Having been fired from Preemptive Love, the Courtneys are back with a new venture.
Months after being fired from Preemptive Love, Jeremy and Jessica Courtney returned to Instagram to claim they were treated unjustly and to announce their latest venture, Humanite, which they’re billing as an aid organization led by refugees.
(Note: This post was originally published in September 2022. It was updated in February 2023 to reflect recent developments and changes to Humanite’s website.)
The Preemptive Love board parted ways with the Courtneys in January 2022, after dozens of former employees came forward, accusing them of abuse. In addition to mistreating staff (which Jeremy has since dismissed as being perhaps a bit too “curt” with some people), the Courtneys at times exaggerated their work or lied about how they used donor funds. (Here are more details of the Courtneys’ misconduct.)
According to Jeremy’s LinkedIn profile, the Courtneys started building Humanite the same month they were fired from Preemptive Love.
So what, if anything has changed since the Courtneys left? Will Humanite be any different? Or will they repeat the same mistakes under a new banner?
A refugee-led aid organization?
One of the most noteworthy things about Humanite is its claim to be led “by refugees and war survivors.”
Jeremy and Jessica are, of course, not refugees—though that hasn’t stopped them from comparing their experience being fired to that of refugees losing their home to war. They also haven’t been as close to active warfare as they want you to believe.
The basis for the “founded by refugees” claim appears to be the fact that they are launching Humanite with a handful of displaced families who’ve remained loyal to the Courtneys since they left Preemptive Love.
What remains to be seen is whether “founded by refugees” has any real impact on decision-making or team structures or power dynamics at Humanite. Or whether it’s just a marketing gimmick designed to shield the Courtneys from accusations of white savior-ism.
Judging from the experience of dozens of former staff, some of whom have spoken publicly, the Courtneys aren’t ones to share decision-making power with anyone.
Humanite’s problematic relationship with the truth
An early version of Humanite’s homepage claimed “decades of impact across 11 countries and 2M people served.” After being criticized for stretching the truth, this wording was tweaked: “decades of combined impact across many countries and 2M people served.”
Any version of this claim deserves scrutiny.
- “Decades of impact” | Preemptive Love was founded in 2008, 14 years ago. Prior to that, the Courtneys were evangelical missionaries in Turkey.
- “11 countries” | The Courtneys live in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. They’ve been to Syria and Lebanon a handful of times, as well as Mexico and Colombia. (Preemptive Love has funded other aid organizations’ work in these countries). But how did the Courtneys arrive at the number 11? In the past, Jeremy has also tried to claim impact in countries like North Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan — despite having never set foot in them. Sometimes his claims are based on the flimsiest of pretexts. For example, he’s claimed to have worked in North Korea on the basis of attending a peace conference across the border in South Korea in 2017.
- “2M people served” | If you count every box of food distributed using money given to Preemptive Love, you can probably arrive at a number like this. But the vast majority of this work was done by local partners—partners the Courtneys almost never acknowledged. Jeremy and Jessica themselves were nowhere near most of this work when it was happening.
Taking credit for other people’s work
Almost none of the photos on Humanite’s website when it first launched actually belonged to Humanite.
Most were taken from — and legally owned by — Preemptive Love. They show work funded by Preemptive Love donors, not Humanite donors.
Some weren’t even from Preemptive Love originally. The image below, depicting a man giving a drink of water to a detainee, belongs to IHAO, an Iraq-based NGO that was funded by Preemptive Love until the Courtneys cut them loose. Neither the Courtneys nor any PLC staff took part in this particular aid mission.
The photo below, showing a child holding a bag of bread, is from a former partner in a rebel-controlled part of Syria, which Preemptive Love hasn’t funded for some time.
After Humanite was criticized for this practice, the Courtneys quietly scrubbed the photos from former partners that they’d used without permission. Some of the photos owned by Preemptive Love remain, though the Courtneys claim they’re used with permission. Only Preemptive Love can confirm whether or not this is true.
This is part of a larger pattern with the Courtneys: walking right up to the line between the truth and a lie, then stretching that line to its breaking point. In the past, Jeremy has doctored videos to make it look like he was in Fallujah when he wasn’t, or closer to actual danger in Mosul than he really was.
It looks like the Courtneys are following the a similar playbook with Humanite.
Even less accountability and transparency
At Preemptive Love, Jeremy and Jessica Courtney were sometimes accused of stacking the board with personal friends so they could maintain control. It was true — but only to a point.
At the time of Jeremy and Jessica’s departure, at least two of the five board members were close personal friends of the Courtneys: Michelle Fisher (the former board chair) and Jason “Propaganda” Petty. While this conflict of interest was problematic, ultimately it wasn’t enough to tip the scales in the Courtneys’ favor.
Jeremy and Jessica seem determined not to repeat the same “mistake” with Humanite. The entire board of directors consists of five people, two of whom are the Courtneys. The rest are longtime personal friends. A separate board of advisors is comprised entirely of former Preemptive Love staff who remained loyal to Jeremy and Jessica.
Transparency and accountability, it seems, are not in the cards for Humanite.
Humanite: same story, different name?
So what should donors make of Jeremy and Jessica Courtney’s latest venture?
Humanite promises to do a lot of the same work as Preemptive Love: feed refugees, start refugee-owned businesses, provide medical care, etc. In fact, their messaging is so similar, it’s hard not to see Humanite as an effort to peel off donors from the organization the Courtneys once led.
But there is another reason to be wary of Humanite:
The Courtneys have shown no signs of change since leaving Preemptive Love.
I worked with Jeremy and Jessica for more than five years. Traveled with them. Spent time in their home. Got caught up in their vision. I also witnessed firsthand the damage they left in their wake.
The Courtneys, for their part, flatly deny any wrongdoing. They insist they’re the real victims of the story, ignoring the accounts of 34 staff who came forward. Ignoring evidence shared with investigators and made public here. They have expressed no remorse. No acknowledgement of the ways they abused staff, crushed dissent, and at times misled donors.
They have, so far, shown no recognition of the harm they caused.
All of which makes it reasonable to expect more of the same from Humanite.
There are, of course, more unanswered questions—questions that would go a long way toward establishing what kind of organization Humanite is and whether it can be trusted:
- What kind of structures are being put in place at Humanite? The Courtneys talk a lot about making “upgrades” and “reinforcements” to their newest venture. The question is, who are these “upgrades” for? Are they meant to protect the integrity of the organization? Or preserve the Courtney’s power? In addition to the lack of a truly independent board, Humanite refuses to disclose their staff, citing unspecified “security” concerns. (This is usually not a good sign.)
- Does Humanite demonstrate any financial transparency? What mechanisms will be put in place to prevent executives from misusing donor money, or deceptively categorizing marketing expenses as program costs in order to artificially manipulate their overhead ratio—something the Courtneys did more than once? (As of February 2023, Humanite has yet to make any financial disclosures.)
- Will Humanite acknowledge partners who work in places they can’t go themselves? Or will the Courtneys continue to speak as if they are the ones with “boots on the ground”? If you really want to challenge the colonialist power dynamics of the humanitarian aid world, you could start by centering local organizations in the stories you tell.
Time will tell whether donors should trust Humanite. To be sure, even the most problematic organizations are capable of doing some amount of good. But that doesn’t absolve them of their problematic behavior.
For now, all signs point to more of the same from the Courtneys—mistreating staff, misleading donors, lining their own pockets — this time under the guise of being a refugee-led organization.