“Sam Baceli,” the man who directed the hate-filled Innocence of Muslims that’s inflamed the Middle East and inspired the violence that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, has been unmasked.
And while he claimed he was Jewish and held Israeli citizenship, he’s a really a Coptic Christian from El Cerrito with a criminal record for fraud and backed by another Southern Californian with a lengthy record of connections with right wing militias.
From Gillian Flaccus and Stephen Brau of the Associated Press:
The self-proclaimed director of “Innocence of Muslims” initially claimed a Jewish and Israeli background. But others involved in the film said his statements were contrived as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was a southern Californian Coptic Christian with a checkered past.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad.
The movie has been blamed for inflaming mobs that attacked U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya this week as well as U.S. Embassy in Yemen on Thursday.
Nakoula denied he had directed the film, though he said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that the AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where Nakoula was located.
But the U.S. Justice Department disagrees, telling the Associated Press today that “Nakoula is filmmaker of anti-Muslim movie blamed for violence.”
And then there’s that criminal record
Wired’s Danger Room blog got the goods on Nagoula, specifically, documents from his federal criminal record.
Noah Shachtman reports:
He went by many names, the man who helped produce “The Innocence of Muslims,” the inflammatory video now roiling the Middle East: Matthew Nekola; Ahmed Hamdy; Amal Nada; Daniel K. Caresman; Kritbag Difrat; Sobhi Bushra; Robert Bacily; Nicola Bacily; Thomas J. Tanas; Erwin Salameh; Mark Basseley Youssef; Yousseff M. Basseley; Malid Ahlawi; even P.J. Tobacco.
But his real name — the one he used when he was sent to prison for bank fraud — was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. His habit of adopting other identities earned him a 21-month sentence in federal prison. During 2008 and 2009, court documents [PDF] reviewed by Danger Room. . .show that Nakoula again and again opened bank accounts with fake names and stolen social security numbers. Then Nakoula would deposit bogus checks into the new accounts and withdraw money before the checks bounced. The scheme worked for more than a year, until he was indicted in June of 2009. Eventually, he was ordered to stay off of the internet unless he got his probation officer’s permission, and pay a $794,700 fine.
Yet Nakoula’s fakery apparently continued. Actors hired to perform in “Innocence” say they had no idea the movie they were making would be so deliberately offensive to Muslims; in fact, many of the most provocative lines were overdubbed after the fact. Basseley swears he’s not “Sam Bacile,” the director and writer of the movie; he just happens to have a similar name, and coincidentally was found at the address tied to the cellphone of “Bacile.”
The producer who sells insurance
Sam Klein, identified as a producer of the film, is another character with a checkered past.
From Adam Nagourney of the New York Times:
The history of the film — who financed it; how it was made; and perhaps most important, how it was translated into Arabic and posted on YouTube to Muslim viewers — was shrouded Wednesday in tales of a secret Hollywood screening; a director who may or may not exist, and used a false name if he did; and actors who appeared, thanks to computer technology, to be traipsing through Middle Eastern cities. One of its main producers, Steve Klein, a Vietnam veteran whose son was severely wounded in Iraq, is notorious across California for his involvement with anti-Muslim actions, from the courts to schoolyards to a weekly show broadcast on Christian radio in the Middle East.
Yet as much of the world was denouncing the violence that had spread across the Middle East, Mr. Klein — an insurance salesman in Hemet, Calif., a small town two hours east of here — proclaimed the video a success at portraying what he has long argued was the infamy of the Muslim world, even as he chuckled at the film’s amateur production values.
“We have reached the people that we want to reach,” he said in an interview. “And I’m sure that out of the emotion that comes out of this, a small fraction of those people will come to understand just how violent Muhammad was, and also for the people who didn’t know that much about Islam. If you merely say anything that’s derogatory about Islam, then they immediately go to violence, which I’ve experienced.”
So who is Klein?
Well, there’s this, from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Over the years, Klein has worked with a variety of far-right groups, including the Church at Kaweah, which the SPLC lists as a hate group. The Church of Kaweah is a secretive cohort of militant Christian fundamentalists in California who are preparing for war and who believe that churches should avoid government regulation and answer only to God. Kaweah has its own militia, headed by David “Dutch” Johnson (aka Dutch Joens), a longtime antigovernment veteran of the militia movement. Johnson looks forward to the battle that will begin when “Dictator Obongo” institutes martial law. He has called Mexicans savages “who can’t run their own government” and recommended sending guns to drug cartels to “decrease the excess population in Mexico so they don’t come north.”
Klein also conducts drills with the Christian Guardians, a San Francisco-based group headed by Andrew Saqib James, an American-born Pakistani Christian who calls Islam “a giant crime syndicate” and hopes his group will become “the most feared militia in the world.” The Church of Kaweah’s website has advertised joint trainings with the Guardians, describing them as a “unique system of learning how to survive the Muslim Brotherhood as we teach the Christian Morality of Biblical Warfare.”
A story about lies and overdubs
Another set of revelations concerns the role of the actors who starred in the film.
Turns out they thought they were shooting a low-budget sword-and-sand saga, and many of the words they appear to speak on the screen were actually dubbed in after the shooting was done.
The Gawker’s Adrian Chen reports:
Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif., has a small role in the Muhammed movie as a woman whose young daughter is given to Muhammed to marry. But in a phone interview this afternoon, Garcia told us she had no idea she was participating in an offensive spoof on the life of Muhammed when she answered a casting call through an agency last summer and got the part.
The script she was given was titled simply Desert Warriors.
“It was going to be a film based on how things were 2,000 years ago,” Garcia said. “It wasn’t based on anything to do with religion, it was just on how things were run in Egypt. There wasn’t anything about Muhammed or Muslims or anything.”
In the script and during the shooting, nothing indicated the controversial nature of the final product, now called Muslim Innocence. Muhammed wasn’t even called Muhammed; he was “Master George,” Garcia said. The word “Muhammed” was dubbed over in post-production, as were essentially all other offensive references to Islam and Muhammed.
So who bankrolled the film?
While “Baceli” had claimed he he’d made a $5 million production with the aid of a hundred wealthy American Jewish supporters, there’s little evidence of that, and nothing in the extended trailer we watched showed any signs that such a sum was involved.
Klein offered this to Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic:
He said that there are about 15 people associated with the making of the film, “Nobody is anything but an active American citizen. They’re from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, they’re some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are Evangelical.”
Many of the desert scenes were shot indoors against a blue screen, with the desert background added in during editing — as became obvious in several scenes where actors who were depicted as walking across the sand somehow left no footprints.
The Los Angeles Times reported this morning on more background on the film:
FilmL.A. Inc. confirmed that the movie was shot in Los Angeles County in August 2011, but the president of the film agency said he didn’t know what the project’s intent was.
“By law, the content of film projects need not be disclosed in order to apply for or receive a film permit from FilmL.A. Neither FilmL.A. nor its government partners had any foreknowledge of this project’s content, and the release of a film permit can in no way be construed as endorsement or approval of this film,” said a statement from president Paul Audley.
A Duarte-based Christian nonprofit, Media for Christ, submitted the request for the film permit, according to Duarte City Manager Darryl George.
The producers also used Blue Cloud studios in Santa Clarita, also known as Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, as the film’s location, George said. The ranch has a popular “Middle Eastern town” set that has been featured in several movies and television shows.
And again from Danger Room:
In the summer of 2011, Nakoula started casting actors for “Innocence,” then titled “Desert Warriors,” a film ostensibly about life in ancient Egypt. In reality, it was a bloody anti-Muslim propaganda movie. The pseudonyms from Nakoula also kept coming. L.A.-based actress Cindy Garcia, who played a role as the mother in the video, listed a “Sam Bassiel” as the film’s producer on her resume. Crew member Jimmy Israel was given the name “Abnob Nakoula Basseley” for registration with the Screen Actors Guild. A company behind the casting, called Pharaoh Voice, Inc., listed a “Youssef M. Basseley” as its president. Another name, “Alan Roberts,” was listed as director in the casting call.
So where does that leave us?
We have a filmmaker who lied about just about everything, a producer with ties to racist groups, and a film that seems intentionally designed to produced precisely the kind of events that are now unfolding in the Middle East.
What we their purposes? Klein gave some hints to other question in an interview with Phil Willon of the Los Angeles Times:
“When we originally did this, the movie was only supposed to show in Hollywood,” Klein said. “We were after a very small, particular crocodile. I did what I did. I was going after a small group of specific people .… I did not expect violence.”
He said he did not “give a darn” if it offended Muslims.
The intent of the film, he said, was to help identify people who sympathized with Osama bin Laden and terrorists.
“I am not responsible for the actions that they go out and do,” Klein said. “Why would I be bothered? I told the truth. I have told the truth. I will continue to tell the truth.”
And what’s next?
Given the filmmaker’s criminal past and record of lies and his producer’s militia ties, we suspect they’ll both have need of lawyers — especially given the involvement of the Department of Justice.
They’ve sown their dragon’s teeth, and now the whirlwind’s being reaped.
And the deeper tragedy is that “Baceli’s” own innocent co-religionists in Egypt may pay for his own sins.