By Rachel Tabachnick, Talk2Action
Invisible Children has an extensive history of funding and promotion by anti-gay rights entities, summarized in this article.
The annual Day of Silence,initiated in 1996, has been observed in schools across the nation in an effort to protest the bullying and harassment of gay and lesbian students. Since 2000, the annual event has been sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and since 2005 Religious Right organizations have sponsored very visible and widely-criticized efforts to counter this event. This year the Day of Silence is competing with a different type of event – Invisible Children’s week of activities closing with “Cover the Night,” also on April 20.
Invisible Children’s Cover the Night is being held on Friday as the grand finale to several days of activism from April 16 – April 20. Participants are requested to wear their Kony 2012 t-shirts from their Invisible Children action kit to school (and all day) on April 20. Video with instructions for making a “Kony 2012” t-shirt by using a downloadable template and red spray paint, is provided on the Invisible Children website for those who did not purchase an action kit. Participants will be busy on April 20, because they are also asked to do three hours of community service in their local area in order to build good will for the Kony 2012 effort.
Graphic below on left is the GLSEN “Day of Silence” t-shirt for April 20 and on right is the Kony 2012 t-shirt to be worn on April 20.
Last year Invisible Children held an event in public schools on April 25, 2011 to promote fundraising. The goal was to encourage 25,000 supporters to donate $25 dollars each. This event was held days after the GLBT-focused observance on April 15, 2011, but was also called the “Day of Silence.”Photobucket Participants were asked to be silent for 25 hours in this event that was advertised in advance. Dog tag style necklaces were marketed holding cards explaining Invisible Children’s Day of Silence. The Invisible Children website for the event has been removed, but advertising in various school newsletters is still accessible on the internet. The 25 hours of silence was followed by “Breaking the Silence” events in cities across the nation.
This is yet another curious coincidence among a growing body of evidence that Invisible Children is something very different than what has been marketed to the general public.
Countering the Day of Silence
For the last seven years, Religious Right organizations have attempted to lead counter protests including the “Day of Truth,” sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund and Center for Reclaiming America for Christ beginning in 2005, and turned over to Exodus International in 2009. Exodus International discontinued the event after one year. Focus on Family began sponsoring the “Day of Dialogue,” held on the day before the Day of Silence. Current efforts to counter the Day of Silence are joined by Americans for Truth Against Homosexuality (AFTAH), and the Linda Harvey-founded Mission: America (not to be confused with Mission America), and other ministries calling for parents to keep their children home by participating in a Day of Silence Walkout. Mission: America includes a “Truth at School” effort and also publishes a quarterly newspaper and website titled Choice 4 Truth.
The “Day of Silence Walkout” endorsing ministries include American Family Association, MassResistance, Liberty Counsel, and Good News Communications, Inc. The latter is the nonprofit behind Movie Guide and is supported by the Templeton Foundation led by John “Jack” Templeton, Jr., who gave more than one million dollars to California’s Proposition Eight. Another major contributor to Proposition Eight was the Terry Caster family, giving approximately $693,000. Templeton and Caster were major contributors to the Super PAC supporting Rick Santorum for president.
Both Templeton and the Casters have contributed directly to Invisible Children. This is one of many inconvenient facts about Invisible Children that might be dismissed as coincidental if it were not for the growing list of revelations about the organization.
Invisible Children has a post on its website insisting that the organization is supportive of gay rights. Note that Bruce Wilson and contributors at Talk2action.org have not accused the leadership of Invisible Children of being anti-gay rights, but questioned why there has been a continuous stream of right-wing and anti-gay entities drawn to support and promote Invisible Children from its start. What do these donors know that the public does not?
In a recent USA Today article, Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey responds to some of the criticism of the organization.
“Keesey says gifts from prominent evangelicals — such as Terry Caster and family of San Diego, who have supported groups opposed to gay marriage — amounted to less than 1% of individual donations and were given ‘half a decade ago.'”
This response is disingenuous. The Caster family has been recognized repeatedly in Invisible Children’s annual report. Currently Invisible Children has a webpage titled “Our Network.” This page includes both A-1 Self Storage and Serving Hands International. A-1 Self Storage is the Caster family’s business, currently run by son Brian Caster, also a direct contributor to Invisible Children and to Proposition Eight. Serving Hands, as indicated on its website, is also supported by the Caster’s A-1 Self Storage. In fact, as you move the cursor over this page, information pops up crediting A-1 Self Storage, owned by the Casters, with providing initial funding which allowed the founders to travel to Uganda and make their first movie “Invisible Children: The Rough Cut” and to initiate their Schools for Schools program. The comment continues,
“The contributions of A-1 Self Storage have been crucial to the growth and success of Invisible Children.”
Another Caster son, Craig, is a missionary with the Calvary Chapel churches and also a contributor to Proposition Eight. Calvary Chapel churches have been financial supporters and promoters of Invisible Children.
In 2008, Invisible Children shows $1.7 million dollars of donations of $5000 dollars or more, with $235,000 of that coming from National Christian Foundation and its subsidiaries alone. In 2007, the NCF-related entities gave $350,000 to Invisible Children. [Note that the financial year is not the same for all nonprofits. NCF and subsidiaries show $414,000 donated to Invisible Children in 2008.] Other donors have included the Community Christian Foundation (now Waterstone), a Philip Anschutz entity, and a long list of right-wing churches and ministries opposed to gay rights. One of many examples of the latter is McLean Bible Church, whose senior pastor preaches against “militant gays” in the “great conflict for the soul of society.”
Another family foundation which has been regularly credited in Invisible Children’s annual reports is the Circle Family Foundation, now named Malachi 3 Foundation. The Circle family are long term and regular contributors to the Presbyterian Church of America’s Birmingham Theological Seminary and it’s partner seminary in Uganda. Phase One of Westminster Theological College and Seminary has been completed and is at the core of PCA’s activities in Uganda. The Malachi 3 Foundation also directly supports missionaries involved with the PCA effort in Uganda.
Another ongoing supporter of Invisible Children displayed on their “Our Network” page is Geneva Global, which credits its start to the Templeton Foundation. Geneva Global’s partner in combating HIV/AIDS in Zambia is the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, chaired by Bishop Joe Imakanda, quoted in the Lusaka Times in 2010.
“And Bishop Joe Imakando of Bread of Life Church International said homosexuals and lesbians had no room in society because Zambia had been declared a Christian nation.”
What drew all of these ultra-conservative donors to Invisible Children?
A Preponderance of Evidence
[Graphic at right is Invisible Children’s 2012 launching at the Mt. Soledad Cross.]
Bruce Wilson of Talk2action.org, and Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out have exposed many of the other ties of Invisible Children to the Religious Right, including individual donors and organizations known for their hostility to LGBT rights. Wilson has extensively documented Invisible Children’s relationship with Cornerstone Development Africa and other Ugandan projects of The Fellowship (aka The Family). Jeff Sharlet’s research has documented the role of The Fellowship in support of the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.
Cornerstone’s own media repeatedly reports the organization’s role in the National Prayer Breakfasts across Africa, as well as in the formation of a Fellowship in Uganda’s Parliament. A 2006 Cornerstone newsletter states,
For the last 8 years we have been closely involved in organizing Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast along with a few friends supporting a team of Parliamentarians who meet weekly for prayer in Parliament.
…It was the first time ever we were able to get two African Presidents (Burundi and Uganda) accompanied with their wives – to speak openly and honestly about their journeys with God in front of 500 plus local leaders and members of the public.
…It’s always been a very fine balancing act to create an event that has a strong spiritual basis without being too overly `religious’ (alienating the very people we are trying to influence).
Video of the 2010 Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast shows one of the Fellowship MPs, Cecilia Ogwal, shouting to “bind the evil of homosexuality.”
Invisible Children is also a member of The Barnabas Group, an elite “Marketplace Leaders” branding and mentoring organization. Each carefully selected member ministry pays $2,500 annually in dues, but receives benefits including possibilities of funding by the National Christian Foundation, help with grant proposals, and other support. Some ministries use the organization as a nonprofit umbrella while waiting on 501(c)(3) designations from the IRS. Invisible Children is a member of the Orange County, California chapter, along with Family Research Council and the Pacific Justice Institute, both well known national leaders fighting gay rights. Smaller and less well known members of the Orange County chapter of The Barnabas Group are also working against the “gay agenda,” including His Children ministry.
The Barnabas Group includes an array of stealth ministries with other specific target groups, including other Christians and those of other religious faiths. One ministry specifically targets Mormons, with the objective of.
“transformation of the Mormon Church as a biblical and Christian Community within the next 20 to 30 years.”
This type of long range stealth evangelism operates by first gaining trust and seeking dialogue and “reconciliation” with the target group. One of the ministries major successes is listed as gaining access for evangelist Ravi Zacharias to speak at a Latter Day Saints tabernacle. Coincidentally, Ravi Zacharias is also a direct supporter of Invisible Children.
Invisible Children was chosen by The Barnabas Group as a “Presentation Ministry” with an application that describes Invisible Children’s primary target audience as “youth of America (age 15 – 25)” and it’s secondary audience as “International Youth.”
Stealth evangelism by definition advertises itself as inclusive and as “loving” and demonstrating “solidarity” with the target population. The stealth part of the agenda is required to soften up the targets in preparation for ultimately convincing them to align with the “biblical orthodoxy” of those doing the evangelizing.
Jason Russell stated in a conference in 2005 that Invisible Children is a “Trojan horse going into a secular realm.” Indeed, public schools across the nation have had an open door for Invisible Children, including the marketing of products from kiosks.
What is Invisible Children’s long term agenda and why have so many right-wing and anti-gay rights entities been drawn to support the organization since its inception? Perhaps supporters of gay rights should take a closer look before partnering with or supporting Invisible Children.