'Kony 2012' Charity Invisible Children Addresses Its Critics

PHOTO: The leader of the Lords Resistance Army, Joseph Kony answers journalists questions in this Nov. 12, 2006 file photo.

A 30-minute YouTube film critical of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has logged close to 37 million views since Monday, but the charity behind the video is suddenly on the defensive, forced to explain its motives, financial practices and religious affiliations.

Invisible Children Inc. said its intention was to "create a cultural tipping point" even as critics took to the Internet to recount their concerns.

"We want to do some epic things because our time on Earth is so short," Jason Russell, an Invisible Children co-founder and filmmaker, told ABC News. "Why not do this? Start here with Kony. Use him as the example of what injustice looks like in the world and then we're going to move to the next one and the next one."

The San Diego-based nonprofit uploaded the video "Kony 2012" to bring attention to Kony and the rebel group Lord's Resistance Army, which human rights groups say has terrorized central Africa for years. The video is part of a campaign that includes an April 20 call for supporters to blanket their cities with Kony 2012 posters.

Click Here: How 'Stop Kony' Went Viral

With the viral sensation, however, has come criticism. Several Internet sites have drawn attention to the group's evangelical roots, a 2008 photo of the charity's founders posing with guns and how it has disbursed its funds.

Invisible Children responded to most of the allegations in a statement on its Website.

Russell said that although the group's concept -- "treat our children around the world the way we would treat our own children -- was faith-based, Invisible Children didn't want to be defined that way.

"We are unorthodox and if you don't accept the unorthodoxy of what we do, then you won't get it," he said.

Invisible Children Has 'Supporters From All Walks of Life'

"We have supporters from all walks of life and all backgrounds and we're united under this umbrella," he said. "This umbrella of peace and exposing the story of the Invisible Children that Joseph Kony has had for this long."

But an image circulating the Internet today has highlighted the group's uneasy relationship with its detractors. In the photo, Invisible Children's founders -- Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole -- posed with guns with members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army. Critic Grant Oyston of the student-run blog Visible Children said that the photograph showed that the group supported direct military intervention.

On the charity's website, Russell said the photo had been taken at the 2008 Juba Peace Talks during which Kony was supposed to sign a peace treaty. He called the snapshot a "joke photo" to take back to family and friends.

But Glenna Gordon, an Associated Press photographer who took a few pictures that day, including the one of the founders with the weapons, said on her blog that she felt uncomfortable taking the photo.

"It just contributes to the stereotypes of kids messing stuff up by showing the worst of the worst and showing it without context," she wrote. "It adds to the Invisible Children bad a-- mythology even while attempting to cast doubt on their practices. ... At the end of the day, I do hope that all of this can make us look at Invisible Children with a more critical glance."

Invisible Children Is Created

The charity came about after the three Southern California filmmakers headed to Africa in 2003 and later released a documentary about the child soldiers.

According to Human Rights Watch, in the past 20 years, Kony's LRA has killed and mutilated thousands of civilians -- and forced children to become fighters -- in Uganda and neighboring countries. Kony and his top commanders are wanted by the International Criminal Court.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law a bill aimed at stopping the LRA and bringing stability to Uganda. And in October, he sent 100 troops to Uganda to help regional forces battle the LRA and capture or kill Kony.

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