Jason Russell may be the most public face of Invisible Children, the nonprofit group he co-founded to stop African war atrocities. He narrates a 30-minute video on warlord Joseph Kony that went viral on the Internet.
Less than two weeks after the video’s smashing success, Invisible Children is facing the prospect of carrying on without Russell – at least for a while. He was briefly detained by police and hospitalized after witnesses saw him running through streets in his underwear, screaming and banging his fists on the pavement.
Danica Russell said late Friday that her husband “did some irrational things brought on by extreme exhaustion and dehydration.” She denied that alcohol or drug use triggered the behavior.
“We thought a few thousand people would see the film, but in less than a week, millions of people around the world saw it. While that attention was great for raising awareness about Joseph Kony, it also brought a lot of attention to Jason and, because of how personal the film is, many of the attacks against it were also very personal, and Jason took them very hard,” she said.
“On our end, the focus remains only on his health, and protecting our family. We’ll take care of Jason, you take care of the work,” her statement continued. “The message of the film remains the same: stop at nothing.”
San Diego police dispatcher transcripts show neighbors began calling around 11:30 a.m. Thursday to report that a man was running around in his underwear in the city’s Pacific Beach neighborhood.
“(Subject) is at the corner, banging his hands on the ground, screaming, incoherent,” the transcript says. “People are trying to calm him down, he’s been stopping traffic.”
Police Lt. Andra Brown said a 33-year-old man was taken to a hospital for medical evaluation. He was never arrested, and no charges are planned.
“At this point, the police department’s involvement in the matter is done,” Brown said.
Russell, a San Diego native and graduate of the University of Southern California’s film school, narrates the video, which has been viewed more than 80 million times on YouTube. In the video, Russell talks to his young son, Gavin, about Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Gavin’s birth is shown at the beginning of the film. At one point, the boy sums up what his dad does for a living.
“You stop the bad guys from being mean,” he says.
At the video’s conclusion Russell says, “At the end of my life I want to say that the world we left behind is one Gavin can be proud of, one that doesn’t allow Joseph Konys and child soldiers.”
Gavin replies: “I’m going to be like you dad. I’m going to come with you to Africa.”
The video’s overnight success has brought heightened scrutiny to the San Diego-based nonprofit over its tactics, governance and spending practices.
The group has been criticized for not spending enough directly on the people it intends to help and for oversimplifying the 26-year-old conflict involving the LRA and its leader, Kony, a bush fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The group acknowledged the video overlooked many nuances but said it was a “first entry point” that puts the conflict “in an easily understandable format.”
Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army is a brutal Central Africa militia that has kidnapped thousands of children and forced them to become sex slaves, fight as child soldiers and kill family members during a 26-year campaign of terror.The LRA began its attacks in Uganda in the 1980s, when Kony sought to overthrow the government. Since being pushed out of Uganda several years ago, the militia has terrorized villages in Congo, the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan.
Ben Keesey, chief executive officer, released a video on Monday to respond to questions about the group’s finances, including the amount of money it spends on travel and operations. He said money that directly benefits the cause accounted for more than 80 percent of its spending from 2007 to 2011.
“I understand why a lot of people are wondering, ‘Is this just some slick, kind of fly-by-night, slacktivist thing?’ when actually it’s not at all,” Keesey said. “It’s connected to a really deep, thoughtful, very intentional and strategic campaign.”
Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children two out of four stars for accountability and transparency. The watchdog group says organizations should have at least five independent members on their boards of directors. Invisible Children has four, though it plans to add one this year.
Russell co-founded Invisible Children in 2005 and is its highest-paid employee, making $89,669 a year. He is also on the six-member board of directors, with Keesey.
Keesey, who oversees the business side of the organization while Russell makes films, said Friday that the last two weeks have taken a “severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially.”
“Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue,” Keesey said.