BEHIND THE FILM
Mohammed Movie’s Mystery Director
The man allegedly behind the film that sparked deadly protests in the Middle East has a sordid criminal past. By Christine Pelisek.
Update: The man behind the incendiary film, Innocence of Muslims, has a criminal record that includes a narcotics conviction. According to a source close to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was arrested by the L.A. Country Sheriff's Department on March 27, 1997 and charged with intent to manufacture methamphetamine. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on Nov. 3, 1997 to one year in county jail and three years probation. The D.A.’s office said he violated probation on April 8, 2002, and was re-sentenced to another year in county jail. Nakoula had been registered to vote as a Democrat from 2002-2008, according to the L.A. County Registrar Recorder’s office. In April of 2008, he changed his political affiliation to American Independent. Nakoula’s identity and involvement in the film was confirmed to the Associated Press by federal law-enforcement officials. Nakoula, who lives near Los Angeles, had claimed to numerous media outlets that the man who created and directed the film was an Israeli real estate developer named Sam Bacile. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Nakoula was a Coptic Christian convicted of federal bank fraud charges in 2010.
In late June, a Los Angeles law enforcement agency was tipped off that an anti-Muslim film called Innocence of Bin Laden was going to be shown at a theater in Hollywood. Law enforcement officers were sent to the Vine Theater on Hollywood Boulevard to make sure nothing went wrong. “Whenever you have something like that, people get riled up,” said a law enforcement source who didn’t want to be identified. “You don’t know who your audience is going to be.”
As it ultimately happened, the audience ended up being shocked Islamic extremists half a world away, who were sparked to violence in Egypt and Libya this week after a 13-minute preview of the amateurish movie, renamed Innocence of Muslims, was dubbed into Arabic and uploaded to YouTube.
When the film premiered this summer, it seemed more likely destined for the dust bin than infamy. The premiere was a bust, with less than a dozen people attending. Among them was the man who would later identify himself to news outlets as the film’s maker, Sam Bacile.
The director didn’t watch his creation the night of the premiere. Instead, he sat by himself at a nearby restaurant, staring intensely at the theater, the law enforcement source told The Daily Beast. What he didn’t know was that he was being watched by officers. “You are monitoring the people in the area for behavioral characteristics, and he was displaying them. Normal people don’t act like that. He was across the street, on the opposite side of the block, so he could view what was going on. He was sweating and focusing in on the entrance. He was watching what was going on around and who was going in,” the source said.
The officers approached the man, who looked to be in his mid-40s or 50s, and he introduced himself as the director of the film.
This week, the director was busy introducing himself to various news outlets as Sam Bacile. He told The Wall Street Journal he was a 52-year-old Israeli real-estate developer in California, and that he had made the film with $5 million raised from 100 Jewish donors. He said he made the movie, which depicts the Prophet Muhammed as a womanizer, pedophile, and homosexual, because “Islam is a cancer.”
The Associated Press, which spoke to Bacile by phone, reported that he went into hiding shortly after the violence erupted at the embassy in Libya. Bacile claimed he felt bad over the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, but blamed his death on poor security at the embassy. “I feel the security system [at the embassies] is no good,” Bacile told the AP. “America should do something to change it.”
Bacile described him as having a “voice thickly accented.” But that doesn’t jibe with what officers observed of the director at the premiere in Hollywood. “He sounded Western. He didn’t have a heavy accent,” the law enforcement source said. “These guys adopt different roles for different people.”
In fact, as officials and journalists began digging for details about the director Wednesday, it quickly became apparent that “Sam Bacile” might not exist at all. Bacile could not be found on any database searches. The licensing board for the state of California has never heard of him—in fact the only Bacile listed in California is Michael S. Bacile, who is a Greek-American musician from Oakland.
Doubts about Bacile’s identity began to surface after the film’s consultant, Steve Klein, told another news organization that “Bacile” was a pseudonym and that he was not Jewish or Israeli. Klein, an insurance agent in Hemet, Calif., said the money used to finance the low-budget flop came from a mixed bag of donors, including Middle Easterners, Jewish people, Christians, and former Muslims.
Klein, who spent the majority of yesterday giving interviews to local television and print reporters, has a dubious background himself. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which wrote about Klein and his affiliation with a California extremist evangelical group called Church at Kaweah that is said to have roots in the militia movement, noted Klein once bragged about leading a “hunter killer” team as a marine in Vietnam.
According to the Law Center article, which appeared in the Intelligence Report in the spring of 2012, Klein stated that California is riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells “who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can.”
The article quoted Klein, who sued the California city of San Clemente for stopping him from placing fliers on cars opposing illegal immigration, as saying: “I know I’m getting prepared to shoot back.” Klein, who calls Islam a “penis-driven religion,” according to the article, became the leader of the California-based Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment in 2011. The organization led a campaign directed toward students and passed out fliers that portrayed the Prophet Muhammed as a deviant pedophile.
Klein is also linked to the Minuteman movement, the Christian Guardians, and the Utah-based Anti-Muslim group called Courageous Christians United. According to its website, the group exists to boldly and respectfully defend traditional Christianity against cults and other “false” religions and philosophies on all sorts of levels, and to equip the Body of Christ in facing these challenges. A recent posting on their message board states: “CCU involvement in the making of the ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ will soon become public. Your hateful ways will be exposed to the world.”
Klein also set his sights on Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who he claimed praised the Council on American Islamic Relations in a speech. “We are alarmed that Sheriff Baca, who has sworn to protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, is making public statements in support of The Muslim Brotherhood,” said a statement that appeared on the website Jihad Watch. “We demand he be fired and that the L.A. Sheriff department make an unequivocal statement renouncing the work of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Klein told The Daily Mail in an interview that of the 15 people who made the film, three were tortured. “One of the directors was thrown in a cell that was just big enough to stand up in for 90 days, and they broke his legs. Another was tortured for six months, and he was one of the richest men in the country.”
He added in the interview, “Sam is committed to this film, like the rest of us. I don’t want to give too many details, but he was given an ultimatum that he had to leave his country or be tortured.”
Klein said he allegedly warned Bacile that by making the movie “you’re going to be the next Theo van Gogh.” Dutch filmmaker Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after he made a film that allegedly insulted Islam.
By late Wednesday, the hunt for the “real” Sam Bacile was pointing in yet another direction. The Associated Press published another story, this time reporting that Bacile is most likely 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a California Coptic Christian convicted of federal bank fraud charges. In 2010, he was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution, and sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. Nakoula told the AP that he was involved in the film and said he knew Bacile.
After some of the actors in the film were located yesterday, the players issued a joint statement claiming they were duped by the man who called himself Sam Bacile. One actress who had a small role in the film, Cindy Lee Garcia, told Gawker that she thought she was appearing in another film about ancient Egyptians, supposedly titled Desert Warriors, and that the offensive anti-Muslim dialogue was dubbed during the post-production of the film. Garcia said the man who claimed to be Bacile told her he was from Egypt, and spoke Arabic to some of the “dark-skinned” cast members.
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” read the statement from the actors. “We are 100 percent not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.”