Today I sit down with Jason Jones, a film producer and human rights worker who has devoted himself to serving the world’s most vulnerable people, from China to Afghanistan.
“Through what we call Operation Noble Brother, we’re seeking to identify every widow and all of the orphans of our Afghan allies who were killed in action, and make sure we give them the support they need to live,” he says.
Jones is the president of the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization (H.E.R.O.) and founder of the Vulnerable People Project.
Last winter, his team delivered coal to thousands of families of former Afghan allies, Christians, Hazaras, and other minorities in Afghanistan, so they could survive the bitter winter.
His organization is maintaining safe houses for persecuted peoples under the Taliban, delivering food and medicine across Ukraine, and working to free bishops imprisoned in China.
“We always say … what did the Germans know? And when did they know it? … But the question we need to ask ourselves is what did we know about the Uyghur genocide? What did we know about the Falun Gong? When did we know it?”
Watch the full interview: https://www.theepochtimes.com/our-inaction-today-will-haunt-our-grandchildren-tomorrow-jason-jones-on-helping-the-worlds-most-vulnerable-from-afghanistan-to-china_5203010.html
Jan Jekielek: Jason Jones, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Jason Jones: Jan, it’s a privilege to be with you.
Mr. Jekielek: Jason, you have an organization that works in many parts of the world helping what you call vulnerable people. Examples that come to mind are Afghanistan, where you work right now supporting some of the hardest hit folks. People have lost family members. It’s just an amazing story to me. You’re also working with vulnerable people in other parts of the world, notably with this Catholic bishops project that you have in China. I want to talk about that. How did you get into all of this?
Mr. Jones: Thank you for the question. David Mamet, one of the greatest playwrights of the past 100 years, said that writers write for the same reason beavers gnaw on wood—because their teeth itch. I run an organization that I founded over 20 years ago to defend the vulnerable from violence, because my teeth itch. My teeth itch at the thought of children being exposed to genocide, to democide, and trapped in total war.
The idea for my organization was really birthed when I was a young soldier. I joined the army on my 17th birthday. I dropped out of high school and on my 17th birthday I joined the army. I joined the army because just a few days before my 17th birthday, my high school girlfriend rode her bicycle five miles to my house on a Saturday morning and walked up the stairs to my bedroom and woke me up with the words, “I’m pregnant.”
My mother had me when she was 16. My dream as a young boy was just that I wanted to be a father of an intact family, and that my wife and children would be happy and safe. This was my daydream, and I thought being a professional football player was how I would do it. But when I found out my high school girlfriend was pregnant, I knew that I could join the army, because a friend of mine just did it through a special program for troubled youth, which I was. I knew I qualified for that designation.
While I was in basic training, my high school girlfriend hid her pregnancy and took vitamins and wrote me letters. But about two weeks before I was to graduate and come home on a Sunday morning, I got a phone call. I was cleaning pots and pans and a friend came running into where I was in the kitchen and said, “Come out here and answer the phone. Your girlfriend’s crying.”
She was crying like I had never heard anyone cry in my life. The only way I can explain it to you is that her soul was crying. She kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry it wasn’t me.” Then, her dad grabbed the phone and said, “I know your secret, and it’s gone. I took her to get an abortion.”
A drill sergeant hung up the phone, and I punched him. Another drill sergeant grabbed me by my collar and dragged me into my captain’s office and threw me into a chair. I just kept crying saying, “Call the police. My girlfriend’s father killed my baby.” My captain, a big army ranger, had tears pouring down his eyes. Just looking at me made him cry. When I explained what happened, he looked at me confused. He said, “Why would I call the police? Abortion is legal”
I never went to church a day in my life growing up. I knew nothing about politics. This was before Google or even 24-hour cable news. I did not know in our country that it was legal to destroy the most vulnerable members of our family, the child in the womb, until I found out that my child was destroyed. I can’t express to you how shocking that was to me.
It was maybe just four months later, and I was on my first overseas deployment. I saw a father with his son who was very sick and dying when we were on a forced road march through the rural mountains of Thailand. I remember just locking eyes with this father who was holding his son who was not much younger than I was at 17. I was young and this boy was probably 13, but he looked like he weighed 60 pounds.
I asked the translator, “What’s wrong with him?” Our interpreter said, “I don’t know, but he’s dying.” The father and I locked eyes. We were in the most rural part of Thailand in the mountains. The look in that father’s eyes holding his son as he leaned up against the fence was exactly how I was still feeling.
It was at that minute I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping fathers protect their children when they are in impossible situations, because I thought I was a strong young man. I wanted to be strong. My whole life was about I’m going to be strong. I’m going to be intelligent. I’m going to be hardworking and my family will be safe. But I couldn’t protect my own child to birth.
When I saw the look in this father’s eyes, he could not save his child. I’ve really come to understand that vulnerable people are not weak people. They’re strong people placed in impossible situations. I founded my organization so that I could stand with strong people who have been in impossible situations, and so I can inspire others to stand with them. When you have enough people standing with these vulnerable communities and impossible situations, they become possible situations. Then, we can help rescue them from the catastrophes they find themselves in.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s remarkable given the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, and where relations have gone subsequently, that your organization is actually able to offer food and fuel to that country.
Mr. Jones: Yes, my work in Afghanistan, again, came with a phone call. I was fighting COVID pneumonia, and was very sick. I was lying on my couch in my home office in early August of 2021, when my phone rang and it was a young woman who used to work for me. I also make films.
It was a young actress from Hollywood who said, “One of my best friend’s mother-in-law, her husband is Afghan, and he made an anti-Taliban film. She got a death threat letter saying that when they come to Kabul, the Taliban is going to kill her. Can you save my friend’s mom?”
I said, “Let me see what I can do.” I was taking my Prednisone for pneumonia. I opened up my laptop and I grabbed my phone and I called people I knew at the State Department. I just started reaching out to people I knew everywhere, and I was able to help this woman. By the end of the first day, word spreads. I had 12 names in an Excel file.
By the end of the first week, I remember I had 576 names, and that’s how it started for me. A friend of mine who was an army captain called me, “Can you save my translator?” A pastor called me, “Can you save this small group of Christians?” By the end of the first week, we were approaching 600 people to help. Okay, if I can just get these 600 people out.
Three weeks into it, I realized I needed to hire staff and build out what we called Hope For Afghanistan. From that, we built an operation that evacuated thousands and resettled thousands. But going into the winter of last year, it was a brutal winter. COVID policy was already driving the world to the brink of the greatest famine the world has known since World War II.
You now have Afghanistan’s economy in total collapse and a tough winter coming down. It gets very cold there. We were raising money to evacuate and resettle folks, pay for visas, and pay for safe houses in neighboring countries. I looked at how much money we were raising. We raised a bit of money and I said, “How do I deploy this to do the most good?” One of my Afghan partners said, “There is mass starvation in these rural villages.” We had sent teams and they would go into villages and it would look like families were sleeping, but they were dead.
We broke it down. It cost $250 to feed a family of seven through the winter and also to get them coal. We raised a little over half-a-million for our evacuation initiative, but no countries were granting visas. I said, “Let’s switch gears. Let’s get every penny that we’ve raised out as food and coal for this winter.” We launched what we call Coal For Christmas. As a matter of fact, I have delivered more coal on Christmas than Santa Claus ever did.
Just this winter alone, 500,000 meals have been delivered by VPP [The Vulnerable People Project] since Christmas Eve, and we’ve delivered coal to communities all over Afghanistan. Oftentimes my teams are bringing coal over on donkeys through icy mountain passages. That’s our goal; to reach the ethnic minorities like the Hazara, the 30,000 Christians, but also the widows and orphans of our Afghan allies who were killed in action. They now have no one to support them. Obviously, they currently get animosity from the government now in power in Afghanistan.
Through what we call Operation Noble Brother, we are seeking to identify every widow and all of the orphans of our Afghan allies who were killed in action, and make sure we give them the support they need to live. But it all started with one phone call from a young woman who worked for me who said, “Save my friend’s mom.”
Mr. Jekielek: It’s hard to imagine how this government that has a lot of animosity towards the people you just described would let you operate there. How does that work?
Mr. Jones: The Taliban is not monolithic. One of the things I’ve come to discover as I’ve worked around the world is that when we show up on the scene, we’re looking for white hats and black hats. I don’t look for hats. I look for suffering people and I serve them whatever the risk. When you serve vulnerable communities, you become as vulnerable as they are, period.
You can even be in the United States. If you stand up to the CCP, you’re placing yourself in trouble. Enes Kanter Freedom got kicked out of the NBA, can you imagine that? He got kicked out of the NBA for speaking out against the genocide. It’s really unbelievable stuff, but this is how it works. We’re not naive. We know that there is risk with our work.
I’ve been in Sudan, nose-to-nose with Al-Qaeda. I could look at ISIS in Iraq and they could look at me. In Afghanistan, the situation on the ground is that 50 percent of the country is starving to death, 90 percent of the country is experiencing hunger, and 50 percent is fighting for their life. This is really unbelievable.
ISIS and maybe some more extreme elements of the Taliban are probably not happy with what we’re doing. But our teams are allowed to operate and to serve these communities. It is a bit of a mystery to us, but we just put our nose down and work. I’m pretty much of an open book. I’m a writer, I have a podcast, and I don’t have a filter. They know who we are, they know who I am, and they know my motive.
My motive is just really simple. My teeth itch because there are children starving to death. The fathers are looking at their children starving to death. I want to give those fathers the support they need to keep their children alive. That’s my goal. It’s not about politics. I’m not there to proselytize. I am there to keep as many children alive through the brutal winter as I can. That’s why VPP is there, and that’s why the people who work for me are doing the work that they’re doing.
Mr. Jekielek: It would be incredibly bad form for the governing bodies there to say, “Sorry, we’re not going to let you deliver these things.” Are some of these specific people that you’re aiding being watched by the government or persecuted in some way?
Mr. Jones: Definitely persecuted, yes. There are people that we have to support, and when we deliver food to them, it’s a little tricky. Most definitely, yes. We always look to serve the most vulnerable. We start at the bottom with, “Who is starving to death?”
Sometimes other groups will say, “Why are you going to these rural areas?” Because they’re dying. About 10 percent of the village has already died, so that’s where we are starting. I even make that clear to our partners on the ground sometimes. They are used to dealing with Western NGOs who like clout, and who like influence.
When people call me and they start bragging about who they’re close to, I just say, “Yes, we don’t help you. We’re the Vulnerable People Project. We’re not the wealthy and connected grifter project. There are a lot of other organizations that you can reach out to that get excited about powerful people helping to grift with them. That is not our mission.”
If you go to our website, thegreatcampaign.org, you can look at the people we serve by paying for surgeries and delivering medicine. These are the people that weren’t even being reached when the U.S. was there. That’s just my mission.
I look to the image of The Pietà, this beautiful work of art of the blessed Virgin Mary with her son draped across her lap. As a Catholic, I see that as the second person of the Trinity—God, the word of life, the creator—who is lifeless across a creature’s lap, a creature out of all eternity who was created to bring God to man. But you have a weak creature holding the creator. That’s our work.
We are weak. I am a weak instrument. I wish the people that I served had somebody more capable than me to serve them. It’s embarrassing sometimes, because they’re so smart, they’re so virtuous, they’re so talented, they’re so long-suffering, they’re so kind, and they got me.
I’m sorry. I wish you had somebody smarter than me, more connected than me, more influential than me, but I’m what you got, and it’s a little embarrassing. These people that we support are so noble, they’re so hardworking, and they’re so brave. They might be the poorest people in the world, but they’re also the most impressive and most beautiful people in the world.
Mr. Jekielek: With these kinds of impossible situations, you have to try and see what happens, and that’s what you’ve been doing, correct?
Mr. Jones: Yes. They’re not impossible. I just tell my team, there is no impossible situation. We have problems that seem impossible, but they’re not. We have to stop and think, and we have to have fortitude. We have to have manageable goals that bring us into the right direction.
Write that press release, get that news story, raise the money you need, and then successfully distribute it. I was in the infantry in the army. When you’re in an ambush, when you’re surrounded by the enemy and it’s chaos and you smell human flesh and there are bullets flying and bombs going off and you can’t see your hand in front of your face and you’re scared, you are trained in an ambush situation to shoot the target in front of you and keep moving until there are no more targets. I tell my team, we save the life in front of us and we don’t stop moving until there are no lives to save. But that’s not going to happen.
No matter how confusing it is, no matter how fearful we are, no matter how hopeless it seems, our job is just to save the life in front of us. That one life. We just had a notable rescue that got international media attention and my friend said, “Did you feel good?” I have to say, to be honest, I didn’t feel good. I just didn’t feel bad that day. Because we always know who we didn’t rescue today. We know how many people are starving to death today, but maybe that day I just didn’t feel so bad.
Mr. Jekielek: Talk about impossible situations.
Mr. Jones: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: The Vatican has a deal with the Chinese Communist Party around ordaining bishops. A lot of people don’t know about this, maybe I’ll get you to reprise it for me. There is an official state Catholic Church, and there is the official Catholic Church. What a bizarre reality.
Mr. Jones: It’s a bizarre reality.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re trying to help these persecuted Catholic bishops in this structure, and there is still cooperation. It’s hard to imagine how this could be possible.
Mr. Jones: It’s confusing, isn’t it? One of the things I always try to express to people, the vulnerable are not always poor. Sometimes they’re wealthy people. Sometimes the wealthy are the snow at the top of the hill seen from the valley. If you look at China right now, the CCP has convicted Jimmy Lai, a Catholic layman, very prominent and very wealthy, who will probably die in prison. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rome has been silent.
You have Cardinal Zen. I am an American lay Catholic in the United States, but Cardinal Zen is someone I’ve admired greatly for years. Many of us hoped that he would be Pope. It wasn’t until the passing of Pope Benedict that he was even able to get a brief audience with Pope Francis. Cardinal Zen is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the CCP’s persecution of bishops.
We have seven bishops that are sitting and rotting in black prison sites. Some of them are rumored to have been killed. We have just countless thousands of Catholic lay people who are rotting away in CCP prisons. They become very sophisticated in how they round people up and how they disappear them. Of course, in the West, there’s not a peep.
But the silence of Pope Francis, and the silence of the hierarchy of the church is quite scandalous. Scandal means stumbling block. I always tell my team, we’re going to pile up these stumbling blocks and stand on them and shout to the world. In many ways, the silence of Pope Francis can be our megaphone.
Why has Pope Francis been silent on the persecution of the Falun Gong? Why is he even silent on this great genocide of the Uyghurs, an ethnic and religious minority, with 3 million in concentration camps? It was just six centuries ago in history that Christians were suffering a great genocide. There are unimaginable evils, like live organ harvesting. It’s unspeakable and unimaginable.
Pope Francis has never said the word Uyghur aloud—never said the word aloud. We always say, “What did the Germans know and when did they know it?” Actually, they didn’t know much. Of course they didn’t. They lived within a tyrannical regime without mass communication. What they knew was all rumors that could probably be easily dismissed.
The question we need to ask ourself is what did we know about the Uyghur genocide? What did we know about Falun Gong? When did we know it? What did we know about American corporations using slave labor to manufacture their products? If we were to put a blue light, metaphorically speaking, throughout all of our homes, it would be a crime scene. With our electronics, our clothing, the cotton in our clothing, we would have blood all over our houses, and we know it.
The thing is that we know it. We know it. I’m not saying that the guy who wakes up every morning, drops off his kids at school, and drives down to the firehouse, has to organize to free the Uyghurs, or to free our bishops who have disappeared. What I want to know is why the hierarchy of my church is virtue signaling on popular issues like global warming and the rainbow flag issues all the time? Why do they never mention the Uyghurs? Why can’t they fight for their own?
Jesus Christ said, “Even the Gentiles, even they love their own.” Are we worse? Are we worse than the pre-Christian revelation pagans, the Gentiles, that don’t even remember their own? Are we embarrassed to remember our own? People will often commend me for advocating for other ethnic and religious minorities, but they look at me crossways when I stand up for my own. If I’m not willing to fight for Catholic bishops that are imprisoned by the CCP, you should trust my motives on why I’m fighting them for the Uyghurs.
Is it to be liked? Is it to show how broad-minded and intolerant I am? Is it virtue signaling? No, when I fight for people I don’t look at their religion and I don’t look at their ethnicity. It’s the idea that people are being pummeled, thrashed, brutalized, tortured, imprisoned, and killed, while I live in a world of unimaginable comfort and luxury with access to all sorts of technologies.
I have opportunities to speak out for them and I’m not going to? Because there’s some great streaming series I got to watch at home? No, no, no, no, no. I’m going to fight for the Uyghurs. I’m going to fight for Falun Gong, but you can bet I’m going to fight for my own too.
I’m going to fight for my co-religionists. I’m going to fight for Catholic priests. I’m going to fight for Catholic bishops. I’m going to fight for a Catholic laity like Jimmy Lai, and by God’s grace, he will not die in prison. I’m sure he is fine with it. I’m sure he’s sitting there praying and getting closer to God, but that’s his business.
My business as a Catholic lay man in America is to get him out of prison and to get our bishops out of prison and to bring down the CCP because the CCP is a menace—first to the people of China, all of the people of China, and then to its neighbors, and now the world.
Mr. Jekielek: Please explain to me how you think it’s possible for the Catholic Church to have made this deal with the regime?
Mr. Jones: I bet you already know the answer. We know how that’s possible. It was the disgraced former Cardinal McCarrick, a known pervert and predator, who brokered a deal with the regime that deals in using sex to blackmail people. You send the most blackmailable human being in God’s creation to broker a deal with the CCP. We don’t know the terms of the deal. We hear that it’s 1 or 2 billion. But here’s what I know. When I spoke at the International Religious Freedom Conference last year, Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Blinken condemned the CCP.
Cardinal Dolan criticized the United States, but was silent about the CCP. The only speaker at the International Religious Freedom Conference that was silent two years ago was the representative from the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]. Pope Francis has never once mentioned the Uyghur genocide. The CCP can’t make its own bishops.
Could you imagine if Donald Trump just started making bishops? I’d rather have Antifa start ordaining bishops than the CCP. This is just really unbelievable stuff. Silence. There is a famous scene, it’s speculation, of a Chinese woman talking to Pope Francis in an audience, and he slaps her, a famous scene.
I talked to a journalist who said she was asking him why he had been silent on the Uyghur genocide. I don’t know if that was the case. I do know he swatted a Chinese woman away who was pleading with him over something. I also know that our church was silent on the genocide of the Assyrians and Chaldeans at the hands of ISIS in Iraq.
I was there documenting it. I had a Chaldean priest grabbing me with tears in his eyes saying, “Why is the Pope beaming images of wild animals on St. Peter’s Square, when he was bringing attention to global warming with Al Gore, and yet not beaming the images of my children who are being murdered by ISIS?”
I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Has the West forgotten us?” I had to tell him, “Father, the West doesn’t even know you exist.” This is sorrowful. There are only two ways to order the world. You ignore, trample, and shunt aside the vulnerable, or you order your community to serve the vulnerable.
It could be your family. Does your family push aside the member that struggles with a physical disability or a mental illness or an addiction? Do you push them aside, trample them and abandon them, or do you order your family to serve them? It’s the same thing with a town, a nation, a state or our family, the human family.
There is no middle ground. Either we order our communities to advocate and serve those who are most vulnerable or we push them aside, trample them, abuse them, and exploit them. Right now, it appears in the most sad times in human history, we are exploiting, pushing aside, trampling, and abandoning. This will only end in catastrophe for our posterity. I’m just racing to save the world so my posterity can live in peace. That’s it. That’s how I see my work.
Mr. Jekielek: One person at a time.
Mr. Jones: One human being at a time.
Mr. Jekielek: I was coming to the same conclusion that sadly we are less and less ordering communities to help the most vulnerable. It’s a good way of looking at the world. You’re also doing work in Ukraine, of all places.
Actually, the light is very much being cast on Ukraine. At the same time, very few people really know what’s going on over there. But you know what’s going on over there through your project. Please tell me about that.
Mr. Jones: Again, we’re not looking to be do-gooders, gallivanting around the world looking to throw out lifelines. We’re always called upon, and we got requests early on after the Russian invasion. Our success in evacuating people from Afghanistan got a lot of international media attention. There were NHL players whose fathers and mothers were stuck behind Russian lines and others who had asked us to help evacuate their family members.
I had no previous involvement in Ukraine, and it was sort of the same thing. I opened up my laptop, I picked up my phone, and I saw what I could do to help evacuate family members of people who reached out to me. We were able to get those family members out. That led to us buying vehicles for groups that were helping us evacuate people. Then, that led to us providing food, and then we discovered this great need for insulin.
That’s something I’ve learned, that insulin is very important in times of crisis. We bought a refrigerated truck in Hungary, and since the very first weeks of the invasion, we had our insulin truck going all over Ukraine. We partnered with an organization called Solve.Care that asked us to sponsor 700 beds for young orphan girls that were sent to the West alone, and really were being captured by human traffickers and sex traffickers. We helped build those shelters.
We partnered with Ryan Hendrickson. He wanted to found a new organization. He partnered with us and then we launched this new organization through our Olive Grove Project, where we plant olive trees with the new organizations that we help create. Ryan Hendrickson with his Tip Of The Spear landmine removal now is removing landmines from the front lines. Thousands of landmines have been removed. We bought landmine removal robots, the most sophisticated landmine detectors that can even detect landmines that don’t have metal in them.
For Ukraine, I want to be very clear, I advocate and have advocated from the very beginning for a negotiated peace. The world has been silent on why there is no one calling for a peace agreement. Why did General Milley come out—I hope this isn’t too controversial—why did he come out in the first weeks of the war and say, “Our goal is not victory, but a quagmire?”
I don’t see that using the people of Ukraine as a means to our end is virtuous. I can’t see that in the long run this in any way advances our national interest. Maybe it’s in the interest of the military industrial complex, and maybe in the interest of these big entities that profit off of war reconstruction.
I’m just thinking of the Ukrainian folks who are just trying to farm and their tractors are hitting landmines and artillery and killer drones are flying into their buildings. But even there, with our work in Ukraine, it’s like we’re doing what other people won’t do. We’re removing landmines from active battlefields so farmers can farm. These farmers were unbelievably courageous. They never stopped farming, and Ryan Hendrickson was there clearing their farms so that they could farm.
Now, as Russia has done their tactical retreats, and the military just continues to do the mission of the military, the civilians then flood back in. Now, we have just women and children losing their life and their limbs with all these landmines that were left by the Russians. Ryan Hendrickson, this Green Beret who had actually had his leg blown off in Afghanistan, wants to go in there and remove landmines to help fathers keep their children’s bodies intact and keep them alive. I’m all for that.