Whatever Happened To The Man Behind Kony 2012, Jason Russell?

Jason Russell's viral Kony 2012 campaign video saw the campaigner rise to superstardom and fall from grace again in record time. The video attempted to draw attention to the atrocities committed by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony but ultimately had mixed results. The Lord's Resistance Army leader is guilty of a number of horrendous crimes, and his soldiers are known to kidnap children, forcing them to fight for their cause.

Although Russell drew in many supporters with his campaign, including a number of celebrities, the press eventually became preoccupied with critiquing Russell himself. It was argued that the film's narrative was dangerously simplistic and had a white savior-y vibe that left a bad taste in the mouth. Skeptics also questioned why only a third of the funds raised actually got sent to Uganda. Doubt was cast on Russell's supposedly good intentions — as well as his understanding of Ugandan politics.

Buried under a mountain of criticism, Russell reached a crisis point when he had a very public psychotic breakdown that put him in hospital, per Insider. The activist has mostly kept out of the spotlight since then — but his nonprofit, Invisible Children is still in action today, creating new charity projects across Africa.

Jason Russell's psychotic break

Jason Russell quickly discovered some of the downsides of going viral. His video was a huge success in terms of pure numbers — it reached 100 million views in just six days — however, the activist soon faced an overwhelming amount of criticism with severe consequences for his mental health (via The Guardian).

Dehydrated, tired, and stressed out by the sudden overwhelming pressure, Russell experienced an acute psychotic episode, a temporary breakdown that saw him strip down to his underwear in public while rambling incoherently. Footage of the incident later circulated on the internet, overshadowing Russell's charitable work in a humiliating fashion. Roaming the streets of San Diego, Russell removed his underpants and began banging the pavement with his fists before he was finally taken away. He later told Oprah, he had been hitting the ground so hard he dented his wedding ring (via USA Today). Police responded to calls from concerned bystanders but Russell was not charged with anything and was instead sent to the hospital to recover.

While Russell's breakdown seemed like an ignominious end to his public career, he did later appear on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" to explain his psychosis to the world. In the interview, he described his breakdown as an out-of-body experience, in which he had no control over his own actions.

Russell's work today

Following Jason Russell's very public meltdown, the campaigner has rarely been back in the news, however, his work as an activist has continued. In 2016, he reemerged for a TEDx talk in which he encouraged listeners to follow their dreams and spoke about being bullied as a child. He also produced a children's book with his partner Danica, explaining "The ABCs of Activism."

For now, Russell's nonprofit, Invisible Children, is still in operation and it has seen some successes with its Kony LRA campaign, although the warlord has never yet been caught. The group claims to have rescued a fair amount of abducted children, reuniting hundreds of kids with their families. Thankfully, Joseph Kony himself is not that much of a threat anymore, as his forces have diminished by as much as 90% over the last decade, according to Invisible Children, and the U.S. has reduced its operation to catch him.

With less to do today, in April 2022, Invisible Children announced they were launching a new peace-building project in the Sudan and the Central African Republic. The initiative is aimed at safeguarding innocent people from security threats in the region.