By JASON STRAZIUSO and RODNEY MUHUMUZA, Associated Press
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The young American boy sums up what his father does for a living: "You stop the bad guys from being mean."
Yes, the father says, but who are the bad guys? The child thinks, then offers a guess: "Star Wars people?"
Though half a world away from this preschooler's American upbringing, the truth is far more sinister.
The bad guys are Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, a brutal Central Africa militia that has kidnapped thousands of children and forced them to become sex slaves, fight as child soldiers and kill family members during a 26-year campaign of terror.
The father-son conversation is part of a 30-minute video that has rocketed through cyberspace since its release Monday on YouTube. It had been viewed more than 40 million times by late Thursday, propelled by celebrity tweets and fans on Facebook and Twitter, especially teens and young adults.
The video's premise is that people here in America — and the world beyond — have the power to stop Kony, if only they are willing to spread the word through the power of social media. Called Kony 2012, the goal is to see Kony captured by the end of this year.
The father, Jason Russell, is the co-founder of Invisible Children, an anti-LRA advocacy group, and the film's director. At one point in the film, he asks his son, Gavin, what he thinks should be done about Kony.
"Stop him," Gavin responds.
Then, in one of the video's many slick moments, the boy's words are quickly echoed by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, where Kony is wanted for crimes against humanity.
"Stop him," Luis Moreno-Ocampo says on camera, "and (that will) solve all the problems."
Despite an International Criminal Court arrest warrant and the deployment last fall of 100 U.S. Special Forces to four Central African countries to help advise in the fight against Kony, until now, few Americans knew who he was.
To those 99 percent, Russell poses this challenge: Make Kony and his crimes so "famous" that governments view it as imperative that the mission to capture him succeeds.
Celebrities — and teens — have quickly joined the cause.
"Even if its 10 minutes ... Trust me, you NEED to know about this!" tweeted Rhianna.
"This is not a joke. This is serious. TOGETHER we can (hash)MakeAChange and (hash)STOPKRONY -- help another kid in need!" Justin Bieber tweeted.
"Have supported with $'s and voice and will not stop," tweeted Oprah.
Data collected by YouTube show the video is most popular with boys and girls ages 13 to 17, as well as young men ages 18 to 24.
Invisible Children's critics say the San Diego-based group oversimplifies a complex issue. In a rebuttal posted on its website, the group acknowledges the video overlooks many nuances but says it sought to explain the conflict "in an easily understandable format." It called the film a "first entry point."
"It's something we can all agree on regardless of your political background," said Ben Keesey, the group's 28-year-old chief executive officer. "There are few times where problems are black and white. There's lots of complicated stuff in the world, but Joseph Kony and what he's doing is black and white."
The LRA began its attacks in Uganda in the 1980s, when Kony sought to overthrow the government. Since being pushed out of Uganda several years ago, the militia has terrorized villages in Congo, the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan.
"Kony is a monster. He deserves to be prosecuted and hanged," Col. Felix Kulayigye, spokesman for Uganda's military, told The Associated Press.
Because of the intensified hunt for Kony, LRA forces — once thousands strong — have diminished in number, splitting into smaller groups that can travel the jungle more easily. Experts estimate the militia now has about 250 fighters.
Attacks continue, with victims mutilated by machetes, their faces slashed into grotesque shapes. Women are raped and killed. Young girls are forced into sexual slavery.
Jolly Okot was abducted in 1986. The then-18-year-old could speak English, so she was valuable to the militants, who also forced her into sex slavery.