48 hours, it had a million every 30 minutes. Six days after its release, 85 million peoplehad watched the film, by then translated into 50 languages.Invisible Children found itself the sudden focus of lavish praise and scathing criticism.Effusive backing came from a host of Senators, Representatives and celebrities as wellas International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told theBBC, "They've mobilized the world." But academics and bloggers, particularly Africans,criticized the group for overstating the threat--with 150 to 200 mostly barefoot fighters,the LRA has never been weaker--while Ugandan video blogger Rosebell Kagumirebecame a Web hit herself when she attacked Invisible Children's staff for castingthemselves as "heroes rescuing African children." Invisible Children co-founder JasonRussell, who has starred in a number of the group's previous, less popular films, seemsgenuinely surprised by the furor. The film is "changing the world," he told TIME as Kony2012 approached 100 million views. At the same time, he added with equalbewilderment, "people are calling me the devil."Who are Invisible Children? Why are 100 American commandos helping local forcespursue a tiny guerrilla army in Central Africa that poses no threat to the U.S.? Did thephenomenal interest generated by Invisible Children help shape the President'sdecision to send in the troops?Stumbling upon a CauseIt is March 2003, a few days before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and three San Diegoslackers, childhood friends now wearing baseball caps and goatees, are explaining tothe camera why they are going to Africa to make a film about a 47-year civil war thathas cost 2 million lives. "We are naive kids that have not traveled a lot, and we aregoing to Sudan," says Bobby Bailey, 21. Laren Poole, 19, rambles on about how"media is life, it defines your life. So it's an obvious choice for three kids who want tofind the truth." In a voice-over, a 24-year-old Russell adds, somewhat superfluously,"None of us knew what we were doing."Russell, Poole and Bailey make it to Sudan but find no fighting. After filmingthemselves vomiting, setting anthills on fire and chopping a snake in half, they follow atrail of Sudanese refugees south to northern Uganda. When they approach the town ofGulu, a truck in front of them is shot at and two people are killed. Forced to stay inGulu, they film as thousands of children show up at nightfall and sleep on streetcorners, in a bus park, in hospital corridors. "Needless to say," narrates Russell, "wefound our story."Bailey, Poole and Russell had found the fallout of the LRA's war: tens of thousands ofchildren who wouldn't sleep at home for fear of being abducted by the rebels. The crisiswas not new. The LRA was founded in northern Uganda in 1986 to oust UgandanPresident Yoweri Museveni, whose troops tore through the north when Museveni, asoutherner, seized power that year. The LRA never seriously challenged Museveni,and the group might have remained forever obscure but for one thing: Kony is one ofthe cruelest and most twisted men ever to hold a gun. His MO runs to rape, murder,mutilation and cannibalism, and he sustains his group by pillaging villages, stealingfood and abducting children to take as soldiers and wives.Former LRA abductees describe Kony as a messianic sociopath--amiable one minute,murderous the next. Emmanuel Dada, 33, who was abducted from Obo in March 2008and forced to fight and kill for the LRA before escaping a year later, tells TIME thatKony, a preacher, had a unique take on the Bible: "Kony told us, 'The Bible says if youare going to do good, do good all your life, and if you are going to do evil, do evil allyour life. I chose evil, and that's what I will always do.'"