Kony 2012: Militarization And Disinformation Blowback – OpEd

By Horace Campbell

In any major disinformation campaign, the minimum requirement for success is to at least be credible. Invisible Children, Inc. is not a credible basis for information on Uganda and Africa. Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and cannot be compared to Hitler, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. This group that is called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has in the past kidnapped children and turned them into child soldiers and has exploited young girls. However, this LRA is not the military threat to Africa which is portrayed in this massive campaign called Kony 2012. At this moment, to mobilize millions around the world around a campaign that Joseph Kony is a major military threat in Uganda and Central Africa is disinformation.

This is the act of deliberately spreading inaccurate information. The campaign, Kony 2012, is a classic example of military disinformation. The success in tapping into the emotions of 80 million young persons has exposed its linkages to the disinformation and cyber warfare capabilities of the US defense infrastructure. Ugandans have already responded with clarity to this manipulation of the war in their society. I think that it is important to examine the wider context of the ‘invisible hand’ behind the production of Kony2012 and the current campaign calling for a day of Action on April 20. This campaign raises deeper issues about the contemporary moment in global politics and the intense competition for imperial domination of Africa.

Disinformation and Ideological coercion of US citizens to support the military-industrial complex has been most manifest in the propaganda war over terrorism. However, this war on terror only served to isolate the United States, weaken the society and bog down its military in quagmires such as Afghanistan. Yet, despite this ideological coercion and decline, planners of the military information operations have been studying social media and information warfare in order to neutralize the growing opposition to militarism in the United States. This social media event must be examined thoroughly because the Kony2012 video broke records to become the fastest-spreading online video in history. This fact of the breaking of records alone requires deeper understanding. I will argue that the barrage of media coverage which ensured this record was not accidental. The massive promotion of this on-line can now be understood in the wider context of full spectrum warfare. in which combat operations are reserved for the last resort. Psychological warfare and disinformation operations are crucial to weaken populations both at home and in ‘enemy’ territory. I am contending that the Kony2012 was a test to intercept the social media capabilities of the youths in the USA in this revolutionary moment. Kony2012 with its ambition to ensnare millions has already been exposed with millions debunking the assertions of the film. Pambazuka has published the response of Mahmood Mamdani. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars has published their statement addressed to the U.S. Government about the Lord’s Resistance Army and Central Africa.

A special Africa Focus bulletin has pulled together reflections of videos, blog posts, and articles with Ugandan voices and other commentaries. This record is important in that it gives a comprehensive list of resources so that young students who are organizing rebuttals can find resources to counter the planned April 20 manifestations to support the call for the US military to intervene in Africa.

In the face of this massive grassroots opposition to the manipulation by Invisible Children, even the New York Times has now joined in with its Opinion Page article that ‘Kony is not the problem.’

If Kony is not the problem, then what should peace and progressive forces do to ensure that campaign such as these are nipped in the bud?

Jack Bratich who has been studying cyberwar as part of the ‘counter-radicalization’ of the youth has penetrated the mind games embedded in this video. He summarized his arguments in an on line article, “My Little Kony: The Rise of the Flashpublics.” Professor Bratich has also used the formulation of genetically modified grassroots organizations to characterize these pseudo grassroots campaigns managed and orchestrated by conservative forces. If one then examines the world of the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California where Jason Russell was trained, one will encounter the sophisticated interplay of artificial intelligence, graphics and the exploration of new mind games. These mind games are intended to demobilize the youth.

After the fabrication of terrorism in Africa over the past decade crowned with the colossal failure of the NATO intervention in Libya and the international revulsion in relation to the execution of the leader of Libya, AFRICOM and the US military had to find new sources of support. It was in the midst of this search for new support where this video became the social media event of the moment. This video Kony 2012 in 30 minutes tapped into the emotions of young people, exploited their idealism and called on them to subsidize their own repression by making contributions to this information warfare platform. I want to use this commentary to agree that stripped of all of the layers of mobilization for action to catch Joseph Kony, one of the objectives of this Kony 2012 video is to experiment with alternatives to the growing political consciousness of the youth in the United States as manifest in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Jason Russell and his stewardship in the conservative Christian fundamentalists ranks has assisted us in making the necessary connections between humanitarianism, disaster pornography, the US military, universities and long term planning of the US militarists in Africa. We are informed that after his graduation from the Institute of Creative technologies at the University of Southern California in 2002 he went with his friends to Africa to put into action what he learnt about story telling. We know from the information that the Invisible Children has posted about itself that it belongs to that subset of sub-contractors of the armaments culture, especially the humanitarian militarists such as the Enough Project, one of the chief promoter of the Save Darfur campaign, the Center for American Progress, and Resolve, a human rights group connected to conservative Catholic missionary organizations. So although the Kony 2012 is presented as a ‘one person campaign on a personal journey,’ we can make the linkages to grasp the forces behind the mind games. That Jason Russell suffered a ‘meltdown’ as a result of the push back from concerned citizens should not deter a close examination of his journey through the corridors of religious conservatism and militarism.

I am now persuaded that this video is another failed effort by the military planners in the United States. In this instance, the enemy as outlined by Jack Bratich is the youths who are mobilizing against Wall Street and the bankers. Millions of young persons in the United States are graduating from colleges with thousands of dollars in debt. They end up unemployed and are strung out without hope. The new social movement of youths opposing the top 1 per cent that has exploded in the United States in the midst of the capitalist depression offered a new way to educate the citizens of the United States. The more perceptive of these youths have been at the forefront of the campaigns calling for real social and economic change. Kony 2012 was one effort to blunt this mobilization of the 99 per cent. The effort failed. The authors of this effort were opposed in Africa. The people of Northern Uganda for who the video sought to speak, reacted to the manipulation. The government of Uganda had to distance themselves from this disinformation campaign. Even the foreign policy experts such as the Council for Foreign Relations had to distance themselves from this military/humanitarian propaganda of Kony 2012 and the Invisible Children saying that the video Invisible Children was “manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders. “

In this disinformation blowback, we have been given a very clear window into how the military information operatives are studying ‘social media’ to ‘cleverly target’ young persons in order to lobotomize them in preparation for the era of singularity. This week I will place the Kony2012 campaign into the failure of the planners of the US military and the conservative republican forces who want to dominate the US military and corporate spaces. From this outline of the linkages between the Conservatives in the United States and the Ugandan leadership around Yoweri Musevieni, this contribution will analyze the linkages between Jason Russell and the conservative religious fundamentalists in the United States. The manipulation and exploitation of his own son in this ‘production’ brought us face to face with the mental pathology that Frantz Fanon warned about in his analysis of colonial wars and mental disorders. One of the challenges of the peace movement is to work for healing in a way that supports peace and reconstruction at home and in Africa. Jason Russell and the authors of Invisible Children are in need of healing. However, in order to heal, there must be truth telling.

This Kony2012 video has reinforced my own conviction that demilitarization and peace in Africa is intricately connected to demilitarization and peace in the United States.

THE US MILITARY AND THE UGANDAN MILITARY IN NORTHERN UGANDA: INVISIBLE CHILDREN AND ITS MESSAGE

After nearly 80 million persons watched this on line video which was launched to call for US military intervention in Central Africa, there is enough information on the atrocities in Northern Uganda that it has become evident that the authors of the video were indeed calling on US citizens to call for the US military to intervene in Uganda to support the Musevieni administration. Now that even the establishment platforms such as the New York Times and the Council for Foreign Relations have revealed that the video Invisible Children was “manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders, “it is necessary to go further to call for the withdrawal of the 100 combat equipped advisers who have been deployed to assist the Musevieni government in Uganda. These advisors were deployed in October 2011, the second time that the US military has explicitly intervened to support the Museveni regime.

The people of Northern Uganda have reacted to this video because they have suffered at the hands of the Museveni military. We know that the Lord’s Resistance Army derives their legitimacy from the repression that has been carried out in this region.

Mamdani is correct when he said that there is no military solution to the questions of the atrocities in Northern Uganda. The military solutions proffered by the Invisible Children are just another vehicle to continue the relationship between Museveni and the US military. The issues of war, displacement, killings and refugees have plagued the peoples of Northern Uganda for more than thirty years. Yoweri Museveni had come to power in Uganda in 1986 and has used the war in the North to maintain himself in power. While a young student at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Museveni had been loudest in his anti-imperialist and militaristic rhetoric, but as soon as he ascended power in 1986 he became a firm ally of not only the conservative militarists in the USA, but the conservative Christian fundamentalists.

From his early alliance with the Reagan Administration, Museveni was projected as a ’reformer’ and the United States has been training Ugandan troops in counterterrorism for several years. With this assistance, the Museveni regime has been able to keep the news of the concentration camps in Northern Uganda out of international headlines. Five years ago, Joseph Kony and the remnants of the Lord’s Resistance Army was expelled from the region of Northern Uganda by the Ugandan Army. Earlier Kony had been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Since that time the LRA has been a roving band across the regions of Northern Uganda, Southern Sudan, Eastern Congo and the Central African Republic. Reduced to less than 200 to 300 persons, the LRA depended on its international supporters. It must be stated that while the Ugandan government and the USA were deploying assets to track Joseph Kony, the Sudanese government in Khartoum was assisting Joseph Kony. This was the same Sudanese government which the US military and intelligence were sharing information in order to counter-terrorism in Central Africa.

In 2008, the US government made public their alliance with the Museveni administration when it was announced that a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the US Africa Command had launched Lightning Thunder to capture Joseph Kony and the remnants of the Lord’s Resistance Army. At that time, I wondered why the US did not simply ask Omar Bashir to provide information on how his government coordinated support for the LRA. However, by the time of the public disclosure of US support for the Ugandan military, Kony and the remnants of the LRA had left a wake of mayhem from Uganda, across the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Sudan to the Central African Republic. This was a clear failure of the US Africa Command which had worked closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and other support. Veteran East African activists know that the Museveni government did not really want Kony captured because his primary basis for the militarization of the society would be removed. One can still see the information on this operation called Natural Fire 10 on the information platforms of the US Africa Command. Any self-respecting military establishment would be embarrassed to advertise the failure of the hunt Kony campaign. This campaign had been orchestrated to blunt the discussions on Amnesty and Reconciliation in Uganda. Whatever the names of the operations, Natural Fire, or Operation Lightning Thunder, it was summed up thus, “by any reasonable definition the operation was an abject military failure.”

This abject military failure has now been placed before the world after October 2011 when, the Obama administration announced its decision to send 100 combat-equipped US military “advisers,” most of them Special Forces troops, into Central Africa with the stated aim of hunting down and either capturing or killing Kony and other leaders of the LRA. It is now known that the one thread that links support for these operations has been the work of those who have been calling for US military intervention, especially Invisible Children, the ’non-profit organization which gave themselves the mandate to bring awareness to the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

JASON RUSSELL AND INVISIBLE CHILDREN

From the period of colonialism and the imperial partitioning of Africa, humanitarianism has always been presented as a front for military operations. But, in the 21st century, this humanitarianism has to be linked to the military information operations. Invisible children have been one clear example of the linkages between pseudo non-governmental organizations and the US military. When the video called Invisible Children, Kony 2012 went viral in March 2012; many of the unsuspecting 80 million viewers quickly became aware of the explicit message that this was a message that called on US citizens to support the deployment of US military forces in Uganda and Central Africa.

Jason Russell, the public face of this ‘non-profit’ organization, Invisible Children had been trained in the US military sponsored information warfare center at the University of Southern California (USC) called the Institute for Creative technologies (ICT). This ICT was exposed in the run up to the information warfare against US citizens at the time of the war against the people of Iraq. Jason Russell graduated from the USC in this period of propaganda warfare and fear mongering in 2002. The web site of ICT said explicitly,

“At USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), high-tech tools and classic storytelling come together to pioneer new ways to teach and to train. Our goal is to create engaging and effective immersive experiences that shape the future of learning. With applications for therapy, leadership, and decision- making, ICT also seeks to redefine the range of skills these experiences can address. ICT was established in 1999 with a multi-year contract from the US Army to explore a powerful question: What would happen if leading technologists in artificial intelligence, graphics, and immersion joined forces with the creative talents of Hollywood and the game industry?“

For decades the US military entangled universities in their mission of wreaking death, destruction, fear and horror. Universities in the USA compete with each other to launch projects aligned to what Henry Giroux has described as “University in Chains.” The higher the rank of the University, the more competitive they are in this insensate contest for outside funding. The University of Southern California nestled close to Hollywood with access to ‘inventive combinations’ has been one of the most successful in this competition for defense dollars and contracts such as that of ICT. Syracuse University is the home of the prestigious S.I.Newhouse School of School of Public Communications. The Newhouse School is home to two Department of Defense sponsored programs which teach active-duty military personnel photojournalism and broadcast journalism. The Military Photojournalism (MPJ) and Military Motion Media (MMM) programs consist of students from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force. These enlisted service members have been serving as mass communication specialists, combat photographers and military journalists. They come to the School for ten months to learn how to become better storytellers.

I am drawing attention to these programs because peace activists within Syracuse University have long campaigned for the end of these Pentagon related projects within the University. I invite researchers to see the special issue of the Syracuse Peace Council Bulletin on Syracuse University: A player in the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. As part of the rebuttal to this Kony 2012 campaign it is incumbent on peace activists to expose the military connections of their universities to the Pentagon. Under the pressures of education cuts, researchers have been pushed into relations with the Defense Department because this is one of the only growth areas of the US government.

Now, the defense planners have upped the ante in an effort to entangle the minds of the young in the United States by the skillful use of social media tools to harness support for US military operations in Central Africa. In the case of the video Invisible Children, we can see the sophisticated interplay of artificial intelligence, graphics and the exploration of new mind games. My own students from the Newhouse School have alerted me to the sophisticated techniques which were being experimented in this video, Kony 2012. Some of the experts in this field of 21st century communications and journalism call this technique ‘flashpublics’.

This is the formulation used by the journalism professor Jack Bratich who has been studying cyberwar as part of the ‘counter-radicalization’ US youth. Bratich has exposed the Alliance of Youth Movements as one of the fronts of the corporations and locates the KONY 2012 as part of the new a new conservative front of so called grass roots youth movements. Jack Bratich in his evaluation of the ‘inventive combinations’ that were harnessed by the authors of Invisible Children noted,“as flashpublics are designed to assemble people rapidly for an event. However, this flash collective is specifically issue-oriented and more widely dispersed (as the eventual “meeting spot” itself is unknown and distributed). The flash of the flashpublic is a quick mobilization of attention and sharing towards a predefined political objective. It involves what Anna Gibbs calls an “affective contagion” tied to processes that early 20th century social theorists associated with sympathy, suggestion, even mass hypnosis. The flash fuses the condensed time of transduction (sharing, sending, connecting, composing) with the time of induction (priming, pacing, guiding, binding), all designed to generate mental/bodily states in viewers resulting in increased suggestibility.”

Bratich furthered this analysis by linking the Invisible Children organization to a new network of youth movements that are being supported around the world under the rubric of the Alliance for Youth Movement. This organization is being used as an instrument of US militarism and imperialism.

After the successful use of social media by the Obama campaign in 2007-2008 and the impressive networks refined by the April 6 movement of Egypt, long term planners had to experiment with new tools of information warfare. This information ploy against the youth had failed when the Save Darfur campaign was discredited.Books by Mahmood Mamdani such as Saviors and Survivors exposed the real mission of the planners of the Save Darfur Movement. Jeremy Keenan exposed the fabrication of terrorism in the Sahara in his book, Dark Sahara. Abdi Samatar has exposed the fabrication of terrorism in Somalia. Peace activists have exposed the role of AFRICOM in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the covert operations now underway. All of these forms of militaristic interventions must be exposed.

It was said then (during the Save Darfur Campaign), as it is being said now, Africa does not need saviors. Africa needs solidarity and for this the peace movement in the USA ought to be at the forefront of exposing the real intent of the manipulation of this video and campaign.

We know that Jason Russell is part of the network of conservative Christian fundamentalists who have been working with their fellow believers in Uganda. It is important for Ugandans who have worked with this ‘grassroots’ organizer to know that Russell has in the past been affiliated with Liberty University, an institution whose founder Jerry Fallwell was a firm supporter of the white racist minority regime in South Africa.

The intellectual base and financial foundation of Jason Russell and the Invisible Children organization is of interest for those who are tracking the links between the religious right and the military. As many in the NGO multibillion dollar business of humanitarian work in Africa, less than one third of the donations received by this organization goes to the ‘victims’ in Africa. “Barely one third of its spending last year supported programs in Central Africa, while 20 percent covered salaries and expenses and 43 percent was used for “awareness programs.” That is the youths of the USA were paying to subsidize this information war that was being waged against them. According to Invisible Children’s 2011 annual report, the group brought in $13.7 million in revenue that year. The breakdown of expenses shows that about $3.3 million went to programs in Central Africa and $2.3 million was spent on awareness programs. The group spent $1.4 million for management and general expenses, $850,050 on “awareness products,” $699,617 for media and film creation, and $286,678 for fundraising.

THE CONSERVATIVE FUNDAMENTALIST CONNECTIONS

But these figures are paltry in relation to the real networks of conservative Christian fundamentalists of which the Invisible Children form a part. In an article posted on Alternet we are informed that “Invisible Children is funded by Antigay, Creationist Christian Right.

“Among its biggest donors is the National Christian Foundation and the Christian Community Foundation, two grant-making groups that provide financial backing to key organizations of the Christian right, such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which promote anti-abortion and anti-gay legislation and religion in school, as well as the Discovery Institute, which advocates teaching “intelligent design,” or creationism.”

It is these same conservative Christian fundamentalists who have been the most energetic in the support of the US global war on terror. Jason Russell in his own words has described his journey from the Institute for Creative Technologies to the formation of the Invisible Children NGO. It is this training that gave this organization the expertise to use film, creativity and social action to mobilize youths in support of the US military in Uganda.

DISINFORMATION AND BLOWBACK

Many have critiqued the Invisible Children video and its simplicity and manipulative designs. I am maintaining that it is a misconception to see this as simplicity. It is a deliberate attempt as disinformation. I had defined in the introduction and I am restating here, Disinformation is “Information that seems truthful, relevant and based on unbiased facts, but has been concocted to mislead the recipient in order to attain fraudulent monetary, military, political, or religious objectives.”

Some have called on the US government to end their relationship with the Museveni government. However, I want to add that the end of this psychological warfare against the youths will only take place when a counter movement develops which can expose the varying networks and layers of the US armaments culture. No amount of disinformation can now cover up the complete waste of lives in Afghanistan. The burning of the Koran, a US soldier going on the rampage and the atrocities of the US military has discredited the military so that no amount of flash publics can repair the damage done. There are many who have rightly pointed out that the US military is involved in a major buildup in order to justify a larger deployment of troops in Africa. Africom has been deployed to defend US energy corporations and forward planners have written of the need for US to defend its interests in Africa. The African peoples know that these interests have not been for the health, safety and security of the African poor and exploited.

The attention of the peace movement ensured that when the Libyan intervention took place, The US government and the Obama administration had to resort to covert ‘special operations’ forces. But these covert forces and the private military forces employed by the oil companies cannot blunt the new wave of revolutions in Africa. The Center for Strategic and International Studies gave the game away when it convened a discussion on Youth Revolt. These strategic centers are integrated into the same institutions that profit from war making. With the new uprisings in Africa and the birth of global movements for change, the Invisible Children initiative was an attempt to halt the radicalization of the youth. It is an effort to blunt the growing and deepening anti-war sentiments in the society. In this climate, creating images of white supremacy and saving African lives was meant to harness the energies of millions.

This effort failed.

In the face of the failure, Jason Russell exposed his own state of mind and the state of mind of those who authored Invisible Children. Jason Russell suffered a ‘meltdown’ and has been admitted to a psychiatric’ hospital. This melt down exposed fully the fact that Kony 2012 was a disturbing campaign orchestrated by a disturbed campaigner.

This week as we write, many concerned citizens are grappling with the militaristic climate that inspired the killing of the young African American, Trayvon Martin. It is the militaristic mindset unleashed military propaganda such as Invisible Children which inspires the climate of violence and killing at home and abroad. I cannot end without calling on all who read this column to sign on to the petition on Change.org. It is the petition to ensure that the killer of Trayvon Martin be arrested and charged for the murder of this young 17 year old who was shot and killed on February 26 as he walked to a family member’s home from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. The United States had justified its intervention in the Middle East as a pre-emptive war. The killer of Trayvon Martin argued that he was acting pre-emptively in self-defense.

The 20 celebrities and 12 officials who have been targeted by Invisible Children can now make their position clear on the realities of the mindset of the violence which has engulfed Africans at home and abroad. There have been many who have been seduced by the campaigns of the US military. Now, the peace and progressive forces are being called upon to develop another type of storytelling and video game which can assist in the healing of humans.

In this way, there will be a global movement calling for the dismantling of the US Africa command and another force in world politics to channel the energies of the youth away from mind control and subliminal messages.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.


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