things that are good and I wouldn’t dream of trying to dictate who a group like Invisible Children gets their money from.

    • I absolutely agree with this. Would I prefer the group to only be funded by allies? sure, but I’d also prefer the whole world to only be made up of allies. However, despite the distaste I may have for the donors, I can still appreciate the campaign and its purpose. A campaign isn’t limited by its creators, it can grow and change and motivate people that never would have become involved otherwise. As someone who works in the field of human rights advocacy, I think it’s wrong to condemn this for any of the reasons listed in the article because at the very least, people are becoming aware. Sometimes that’s half the battle.

      • yeah, i agree with this. i mean, anyone who wants to give us (this website) money to do what we do without asking for any agenda or censorship in return i would accept and call it ‘robin hooding.’ that aspect of this doesn’t bother me, but other aspects do.

      • My 9 yr. old niece and her friend are growing up in Midwest Middle class America. After hearing about Koney they are now starting a little homegrown campaign themselves to help. They have no idea about the crime that goes on in there own city, but at least it has sparked an interest in helpingtheir fellow human beings.

        Take a second and ask your self what you have done for someone or some cause that has nothing to do with you. Take a look at all the products you use and think about all the people who are involved in creating/manufacturing the products you use. There are plenty of Christian Right Wingers working @ Apple, Toyota, Suburu, Starbucks, Google etc…. It’s easy to criticize isn’t it?

        Who cares if the film crew is all white? To me that’s circumstantial and irrelevant to what’s trying to be accomplished. Saving Childrens Lives. Give $ or don’t give $, but don’t sit and judge.It’s one thing we, as a “minority” don’t need is more judgement and hate. It’s called COMPASSION.

        • I don’t think it’s fair to say that if you don’t support this you are sitting and judging only. Plenty of people are offering helpful criticism, that in the end will help many more people. It’s excellent that this video has sparked such a debate, they are obviously really good filmmakers. I guess people are just worried that all the time and energy people are putting in now, could be better spent with other organisations/modes of operation. That is a form of judgement, I agree with you there, but it doesn’t mean critics of this campaign lack compassion.

  3. Honestly its become so easy to find excuses to be negative about this whole campaign/criticize it. *sigh* None of this changes the fact that now that people are aware they should find someway act. He’s not acting in Uganda anymore? So? He’s still killing people elsewhere who are equally valuable human beings. “My liberation is inherently tied up in yours,” we need to help each other! Damnnit. Why have we so easily villified Invisible Children when Kony and those like him should be the real target? So I guess hearing stuff like this, I just almost ask “So?” I mean, I still don’t support those groups, but sometimes there is a common ground. And again, that’s going after Invisible Children, which isn’t the POINT. That to me is what’s infuriating. Sorry guys, I’ll stop ranting now :(

    • Thank you! I scrolled down to comment the say response as you. I’ll just ditto you. It simply astounds me the level of negativity and pessimism there are in the world.

      • I agree that we should help each other and obviously that Kony is the real bad guy here.

        People are “going after Invisible Children” because they feel that what that organisation does could become hurtful and dangerous. In that sense, all parties have a common goal but huge disagreements over how to reach that goal.

        I also think those that criticise are not just being negative about it, because most articles offer new insights, better ways to spend your money, more explanations of the situation. That is a form of helping each other, isn’t it?

      • Pointing out the subtle shades of White Man’s Burden in the Kony 2012 campaign and the fact that they have missionary/evangelistic ties and accept money from anti-gay campaigns isn’t being “negative and pessimistic.” It’s simply telling the truth, and I’m more than a little surprised that there are people who don’t care that the campaign is happily accepting money from orgs who earned it by stirring up hate against queers.

  4. This is a matter of white culture finding it difficult to deal with its own privilege. I am all for helping people but this reeks of insensitivity and a lack of awareness.

    In the long term this will do more damage than good, unfortunately.

    Also: http://www.ugandapicks.com/2012/03/kony-2012-movie-is-a-ploy-to-steal-ugandas-oil-27725.html

    It actually makes me a bit sick how much people are buying into this. Educate yourselves before you do! Then make an informed choice xxx

    • I can imagine that if any one of the eight major powers of the world wanted Uganda’s oil they wouldn’t waste their time by using the small organization, Invisible Children, before staking their claim.

  5. One of the best articles I’ve read about this is from The Globe and Mail and it discusses how damaging to the actual peace process on the ground these movements can be (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/doug-saunders/the-horror-and-the-hashtag/article2364939/) and how most organizations working with people on the ground in Uganda are focusing now on health care, education, and healing. It’s admirable to want to be informed, but the LRA has been WIDELY reported on for quite a while and I agree — the white man’s burden of it all (‘it’ being Kony 2012) is very distressful, not to mention the scary right wing ties.

  6. I try not to jump on Internet bandwagons until I have a good sense of what’s really going on. But all the rhetoric on both sides of this is just confusing the hell out of me.

    It also makes me feel acutely and uncomfortably privileged, sitting back and watching the Facebook “activists” and counter-“activists” and white Christian missionaries hash it out, the effect of which is to trivialize the issues down to the point where people feel that their biggest dilemma is whether or not to “like” somebody’s posted video.

    • Yeah, that was what really turned me against the Kony 2012 thing personally.

      Also, there’s been a pretty good discussion on it in the comments on the Jezebel articles (if you’re not starred and therefore, can ignore the pink unregistered comments).

  7. Regardless of the specifics of Invisible Children’s impact, I have to say I don’t have a problem with fundamentalists using their money to help the world’s poor instead of attacking people’s rights. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to say that if Focus on the Family et al. donated all of their money to helping the needy, I wouldn’t really care what their view of homosexuality was.

    • FYI: my comment is not an endorsement of Kony2012 or Invisible Children. Simply endorsing the idea of Christian fundamentalists using their considerable resources to help the less fortunate instead of increasing their self-righteousness.

  8. Invisible Children is all about direct military intervention, and provides funding directly to Museveni and the Ugandan military. Museveni is responsible for 3 separate genocides, and his the Ugandan army is known for engaging in sexual slavery, looting, and the use of child soldiers – all the things that IC supposedly stands against. And in the picture above the founders of the organization are posing with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a group also known for countless human rights violations. A group like the LRA is not formed in a vacuum.
    Also, it’s important to remember all the oil discovered in Uganda from 2006 through to 2011…over 2.5 billion barrels. Kony has been operating with the LRA in Congo since 2006, but just this past fall Obama deployed combat equipped U.S. Forces to aid the Ugandan government in “stopping Kony” in Uganda? It’s important to ask what this is really about.

    • These are exactly the main reasons why I’m opposed to Kony 2012.

      Something that really bothers be is the Ugandan Army being funded by Invisible Children, when Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore. The Ugandan gov is corrupt, the Ugandan Army is corrupt and has been accused of rape amongst other things while supposedly trying to fight Kony. According to Invisible Children they direct their support to this particular army because they are better equipped and organized than, say, the Congo’s Army. But this is not a video game, you can’t just play with people, make your own custom made army and throw them into a territory.

  9. I find it insulting that people are considering the critique of KONY2012 as pessimism and negativity. KONY2012 is a money making campaign to make upper class North Eastern 20-25 year old’s feel better about themselves by ‘buying an action kit’ and updating their Facebook status. Do any of you honestly think that achieves anything? It’s not pessimism or negativity if the critique is of something that’s doing harm. Furthermore, this campaign has virtually nothing to do with capturing an evil war lord and saving “30,000 child soldiers.” Yes, Kony is in other parts of the world and is doing bad things but not nearly as bad as before, his numbers are dwindling and a battle cry calling for his blood will only embolden him. Furthermore, 30,000 is the total number of children captured in the past 25 some-odd years. This is not to say these lives aren’t of value but it IS to say that this campaign is twisting its facts – its a media campaign, NOT a humanitarian campaign; their hearts are in the wrong places. As someone who has been to Africa with the intention of “saving all the little children” I can tell you the greatest lesson I learned was that you cannot CHANGE or SAVE people (in this case Ugandans). All you can do is stand by them in solidarity and work together to solve critical problems- something Invisible Children is not doing.

  10. So far, the only argument against the counter-posts on this issue that I’ve seen anywhere (including comments on my own Facebook timeline) consist of “Well they’re raising awareness and that’s good because without IC nobody would know about this!1!!” And that just makes it look like the people saying things like that aren’t actually reading any of the counter-posts. I also think it’s insulting that the only other argument people in that camp are offering is that that if I am against Invisible Children’s methods as an organization, then I must not care about people in Africa o I am somehow “pro-Kony.”

    Just because an organization spends a lot of money making a shiny video in order to enrapture the 18-34 age group with slick emotional manipulation and sell their merchandise under the guise of “awareness” does not in fact make said “awareness” an inherently positive thing. Especially with the implicit messages behind the KONY2012 campaign. The TL;DR consensus reached by all of the dozens of counter arguments out there (Which isn’t all that TL;DR because I have a lot of feelings and am long-winded as fuck) is that this is an incredibly complicated situation that is not going to be solved by American kids buying bracelets or changing their profile pictures on Facebook. Nor is the support of the Ugandan government/military intervention the answer to this issue. In addition, all signs seem to point to this: that IC will hinder more than they help. They are ignorant of the history and the extent of the situation, they are ignorant of the Ugandan people and their political system, they don’t even seem to understand what the things they’re calling for are going to do in the long term, let alone the short term. That is DANGEROUS.

  11. totally agree rachel, this is not, as invisible children claims, helping young people ‘get outside of themselves’ and think about issues that don’t affect them, it is just reinforcing their self-involvement by allowing them to think if they post a video on facebook or if they put up a couple of posters in their town that they can end a conflict in Uganda that they know nothing about. it does not increase true awareness.

    sidenote, both of my parents lived and worked in africa (mainly south africa, but both have traveled all over) before i was born for about 10 years and i have been to a couple african countries as well/spent time with their friends from there. for the most part, the africans that we know, both black and white, are highly critical of the entire aid movement (most specifically government aid). they feel that it turns africa into a place of pity, that it portrays africa as ‘one big problem’ rather than handling the many nuances that contribute to the problem, that it allows corruption and poverty to flourish.

    i highly recommended reading ‘dead aid’ by dambisa moyo. she was born and raised in zambia and ended up going to oxford for a phd in economics and has worked at the world bank. it is really illuminating regarding the dangers of a ‘culture of aid’ in africa, and how the 2 trillion dollars that has been pumped into africa by well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) foreigners and foreign governments has not helped the problem, but hurt it and how there are other ways to invest in africa’s future.

  12. The Invisible Children campaign is offensive and wrong in many levels. The video is really patronizing, both to the victims and to whoever watches it. It’s emotionally manipulative, vague and misleading. These are not good premises to start a campaign with. I can’t understand people who think “but they’re doing a great thing trying to fight Kony, that’s the important part!” because it’s not. Everything matters. You can’t try to stop one man by arming and funding and helping other corrupted organizations in the process, because you may stop Kony but then what? You could have helped to create a much bigger problem. And what is going to happen with all those kids and all those families once they capture Kony? Invisible Children doesn’t say either and that’s the only part I would care about out of the whole process. That’s the only thing that would matter, to know someone has a plan to help them, but nope. It’s all about “making Kony famous”, which is such a shallow sounding slogan, by the way.

  13. excellent comments. this is definitely a way for the west to invade africa. it’s not peace-keeping at all. there’s over 40,000 plus people who’ve been killed in the US-Libyan “intervention”. this is defo about consolidating resources in africa and (further) desstabilizing govs. for anyone interested i suggest infowars.com

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