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KONY 2012, Invisible Children, and the Religious Right: The Evidence

Since the eruption of Invisible Children's record-breaking KONY 2012 viral video in early March, a considerable body of evidence has emerged which ties the nonprofit, and its leadership, to the American Protestant evangelical right. This is a summary of that evidence - which includes the recent revelation, by LGBT rights group Truth Wins Out, that in 2007 Invisible Children officially applied to be one of the Christian ministries supported by an evangelical right-wing nonprofit called the Barnabas Group. Evangelicals launch KONY 2012 [image, below: Invisible Children Facebook page photos show February 23, 2012 kickoff of KONY 2012 campaign, at Mt. Soledad Cross in California] The Invisible Children promotion campaign for the KONY 2012 video was launched by a February 23, 2012 afternoon rally, of Invisible Children leaders and "roadies", who tour with IC to bring its message to schools and college campuses across America, at the Mount Soledad Cross, one of the most notorious flashpoints in recent history of recent legal fights over church-state separation. As reported in the La Jolla, CA La Jolla Light newspaper on March 7, 2012, Invisible Children members met at the cross for lunch, then the organization sent out its 16 IC vans, with IC teams, to fan out across America. Even the launch of the KONY 2012 video through social media happened very differently from what one might have expected if Invisible Children were truly the secular liberal venture it has been portrayed as. As noted by Forbes writer Anthony Kosner, a study by the SocialFlow research group showed that, rather than emerging from big liberal enclaves on the American coasts, the initial wave of social media traffic that launched the KONY 2012 video originated in mid-sized, relatively conservative cities in middle America. By analyzing the geographic location of the first 5,000 people to use the #KONY2012 hashtag on Twitter, SocialFlow determined that the original epicenter, by far, was Birmingham, AL, followed by Pittsburgh, PA. Other major epicenters were Oklahoma City, OK, Noblesville, IN, and Dayton, Ohio. SocialFlow's analysis of the user profiles of those first 5,000 showed that Invisible Children is "heavily supported by Christian youth, many of whom post Biblical psalms as their profile bios". IC tapped that preexisting supporter base for its KONY 2012 launch. Jesus talk One of the first looks at Invisible Children's evangelical roots was my March 8, 2012 Alternet story, concerning a November 2011 appearance by Jason Russell at the conservative evangelical Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. As Invisible Children co-founder told Liberty students,
"the trick is to not go out into the world and say, "I'm going to baptize you, I'm going to convict you, I have an agenda to win you over." You agenda is to look into the eyes, as Jesus did, and say, "who are you? And will you be my friend?" - Like he did to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the fisherman. [...] 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."
On April 5, 2012, LGBT rights nonprofit Truth Wins Out released audio of a Jason Russell conference appearance from 2005 in San Antonio according to TWO, in which Russell described Invisible Children as an evangelical missions project that could, as a "Trojan Horse", bring the message of Jesus into public high schools:
"Coming in January 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 and saying, guess what life is about orphans, and it’s about the widow. It’s about the oppressed. That’s God’s heart. And to sit in a public high school and tell them about that has been life-changing. Because they get so excited. And it’s not driven by guilt, it’s driven by an adventure and the adventure is God’s."
As I reported on March 21, 2012, following Jason Russell's very public naked meltdown on a San Diego street corner, Invisible Children lawyer and "Director of Ideology" Jedidiah Jenkins, who has attended the evangelical Christian Pepperdine University law school, wrote a post on his blog that cast Russell as a Jesus-like figure sacrificed for the greater good. Jenkins also wrote on the blog, concerning LRA commander Joseph Kony,
"power can be used for evil and sinister spirituality and magic and murder and the LRA and G-d understands this better than i that when our flesh falls He has something to do with it… i believe the physical life matters, but i think the spiritual life matters more… may G-d have mercy.”"
In an October 2010 blog post, Jenkins appeared to characterize Islam as a false religion, stating that he had never read the Koran because he had been “born into the truth.” Jenkins then referred to,
"the Christian scriptures that predict a very real deception and an anti-christ and a season of unrest and violence and a worldly kingdom ruled by Jesus"
As a July 2, 2010 Wall Street Journal story by Brad A. Greenberg noted, "Invisible Children’s media kit emphatically states that its founders “believe in Christ, but do NOT want to limit themselves in any way." Later on, Invisible Children scrubbed the reference to Jesus. The Fellowship Jenkins and Russell were not the only Invisible Children leaders with strong evangelical backgrounds and ties. In an April 4, 2012 7,000-word report, I explored the "extensive social and institutional ties" between Invisible Children and The Fellowship, the Washington DC-based global evangelical network which hosts the yearly National Prayer Breakfast:
"Invisible Children, which has branded itself as welcoming cultural, religious, and sexual diversity, also enjoys extensive institutional and social ties to the global evangelical network known as The Fellowship (also known as "The Family") - which has been credited with inspiring and providing "technical support" [see footnote 1] for Uganda's internationally-denounced Anti Homosexuality Bill, also dubbed the "kill the gays" bill. "
The report contains the startling revelation that Invisible Children's Schools For Schools mentoring program in Northern Uganda had been described, by Invisible Children itself, as being under the supervision of Ugandan who is now head Education Director for the school system run by the Fellowship in Northern Uganda, Paul Lukwiya. [video, below, describes co-mingling of Invisible Children's Ugandan education program with The Fellowship's academy system in Uganda]

Invisible Children's ties to The Fellowship were anything but casual. As I described in the report,

Among the current and past Invisible Children leaders and employees with professional and social ties to Fellowship members are Jason Russell, Laren Poole, Ben Keesey, Ben Thomson, Adam Finck, James A. Pearson, and Jared White - who in late 2009 went on a cross-Africa motorcycle trip with three young Americans who are working to develop The Fellowship's programs in Uganda, including Eric Kreutter - son of Tim Kreutter, The Fellowship's longtime American leader on the ground in Uganda. Kreutter oversees Cornerstone Development, the principal umbrella effort of The Fellowship in Uganda. A leading Cornerstone initiative is its educational programs. Head Cornerstone Education Director Paul Lukwiya has been reported to be overseeing Invisible Children's mentoring program in Uganda.
Funding Initially, when I reported, writing for Alternet on March 11, 2012, that the Invisible Children nonprofit had been launched with substantial early funding from the "antigay, creationist religious right", critics of the analysis claimed that this was inconsequential, because Invisible Children had received funding from across the ideological spectrum, which was true, and in any case it was possible to use money from partisan or problematic sources to do good work. But the religious right funding entities which provided major, early financial support for Invisible Children, such as the behemoth National Christian Foundation, have a strong partisan agenda - which attacks LGBT rights, advances Young-Earth creationism, and backs some of the most politically extreme religious right ministries in America. Why would such a sectarian Christian, politically partisan funding entity back a secular, nonpartisan charity? Here are ministries that, along with Invisible Children, also received National Christian Foundation funding in 2008:
2008 grants from National Christian Foundation, and subsidiaries Focus on The Family: $4,268,000 Family Research Council: $2,387,000 The Fellowship Foundation (AKA “The Family” or the “International Foundation”): $515,000 Lou Engle’s The Call: $166,000 Ed Silvoso’s Harvest Evangelism: $817,000 The Discovery Institute: $702,000* Invisible Children: $414,000* *NCF’s 2008 990 lists $139,000 to IC; NCF subsidiary ProVision Foundation’s 2008 990 lists a $150,000 grant to IC; NCF subsidiary ProVision Trust’s 2008 990 lists a $125,000 grant to IC. *Answers in Genesis, which directly promotes “Young Earth” creationism,received over $35,000 from the NCF in 2008.
Conclusion: IC is an evangelical Christian ministry To sum up, Invisible Children's key support base was evangelical, as is much of its leadership; the IC nonprofit was launched with key, early funding from religious right funding sources; Invisible Children, and its leadership, is extensively connected to what is probably the most influential evangelical network on Earth, The Fellowship; IC's programs in Uganda appear to have become intertwined with Fellowship projects in that country. Lastly, and perhaps most tellingly, Invisible Children is officially a Christian ministry with the right-wing evangelical nonprofit the Barnabas Group, reports the LGBT rights nonprofit Truth Wins Out, which characterizes Barnabas, a 501(c)(3) charity, as "antigay". As TWO Executive Director Wayne Besen described,
"In May 2007, Invisible Children's CEO Ben Keesey, and IC's Development Director Chris Sarette, submitted an application, which identified Invisible Children as a "ministry", asking for support from the Barnabas Group -- a politically far right-wing Christian nonprofit which helps cutting edge stealth ministry evangelizing efforts that target Jews and Muslims, youth, Hollywood, and even apartment dwellers around the globe. The Barnabas Group, which takes on only a small number of elite applicants per year from the Christian ministries that seek its support, accepted Invisible Children's application. The Group assists such evangelizing efforts by networking them with Christian business leaders and entrepreneurs, and with Christian foundations. In 2006, a post on the Invisible Children website declared that IC "is not a religious organization, meaning we are not affiliated with a certain church or ministry" and according to Josh Kron of The Atlantic, on March 18th of this year a statement on Invisible Children's website read, "Invisible Children is not affiliated with any religious organization." Judging by its stable of ministries - which, along with Invisible Children, also includes the Family Research Council, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, the Barnabas Group is dedicated to evangelizing, fighting LGBT rights, and advancing Christian supremacy worldwide. "