'Kony 2012' makers launch new video aimed at African warlord
The San Diego-based group Invisible Children is attempting to recapture lost momentum in its quest to promote the capture of African warlord Joseph Kony six months after one of the group's leaders had a very public meltdown.
In March, Jason Russell, the creative director of a video that captivated tens of millions of viewers with its plea for Kony's capture, was seen running naked through the streets of San Diego, talking gibberish, all caught on cellphone video by a bystander and splashed onto TMZ.
Invisible Children plans a Nov. 17 rally in Washington to lobby the White House and leaders in Africa and Europe to redouble efforts to catch Kony, who fled Uganda in 2006 and is believed to be hiding in central Africa.
For nearly a decade, USC film school graduate Russell has been obsessed with alerting the world to Kony and his atrocities. In 2004, he and two college friends founded Invisible Children and set out to harness the power of the Internet to rouse public outrage, particularly among the younger generation.
"My mind betrayed me," he said last week. "There was a PTSD element to my diagnosis."
He ran naked near his home and had a bizarre exchange with a mailman.
"Do you believe in world peace?" Russell asked.
"Yes," the mailman replied, "but put on your underwear first."
San Diego police carted Russell off to a county mental health facility. His family told the press that he had suffered a mental breakdown. The Invisible Children movement plunged from idealism to mockery.
Russell, 33, spent six weeks in care facilities and then months with his family and outside of the media spotlight, what he calls "an extended amount of time that has made me healthy."
He sees a therapist and takes medication. Now, with support from his family and the Invisible Children staff and volunteers, Russell is back at his life's work. He's also learned to laugh about the incident, even the savagely funny "South Park" satire.
"My initial reaction was: 'Oh my God! They actually made fun of me,' " Russell said of the satire. "You have to either laugh or cry every day at how embarrassing it was. I've decided to laugh at it and say, 'Yes, I was crazy and out of control.' "
The incident overshadowed an Invisible Children event that the "Kony 2012" video was meant to promote: a distribution of anti-Kony literature in several big cities in April. The event did not get the large-scale attendance or media attention that the group had hoped.
Still, Invisible Children staff and volunteers rallied behind Russell — possibly because they too had experienced the phenomenal reaction to the "Kony 2012" video. The highest number of hits from any previous video was 80,000.
Russell and others had dared hope that "Kony 2012" might get 500,000 views from YouTube, Vimeo and reposts. Instead, it got that amount in just hours. Oprah Winfrey, P. Diddy, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Bono, Alicia Keys, Ryan Seacrest, Ben Affleck and others either sent a Tweet or Facebook message or mentioned the video to the media.
"We thought we were prepared; we weren't," said UCLA business graduate Ben Keesey, 29, executive director and chief executive of Invisible Children. "In the face of a worldwide media storm, our PR staff was one intern."
Pushed by the celebrity buzz, "Kony 2012" is, by many accounts, one of the most-watched videos of all time: 111 million viewings at a recent counting. Even before the "Kony 2012" video, President Obama had sent a contingent of U.S. special forces troops to advise African troops in their hunt for Kony.
But Kony remains on the loose, and his followers, according to news reports, are still killing and kidnapping.
With the new video, Invisible Children volunteers plan hundreds of showings at schools, universities and community halls nationwide. At each session, a pitch will be made for the young millennial generation to join the Nov. 17 rally.
One of the criticisms of “Kony 2012” was that it presented a simplified view of Uganda’s turbulent politics and failed to note that the number of troops under Kony’s command has dwindled as he has retreated into the thick jungle and his second-in-command was captured.
If that same criticism is levelled at “Move,” Russell is ready with a response.
“If Adolph Hitler was down to 300 Nazis, would anyone say that he doesn’t matter anymore, that the concentration camps are ‘old news?’” said Russell, leaning forward for emphasis. “Many children are still living in fear of Kony and the LRA.”
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Jason Russell, center, watches a late edit of a new video at the San Diego headquarters of Invisible Children. The video is trying to raise awareness of African warlord Joseph Kony's ongoing torture and murder of children. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times