How About We Stop Ridiculing KONY Director Jason Russell For Having A Nervous Breakdown?

On Friday, March 16, news broke of the public breakdown of Jason Russell, director of the 29-minute Kony 2012 video that, after its March 5 release, went viral and skyrocketed him, LRA leader Joseph Kony, and the San Diego-based organization Invisible Children to international fame. Authorities reported that Russell was sighted in various states of undress, vandalizing cars, and — according to one witness — masturbating. When found, Russell was reported to be in his underwear and cooperative with the police requests for detention. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey released this statement on Friday:

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.

?Russell wasn’t arrested, but rather detained and put under medical surveillance because of supposed mental instability. SDPD does not plan to press charges. His wife, Danica Russell, also commented:

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 the 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.

What happened after the report was deeply disturbing, but predictably in-step with the traditional American response to tragedy: gut-wrenching mockery. I watched #Horny2012 trend on Twitter as the public seized its opportunity to bastardize Russell, his family, his children, and his organization. Within minutes, Russell was crucified on the unforgiving cross of social media, and — like waves of jeers — the tweets rolled in for hours.

I am troubled that the culture that reared me seems to be one that gets off on the failure of others, as if somehow sadness is sexy. Perhaps some vestige of social Darwinism, we seem to celebrate when the lionized crumble, and the applause only escalates when the fall is damaging and the person is left bruised, naked, and shamed.

?We are a voyeuristic people who have made defeat an industry, printing news of divorce and scandal and tragedy, covering it in glossy finish, and selling it for $4.99 next to packs of gum at the grocery store. To be fair, this vicious ideology isn’t unique to 21st century America; it’s actually age-old, and can be heard in the two-thousand-year-old cries of the Roman Coliseum. People of empire have always loved the collapse of others, because — for a moment — it ensures their own stability. The problem is, at some point, we all will fall. We will collapse, we will fail, we will wish we could have done things differently, and we can only hope that our inevitable short-comings don’t make their way to the desktops of millions around the world.

Historically, the times we’ve chosen the destruction of dehumanizing lampooning have led to unbelievable personal, social, and national violence. What preserves our humanity and makes us compelling creatures is our choice to take up the evolutionarily destructive mantle of compassion and empathize with the wounded. May we remember that we are all Jason. TC mark


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  • Hannah

    Thank you for this thoughtful response. Well said and well written.

  • Brett M. Carmouché

    I think this article, rather succinctly and beautifully, delineates the facts that all of us must face when something like this happens. Though I have my personal issues with the organisation itself, there is no real reason, now or in future, to ridicule a man (or any person) who’s clearly just having a rough time–as we all do. 

  • rude

    You’re missing the point.  People aren’t shaming him JUST because he had a nervous breakdown.  They’re shaming him because they think he’s a greedy, self-righteous, narcissistic bastard who HAPPENED to have a random nervous breakdown.  It still doesn’t make it right, but it’s a lot different than making fun of a mentally ill person just because they’re mentally ill (which is what you’re trying to make it seem like).

    • LibelFreeZone

      Yes, people who draw $89,000 annual to support a family of three in San Diego, one of the most costly places to live in the country, are “greedy.”  Yes, people who spend ten years trying to widely expose an indicted war criminal are “narcissistic.”  Yes, a person who used his incredible video production skllls to do so is “a bastard” who “just so happened” to have a psychotic breakdown under the stress of attacks by idiots like Rude and his ilk.  Uh huh.  Got it.

  • Donna-Lee Grant


  • AE

    Are you serious? This is the fucking Internet, we take no prisoners. 

    • JK bee

       Who’s “we”? Because I’m on the internet. And that’s not how I use it.

  • Anonymous

    There are PLENTY of reasons to ridicule this guy. But amen, for this is not one of them. Not that anything I’ve ever written has been consumed on anywhere near the scale of the KONY 2012 video, but as someone who has spent years publicly taking a position on sometimes controversial and complex issues, having my work lambasted, and my character questioned, all usually by strangers, and then sometimes friends, and more often than not by idiots, I can see how one in his position gets to this place. 

    So to clarify: he’s very possibly a huge douche, but he’s a HUMAN huge douche, and unless we also want to be huge douches, we should treat this situation with compassion. If you want to hate on him, stick to the issues and go nuts. (get it, go nuts?! ZING!)

    • LibelFreeZone

      Wow…with support like yours, Jessica, who needs enemies?

    • Bill Gander

      Jason Russell is the reason that I will never post anything on Youtube, no matter how right I think I am. Perhaps he is finally at the right level of humility in his life, having been so “devoted” to a cause, that he forgot to check facts that the rest of the internet readily found. I will also not consume mephodrone if I am having a nervous breakdown, like that dong bag. I guess good for him for having the courage to be wrong and not backing down lol.

  • Ian Miles Cheong

    This article misses the goddamn point. The reason people are piling on with jokes about Russell is because he is a Bad Man(tm) who put up a charity front for his Fundamentalist Christian organization, and used the 5-year old plight of Ugandans who suffered under Kony to enrich himself and his ‘movement’.

    • Safy-Hallan Farah

      I endorse this comment.

      • Ijustgoyouknow

        I dont care.

      • Tyrone

        I am not Jason. I am Tyrone.

      • Tyrone

        I am not Jason. I am Tyrone.

      • Tyrone

        I am not Jason. I am Tyrone.

    • LibelFreeZone

      “…used the 5-year old plight of Ugandans who suffered under Kony to enrich himself and his ‘movement’.”

      “Enrich” himself?  A family of three living in San Diego on $89,000 a year is “enriched?”  Clearly, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

  • Dayton C Castleman

    are u old

    • Todd Clayton


  • jess

    People have nervous breakdowns all the time but they rarely run naked into the street. surely the man drawing a salary from your gullibility has the resources to seek help before publicly shaming himself in that way. Invisible Children is slacktivism at it’s finest and If I were him, I’d probably breaking down too. The world is about to find out what a piece of shit he really is. 

  • Cesca


  • Laura

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been just as critical of Russell, Invisible Children, and the KONY 2012 campaign as anyone, but the lack of compassion people are displaying is staggering. He is clearly quite unwell. Among all of this, I even saw someone say “It’s Jason Russell who deserves to be arrested, not Joseph Kony”. Unbelievable. 

  • Interneter

    Talk about a bad use of your 15 minutes… #nosympathy

  • rhoda

    when you present yourself as jesus and embrace a celebrity following, it’s hard for the rest of us to feel much sympathy for you when your holier than thou self melts down. also, when THIS is the face of an organization that’s already pretty damn shady with their finances and what they actually do to HELP (not ‘raise awareness’), doesn’t it make you wonder why in the hell you’re trusting your money with this guy? also, yes, nervous breakdowns happen, but acting out like this? thank god no one was actually hurt. there are pictures of jason posing with guns. what if he snapped in one of those moments? im all for mental health, but when you put yourself as the face of a movement like this, you really need to keep your meltdowns behind closed doors at the very least.

    and if this breakdown is NOT a result of drugs or alcohol, that’s even more concerning. 

    • Kate

      “I’m all for mental health, but when you put yourself as the face of a movement like this, you really need to keep your meltdowns behind closed doors at the very least.” What kind of advice is this? Jason was having a NERVOUS BREAKDOWN because of severe negative attention and attacks on himself and his message. There is no way that he, his mental health being hindered becuse of these attacks, would take the time to think, “Now, should I go outside half-naked and masturbate, or not?” Come on, get with it.

      • Tyrone

        i think like that all da time babe

      • Tyrone

        i think like that all da time babe

      • Tyrone

        i think like that all da time babe

      • Tyrone

        i think like that all da time babe

      • LibelFreeZone

        You’re right, of course, Kate, but there’s no credible evidence whatsoever that he masturbated.  That’s sensational crap added, like icing on a cake, to insensitive, unbelievably cruel mockery of a man and his mission.

  • Emily

    this is beautifully written. thank you for reminding me why I read thought catalog.

  • dd89

    This is ridiculous. How can people still be hating on a man after they know that its already broken him? The criticism worked, people. He’s out of the game. I don’t even support the cause of IC, but dont beat the man when he’s down? Nobody deserves that. Let it go.

  • saigoal

    how ironic, fame has had a greater negative impact on jason russel than kony

    • LibelFreeZone

      You just don’t get it, do you?  It wasn’t the FAME, it was the mindless criticism of his Herculean effort that idiots like you don’t understand!

  • Gregory Costa

    Wait, so who’s Kony? 

  • Dee

    After the KONY2012 video boomed, I also felt a similar worry about our generation – one that somehow seems to thrive on putting people down and being very public about it. 

  • Gifted 239

    Please Stop It With The Sob Story About This Guy He Knew Full Well What He Was Doing He Got Paid And Got His Hands On Some Drugs And He Took Them What About People Like Me Who Actually Give A Damn About My Neighbor They Made Millions Off Of The Merchandise Behind KONY!! Stop It This Guy Got Paid And Did Drugs Now I’m Supposed To Feel Sorry For Him What About The Thousands Of People In The USA Without Homes And Families Who Live Off Of EBT Benefits Because No One Is Hiring!! This Clown Isn’t Even Capable Of Putting To Good Use The Money He’s Ripped Off Of Millions This Is A Ridiculous Post!! I Was A Ward Of  The State Of Michigan My Folks Died From Aids Wheres My Video?? Wheres My Million Dollar Makeover Please This Guy Is A Clown!!

    • Ijustgoyouknow

      Oh woe is you. Make your own tumblr or something.

    • Pissed

      Have you given pelvic exams to the ten year old girls Kony brutally raped? Cause I have. Have you talked to boys who were forced to rape their mothers and kill their fathers because of Kony? Cause I have. Seen them sob and hate themselves? You doing so much good, criticizing people who are trying to fix the awful things they have seen. The world is evil. Corporations are evil. I’ve read all the articles about the investments in resources and the budget breakdown too. If you care so much about your neighbor get off the fucking internet and do something. Go camp out with the other 99%, lazy Americans who want everything handed to them for being so blessed to be born in this country. Thank God you weren’t born in Uganda and someone like you could care less and let you suffer. There is no foster care in Africa. You just die. And EBT is a joke. 300 pound ladies buying marshmallow in a can. Make your life better if it is so terrible. Luckily enough in this country you can get medicine for AIDS, dinner and somewhere to sleep if you so desire. 

    • KML

      If you want to get your point across better, I’d suggest that you don’t capitalize every single word in your little rant.

      • LibelFreeZone

        Repetitive initial caps is the least of that goon’s worries, KML.

  • Syd

    Thank you for your perspective…and am thankful a bit of mercy and grace is poking through the clouds.

  • Gifted 239

    We Live In A World Where Everyone Feens For The Spotlight And He Got His Spotlight But When Millions Found Out How Phony It Was And The Real Agenda Was For Uganda’s Natural Resources Did You Not Feel Like You’ve Been Lied Too?? His Conscience Caught Up With Him He Decided To Do Something About Which Was Drugs And He Literally Got Caught With His Pants Down.. God Works In Mysterious Ways One Day He Was On Top Of The World A Week Later… Just Goes To Show…. 

    • RBS

      Is this the new Fiona Apple album title?

    • Slinera

      My husband went to uganda with Jason before Invisible Children was even an organization. He was an editor on KONY2012. And I’ve known Jason and his family for nearly 20 years. There is nothing phony about him or IC. They are cool. They make rad media. They make it for young people. Not those who believe in conspiracy theories, or follow politics. They make it to show young people that they can do amazing things, even just by wearing a t-shirt supporting a cause. Because then they become part of something much bigger, a community, a collective. A kid in Omaha can watch what his little contribution did, and be proud of it. Sometimes, we buy buy our groceries on credit. IC staff doesn’t get overpaid. That’s a joke. And I feel sorry for people who feel the need to bash on someone they don’t know. And to think that IC has been on the ground in Africa for nearly a decade because there is oil there?! You should be ashamed for being such an ignorant hater. If you’re so angry, find a cause to believe in, not just things to hate. Live your life a little. 

      • Kelsi D.

        I’m very sorry, but you’ve pretty much inadvertently hit on exactly what bothers me so much about Invisible Children and the KONY2012 campaign:

        “They make it to show young people that they can do amazing things, even just by wearing a t-shirt supporting a cause. Because then they become part of something much bigger, a community, a collective.”

        Basically, all of their media seems to concentrate on these (predominantly) white, upper middle class kids, and much less on the actual Ugandans that they purport to help. That’s been one of the big issues that a lot of people are irritated about with regards to the campaign. I’m sure that Jason Russell cares about what happens to the Ugandan people, but I also think he cares a good deal about his image and his legions of creepily devoted followers in Invisible Children. It’s the messiah complex that this guy seems to have that makes it so easy for people to ridicule him. 

        “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” etc. etc.

  • Michael Koh

    lol fuck you

  • FemiBlogged

    Though I am a little skeptical about his cause, I’m sure Mr. Russell is a good man who actually cares and wants to do something good with his life. I really hate how all the headlines and main message that is getting across to people who aren’t looking into the situation thoroughly is that he is a pervert. As stated in this article, and in many others, ONE person said they saw him masturbating, and others said he MIGHT have been making sexual gestures… as if I poor guy having a public, naked, psychotic/schizophrenic rampage isn’t enough.

  • FemiBlogged

    Also… though this might be a bit of a conspiracy theory… I wouldn’t be surprised if he got dosed by someone.

  • Flex Jance

    wow, you discovered the idea that humans enjoy mockery! please submit this to the new york times or make an even more global newspaper and print this on every page!

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