A former staffer at popular U.S.-based aid group Preemptive Love Coalition is accusing CEO and founder Jeremy Courtney and his wife Jessica of running a toxic organization where they “govern by fear,” “demand unquestioning loyalty and punish dissent, perceived or real” and “act like people who will do anything to hold onto power.”
Former head of communications Ben Irwin has published a Medium post detailing allegations of abusing staff, misleading donors and supporters alike, and misusing donor funds. Irwin says that earlier this year, “dozens” of former employees came forward to talk about the “bullying, gaslighting, threats and other forms of abuse” they experienced while working at Preemptive Love. The Preemptive Love board launched a Guidepost Solutions investigation into the claims.
The Courtneys founded Preemptive Love in 2007 and have since built it into a popular, trusted group providing relief to people in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the world. The organization has attracted endorsements from well-liked influencers like Nichole Nordeman, Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp. (One of Voskamp’s blogs raised over a million dollars for the group in 2015, but she removed the blog in 2017, citing skepticism about the amount of actual work being done). [Courtney has appeared in RELEVANT and on the RELEVANT Podcast numerous times]. According to available documents, Preemptive Love brought in $12 million in 2017.
Irwin worked for Preemptive Love for six years and, during that time, says he saw Courtney attempt to position the organization’s work as being far closer to the frontlines than it actually was. Irwin says Courtney “wanted people to think Preemptive Love was personally on the ground, even when we weren’t,” going so far as to edit footage in a way that implied he was on the ground in hotspots like Fallujah.
Irwin also alleges an abusive work environment for staff. “Dozens of former colleagues from every level of the organization, in the US and Iraq, have left because they were verbally abused or mistreated,” he writes. “I’ve seen the Courtneys mercilessly berate coworkers in front of others. At the main office in northern Iraq, the Courtneys rule with an iron fist, reportedly even deciding who is allowed to socialize with whom outside work.”
On social media, former staffer Grace Sandra offered Irwin her support, saying “The entire situation was f****d up, top to bottom. I co-sign this 100%” She says she was fired after comparing Courtney’s leadership to her “abusive husband.”
In 2019, WORLD Magazine published an article titled “Questionable Aid,” which called Preemptive Love’s own reporting into question. According to then-WORLD reporter Mindy Belz, NGOs on the ground in Turkey “had not seen evidence of a Preemptive Love team on the ground distributing food and other items,” despite the group’s claims to the contrary. Preemptive Love called those claims “false” and demanded a retraction. In response, WORLD reached out to local officials in Turkey, who they say affirmed the report.