I was a bit shocked today to see the announcement of Jason Russell’s detainment for alleged public intoxication and masturbation [edited to add: recent reports indicate he was naked but not masturbating]. It’s all over twitter so I can only imagine it will be all over the news tonight. My first response was frustration – this guy is obviously putting his credibility in major jeopardy, not to mention the entire #Kony2012 movement that has already been under such intense scrutiny. My second reaction, as I read between the lines of the situation, was sadness for the guy. He was arrested, but then he was placed on a 5150 – in California that’s law enforcement speak for a psychiatric hold. I can tell you from experience that trying to get a client placed on a psychiatric hold is no small feat. It’s generally reserved for someone who is either suicidal, threatening to others, or having a clear psychotic break. Then, Invisible Children made a statement acknowledging how stressful the past few weeks have been for all of them. I think it’s easy to dehumanize people who are in the public spotlight . . . and the criticism of Kony2012 has been public and unrelenting in the past few weeks. The difficult part of the criticism is that, rather than being celebrities behaving badly, these filmmakers were trying to make a difference. And while some feel they were misguided, naïve, or sensationalist, I’ve also seen character assassinations of them that went far beyond concerns about the film. I can’t imagine what that felt like.
I get that some people don’t jive with the film or the message, and that’s fine. But the glee that I’m seeing on some sites and twitter accounts about a guy acting psychotic is quite disturbing. Jezebel called the news “delightful”. The jokes about him being a whackjob and all other manner of mockery are already flooding the internet. And while he’s responsible for his own behavior, my hunch is that right now, an insecure young man who suffers from mental illness is getting a public crucifixion that is only going to fuel whatever is already going on for him personally.
Here’s the thing, though: Jason Russell’s behavior shouldn’t change how you view the Kony 2012 movement. If you agree with the film’s premise, then finding out one of the fimmakers has some serious personal issues shouldn’t change how you feel about the film’s premise. I don’t know if Jason Russell is a drug addict or an exhibitionist or suffering from bipolar, but I do know that he’s human and shouldn’t be on a pedestal to being with. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be how it plays out, and I suspect that his behavior will have grave consequences for the Invisible Children organization . . . but should it? Should our faith be shaken when a pastor falls? Should our allegiance to a political ideology change when a politician is caught in hypocrisy? I think all of these situations illustrate why it’s so important to make sure our convictions are based on truth and founded in reason, rather than on the charisma of a leader. As my friend Lindsey Nobles said, “Time and time again we put humans on pedestals and then shame when they fall down. That's our brokenness, not theirs.”