Police detain Invisible Children co-founder, maker of KONY 2012 viral video

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By Mark Ellis

Jason Russell in appearance on NBC San Diego

The youthful co-founder of Invisible Children was detained by San Diego police after he was allegedly discovered undressed, running through traffic, and engaged in aberrant behavior.

Jason Russell, 33, was held in Pacific Beach by the San Diego Police Department on March 15th, according to a report by NBC San Diego. Police initially responded to several calls at 11:30 a.m. about a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming.

A SDPD spokesperson described Russell as “in his underwear,” and that he exhibited strange, even bizarre behavior. He allegedly took off his underwear at one point, but it was back on by the time officers arrived.

“Due to the nature of the detention, he was not arrested,” Lt. Andra Brown said. “During the evaluation we learned we probably needed to take him to a medical facility because of statements he was saying.”

Russell created the 30-minute film “KONY 2012” featuring himself, his son, and a former child soldier fromUgandanamed Jacob. Last week, the film went viral, with close to 100 million views on YouTube and Vimeo. The film targets Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, for crimes that have involved kidnapping children inUganda, torturing them, and forcing them to fight in his army.

An international manhunt forced Kony and his guerillas into the remoteCentral Africabush. President Obama sent U.S. special forces to participate in a manhunt for Kony in four central African countries, including Uganda.

Many believe Kony is hiding in the Central African Republic, where he fled before an aerial assault on his home base in eastern Congo in 2008. Ugandan officials say Kony is no longer a threat to Uganda and that he has only a few hundred combatants across Central Africa, including in South Sudan and Congo.

After the film’s rapid ascent in the media, Russell made numerous appearances on prominent TV programs, but he also had to respond to criticisms that his film was oversimplified and outdated. Russell was also under pressure about his organization’s spending practices.

Jason Russell is described on the Invisible Children website as a “grand storyteller and dreamer” who dreams of “redefining the concept of humanitarian work.” He is a father of two who wants to have nine more children with his wife, whom he calls his “best friend for over 23 years.”

Invisible Children’s CEO Ben Keesey released a statement March 16th, saying:

“Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday. 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. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.”

Security guards blocked the entrance to Invisible Children on March 16th, according to the L.A. Times, who reported that workers inside were removing “KONY 2012” banners from the lobby. The phones were not being answered, but some talked on cellphones and were crying, the Times reported.

Russell’s wife Danica made a statement March 16th, saying, “Let us say up front that Jason has never had a substance abuse or drinking problem, and this episode wasn’t caused by either of those things. But yes, he did some irrational things brought on by extreme exhaustion and dehydration.”

“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,” the statement read.

4 COMMENTS

  1. From your reporting on ANS and God Reports, it’s very apparent that Jason suffered from mental and physical exhaustion. It’s unfortunate that you would lead off your article specifically mentioning something that could be taken as deviant behavior. From what’s been reported, he obviously was not in touch with reality and most likely not in control of his senses or actions.

    I can see these details reported in tabloid journalism but find it unfortunate in press reports such as yours.

    • I take your point seriously, and was very torn about reporting this. We all grieve at this tragic turn of events. I do find the Scripture to be very “real” in reporting on the foibles of human beings, holding very little back.

  2. As someone who has been involved in humanitarian and advocacy work for many years in Southern Sudan, including issues related to the LRA and its abhorrent atrocities, I can understand how this could happen. The pressure and pain from knowing the details of some of these horrific accounts — as well as knowing some of the victims personally — can create tremendous psychological stress. Add to this a media circus which makes preposterous accusations and seldom misses an opportunity to take an ignorant and sensational cheap shot, and its easy to see how Jason could have snapped.

    But there could also be another, less obvious, source of the problem. Has anyone checked which anti-malarial medication Jason has used in his travels to the region? One of the symptoms of “larium” (meflaquine) which many users experience is psycho-somatic disorders of the very type that Jason is experiencing. I’ve known a few in my times overseas who “snapped” in the same way after being on this highly prescribed medication.

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