Two veterans of last year’s Libya conflict have put together a Kickstarter project to fund what they call a “groundbreaking and unique film” about the Syria rebels — and it’s a hair’s breath away from using the online crowdfunding service to fund the resistance to Bashar Assad. The unorthodox film project, blatant boosterism for the revolution, carries a risk of death for the filmmakers, who intend it to be a flint sparking revolutions elsewhere. And those filmmakers, who describe themselves as “freedom fighters,” are a bit iffy on whether they’ll join in the fighting once they make it to Syria.
Matthew VanDyke is a former American journalist who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before going to Libya last year to participate in one. As he recounts in the video above — where VanDyke is on display manning machine guns on top of trucks and firing rifles and rockets — he fought against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces before getting taken prisoner and spending 165 days in Libyan prisons, which he describes as a “nightmare.” VanDyke says he escaped from lockup and rejoined the Libyan rebels — including his friend Bwisir, a songwriter who strummed songs on an acoustic guitar to keep the rebels’ spirits up as bullets whizzed overhead.
Their next project: go to Syria, an exceptionally dangerous place for journalists, activists or human beings in general. But they’re not exactly journalists or documentarians. Their Kickstarter pitch: “Two freedom fighters from the Libyan revolution join the Syrian uprising against Assad and capture it all on film.” Wait, what?
Is this a Kickstarter to crowdfund the revolution or to crowdfund a film about the revolution? VanDyke’s answer skirts the line. “The purpose of this project is to film in support of the rebels,” he tells Danger Room, “we do not anticipate participating in combat this time.”
Do not anticipate and at this time are powerful hedges. But from the way VanDyke and Bwisir pitch their film, they’ll be trading on their credibility from the Libya war, as their combat experience gives them “a far deeper understanding and level of interaction with the Syrian rebels than journalists ever could.” (Bwisir plans on “entertaining and improving rebel morale with his famous revolution songs, including new ones or variations of his Libya songs modified for the Syrian revolution.”) VanDyke and Bwisir plan on distributing their film for free on the internet like Invisible Children did with their KONY 2012 campaign.
All they need is $19,500 by Wednesday. They’re about $4,000 short. VanDyke and Bwisir are hoping Americans care enough about the Arab Spring to help raise awareness for the Syrian rebels and inspire “others around the world to protest for their freedom as well.” It’s your chance, they say in their sales pitch, “to become part of the Arab Spring.”
Perhaps. It’s also a good way to end up dead, as Assad has killed perhaps as many as 17,000 people since the uprising began a year and a half ago. The pitch video on VanDyke and Bwisir’s Kickstarter page portrays them as gunslingers. They might not plan on fighting. But they might need to fight once the fighting comes to them. (Which, in case you’re wondering, would be legal for VanDyke to do. Again.)
All this raises an interesting question for Kickstarter’s future. Even if the only thing VanDyke and Bwisir wield is a camera and an acoustic guitar, perhaps the next project will explicitly seek to fund an uprising. And that will raise thorny legal and policy questions about funding extremism, as there’s an uncomfortable terrorist element (of unknown size) glomming on to the anti-Assad uprising. The Patriot Act and other post-9/11 legislation gives the government wide latitude to attack the avenues of suspected terrorist finance. At what point does it start looking at Kickstarter?
Update: As of around 11:40 a.m. EST, Kickstarter announced, “Funding for this project was suspended.”