By Bruce Wilson, Talk2Action
“A-1 Self Storage was one of the original donors who helped the founders of Invisible Children travel to Uganda and make the documentary Invisible Children: The Rough Cut which led to the creation of Invisible Children, Inc the 510 C 3 non-profit organization…The contributions of A-1 Self Storage have been crucial to the growth and success of Invisible Children”
— quote from current Invisible Children web page, crediting the Caster family business A1 Self Storage with providing crucial funding that launched Invisible Children. The Caster family was one of the biggest donors funding California’s Proposition 8 and has just been exposed as one of the biggest funders, in 2008, of the virulently anti-LGBT rights National Organization For Marriage.
Today, Friday the 20th, two national human rights efforts will hold awareness events in American schools. One, the Gay, Straight, and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) will hold its annual Day Of Silence, to raise awareness about anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.
The other effort, Invisible Children, is also holding an event today, called “Cover The Night”. While IC, behind the KONY 2012 viral video, states that it is pro-LGBT rights, the organization has extensive ties to the hard, antigay politicized evangelical right; in fact, Invisible Children’s own website states that the organization was started with “crucial” seed money from one of the top funders of both California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8 and the anti-gay rights group the National Organization For Marriage.
Back when I wrote my April 4th reporton the “extensive social and institutional ties” between the Invisible Children nonprofit and the Uganda branch of The Family / The Fellowship, credited by Ugandan MP David Bahati with having helped inspire, and even provide “technical support” for, the internationally condemned Anti Homosexuality Bill looming before Uganda’s parliament since late 2009, I missed some rather obvious connections.
A current page of Invisible Children’s website titled “Our Network” identifies two entities, as part of IC’s network, that are directly connected to the California Caster family — one of the biggest funders of the 2008 anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8, and also a major funder of the virulently antigay National Organization For Marriage.
According to a leaked NOM 2008 tax return form, members of the Caster family donated over $256,000 to the National Organization For Marriage in 2008, the largest collective donation next to a whopping $450,000 gift from John Templeton. According to California Watch, the Caster family donated over $700,000 to the effort to pass the anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8:
“[Terrence] Caster drew fire in 2008 after his family donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ballot proposition to ban same-sex marriage. Caster gave $172,500 individually, and his Caster Family Trust gave $622,000 to the Prop. 8 campaign, according to campaign filings. At the time, Caster told The San Diego Union-Tribune, “Without solid marriage, you are going to have a sick society.”
Targeting youth: Millennials in the crosshairs
In addition, confidential National Organization For Marriage memos leaked to the pro-LGBTI rights group the Human Rights Campaign outlined the strategic goal of targeting young Americans in the “millennial” age range – which mirrors Invisible Children’s targeting of millennials outlined in IC’s 2007 application to join the elite evangelical Barnabas Group.
The NOM memos leaked to the Human Right Campaign discussed the need to,
“identify, train, and equip next generation leaders on marriage, including media training.
But in keeping with the aims of the Cultural Strategies Project we will not confine our mission to attract and cultivate a community of cognitive elites alone… we will seek to identify a next generation of elites capable of creating pro-marriage culture more broadly construed.”
That strategic targeting vision is shared by Invisible Children. which in 2007 applied as an official evangelical “ministry” for support from the elite evangelical nonprofit Barnabas Group, which provides marketing, PR, and donor assistance for select, cutting edge Christian ministry efforts.
In the application to the Barnabas Group, Invisible Children leaders, CEO Ben Keesey and Development Director Chris Sarette identified IC’s main target audience: “Our PRIMARY customer is: The youth of America (age 15-25)”. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes,
“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.”
More embarrassing details
Back at the Invisible Children “Our Network” webpage: mousing over the logo for the Caster clan’s main cash-cow business, A-1 Self Storage, we learn that it was Caster funding that launched Invisible Children, with seed money for IC’s first video:
“A-1 Self Storage was one of the original donors who helped the founders of Invisible Children travel to Uganda and make the documentary Invisible Children: The Rough Cut which led to the creation of Invisible Children, Inc the 510 C 3 non-profit organization. Their initial support allowed the filmmakers to develop ways to help those affected by the conflict. Their continued generosity has also been a catalyst for one of our most successful programs, Schools for Schools. The contributions of A-1 Self Storage have been crucial to the growth and success of Invisible Children.”
But, there’s more. Scrolling over the logo for Serving Hands International, a Caster family philanthropic organization, we discover this:
“Serving Hands International aids needy individuals in the world, and strives to restore in them self-sufficiency, dignity and hope by providing food, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, educational opportunities, and spiritual guidance. They were a key donor in getting the upfront money needed to launch Schools for Schools–about $100,000.”
Beyond the Caster connection, why does that matter? – Well, it matters because, as I documented in my report Invisible Children Nonprofit Extensively Tied To “The Family”, Invisible Children’s website has described its Schools For Schools mentoring program as being headed by Paul Lukwiya, who is now the head Education Director for the Uganda leadership academies run by the Ugandan branch of The Family, in which David Bahati is a leading member.
To sum up – a major US funder opposed to gay rights provides start up money for Invisible Children’s Uganda education program that, in turn, is co-mingled with the Uganda education program run by the Ugandan branch of The Family, whose leading member David Bahati introduced the Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda’s parliament in late 2009.
Also listed on Invisible Children’s “Our Network” website page is a logo for “Apolis Activism”, also known as Apolis Global, a for-profit clothing venture whose founders have strong ties to The Fellowship, as I described in my report linked above. Mousing over the “Apolis Activism” logo, we find this text:
“Apolis Activism is an independent luxury brand that has created a unique bridge between commerce and sustainable relief. Founded by three brothers, Apolis has become a special part of the Invisible Children family, contributing in a variety of ways ranging from helping develop a database in Uganda for our Education Program to leading a team in New Zealand during the Global Night Commute.”
So, Apolis helped “develop a database” for Invisible Children’s education program? This would be the same Apolis Global whose co-founder Raan and Shea Parton have described sponsoring Invisible Children leaders Ben Keesey and Ben Thompson to attend the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. The Partons are graduates, and celebrated successes for, the Fellowship’s National Student Leadership Forum.
Invisible Children touts its Development Director Chris Sarette, described on the Invisible Children website as IC’s “trump card”, as proof that IC supports gay rights, because Sarette is openly gay (note that, as discussed earlier in this story, Sarette was a co-applicant in the 2007 Invisible Children application to join the Barnabas Group.) Adding to IC’s progay credentialing is the presence, on the Invisible Children Board of Directors, of pastor Rich McCullen, the openly gay pastor of the San Francisco Mission Gathering Church.
But the facts that – 1) Invisible Children’s initial seed money came from the anti-LGBT rights Caster family (which IC has repeatedly thanked in its yearly reports), 2) IC’s Uganda education program seed money also came from the Casters, and that money was used to start a program co-managed by The Family / The Fellowship – fit into an increasingly extensive body of evidence tying Invisible Children to the hard, antigay religious right.
I’ve documented much of that evidence in my recent story, KONY 2012, Invisible Children, and the Religious Right: The Evidence, and more recently researcher and Talk To Action contributor Rachel Tabachnick has further expanded the story with Invisible Children’s “Cover the Night” is April 20 – on LGBT “Day of Silence”, which questions Invisible Children’s decision to hold its “Cover the Night” campaign on the same day as the “Day of Silence”, held every year, since 1996, on April 20th to draw attention to bullying of LGBTI students in schools.
The parallels are both striking and disturbing – both events raise awareness of human rights issues, and it is a simple but easily overlooked point that students supportive of both had to make a decision as to which T-shirt to wear to school on April 20th – either a “Day of Silence” T-shirt, or one of Invisible Children’s “KONY 2012” T-shirts that, rather bizarrely, happen to feature a segmented, upside-down triangle almost identical, but for the coloring, to the rainbow-colored upside-down triangle used to symbolize LGBTI rights.
As Invisible Children has publicly protested, in an April 9, 2012 statement,
“Invisible Children believes in the equality of all people around the globe and is in no way an anti-gay organization. We stand firmly against any form of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that has been proposed in Uganda, and commend the tremendous progress the Ugandan LGBTI community has made in showing the world that gay rights are indeed human rights. We are deeply saddened and troubled by recent attempts by some to associate Invisible Children with a pernicious anti-gay worldview. We believe that hate in any form is detrimental to our mission and that the liberty of all human beings is bound together.”
But there’s much to Invisible Children beneath IC’s heavily burnished public relations face, such as the fact that Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 promotional campaign was launched, last February 23, 2012, with a rally at the Mount Soledad Cross, that has flown underneath the media radar.
Despite massive evidence to the contrary, Invisible Children denies even being an evangelizing project, but its ties to some of the most aggressive evangelical groups, organizations, and funders in the mounting global war on LGBTI rights raises disturbing questions, to say the least.