[BREAKING: Filmmaker Arrested!] Is "Sam Bacile" a Figment of Orange County Imagination?
See Update No. 2 on the arrest of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
See Update No. 1 on a Santa Ana nonprofit fearing the film is backfiring on Christians in Egypt and Libya and more OC ties for the film's consultant.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 13, 7 A.M.: The mystery of how Sam Bacile came to be attached to Orange County rivals the mystery of whether Sam Bacile even exists.
Bacile is credited with being the producer and director of Innocence of Muslims, the short film that has been blamed for sparking attacks on U.S. consulates in Egypt Libya and now Yemen, as well as, initially, the death of the U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya.
The amateurish film, no longer available on YouTube, features actors in fake beards reading lines about the sins of Muhammad on a village set with a desert backdrop projected on a greenscreen. The Islamic prophet is depicted as a blood-hungry sexual deviant.
United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) Wednesday called it "a stupid, stupid film."
Reporter Phil Shulman of Fox News 11 reported that morning that Bacile is "Orange County based," and near as I can tell from hours of popping up stories around the world, Shulman is the only journo who placed the filmmaker in a more specific location than California, the state where Bacile was said to be hiding out.
Asked Wednesday afternoon where he got the OC tidbit, Shulman replied by email: "Hi don't remember which media outlet that was from. Sorry. I know channel five was live somewhere in anthem. Phil."
There was no mention of Bacile being Orange County-based in Channel 5's online report I checked after getting Shulman's email.
This, of course, paled next to the questions various media sources were reporting about Bacile's very existence. He was initially described as a 56-year-old, "Israeli Jew" real estate developer. But Israeli authorities found no evidence that he is a citizen. "Nobody knows who he is," Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a statement. "He is totally unknown in filmmaking circles in Israel. And anything he did—he is not doing it for Israel, or with Israel, or through Israel in any way." Whoever Bacile is, Palmor added, the filmmaker is "a complete loose cannon and an unspeakable idiot."
California had no records of a Sam Bacile around 50 years old living here or having a real estate license.
Before the shitstorm in Northern Africa, Bacile was said to have given a phone interview where he claimed to have raised $5 million to make his controversial film from "100 Jewish donors." But the Hollywood Reporter doubted a film of such poor production quality would cost that much to make—and found it highly unusual that many donors would contribute to such a low-budget endeavor.
Bacile also reportedly called Islam "a cancer" and said his film had the support of Koran-burning minister Terry Jones of Florida. But when Jones was first contacted, he said he had not heard of Bacile or the film—before Jones called the reporter back to say he would screen it.
Because Bacile had reportedly gone into hiding, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Steve Klein, a self-described militant Christian activist from Riverside and consultant to the film who used to protest outside Orange County mosques way back when. He reportedly told Goldberg that Bacile was not Israeli, Jewish or even a real person but a pseudonym for about 15 Coptic Christians and Evangelical Christians from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt.
Goldberg questions the reliability of Klein. But if there is a Coptic Christian angle to all this, we can make an Orange County connection. The man whom the Associated Press thinks is "Sam Bacile," one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (who admits to helping out "Sam Bacile" in the film's production and nothing else) lived in Buena Park during the 1980s, according to property records, and has bounced around OC-adjacent cities—Hawaiian Gardens, Norwalk and La Mirada, among others—ever since.
The 55-year-old Coptic Christian has used numerous aliases in the past, including Nicola Bacily, according to court documents the feds filed against him in 2010 check-kiting case that resulted in his sentence of 21 months in prison, order to pay $790,000 in restitution and prohibition from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
UPDATE NO. 1, SEPT. 13, 1:30 P.M.: If the goal of radical Coptic Christians releasing the short film Innocence of Muslims, its YouTube trailers and Arabic translations was to help others of their faith in Libya and Egypt, that strategy is likely backfiring, warns a Santa Ana-based nonprofit.
Open Doors USA, which calls for worldwide religious freedom in general and protection of Coptics and Evangelicals in Muslim-dominated countries more specifically, says the film's release threatens already marginalized Christians in the Middle East and northern Africa.
"It illustrates how hot the fuel is that one spark ignites it so suddenly," says Michael Wood, the Open Doors spokesman, in a statement sent to the media. "At some point we heard that people were protesting because of a film not even knowing what movie this was all about. And as was the case with the publishing of the Danish cartoon several years ago, the movie has been on the Internet several months.
"But it is the unpredictable momentum that suddenly creates a wave of protests and anger. Many of the Muslim fanatics link the U.S. with Christianity. So that puts believers in these hot spots such as Libya and Egypt directly in the line of fire."
Christians in Egypt, who compose 10 percent of the population, and a small community in Libya are particularly threatened, prompting Wood to plea, "Pray that the violence over this film does not spread to other countries. . . . That is the No. 1 prayer request."
Meanwhile, more Orange County connections to the film have been uncovered, as Patch.com reports Steve Klein, who identifies himself as a script consultant to Innocence of Muslims, was at the center of a free-speech case in San Clemente.
In June 2007, Klein was in downtown San Clemente passing out anti-immigration flyers to pedestrians. But Orange County sheriff's deputies stopped him when he tried to put some of the leaflets under the windshield wipers of unoccupied cars, according to U.S. appellate court documents.
Deputies cited a city anti-littering law that banned anyone from papering parked cars on city streets.
When Klein and his "cohorts" sued the city, a U.S. district judge issued an injunction against him.
But Klein won on appeal in 2008, when a judge wrote preventing litter cannot trump the activist's First Amendment rights, reports Patch's Adam Townsend.
Klein, an insurance broker in Hemet, reportedly belongs to the radical right-wing Church at Kaweah, just south of Sequoia National Park. His thorny relationship with Orange County mosques is noted in our original post.
After Nakoula Basseley Nakoula said he feared for his safety, deputies from the sheriff's station in Cerritos spent last night at his home and assisted FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents there today. Law enforcement officials are also present at Media for Christ, a Duarte production company affiliated with the making of Innocence of Muslims.
UPDATE NO. 2, SEPT. 27, 5:02 P.M.: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the Cerritos man assumed to have posed as Innocence of Muslims director "Sam Bacile," was arrested and hauled before a federal judge in LA County today to answer charges he violated his probation.
The 55-year-old, who served 21 months in prison after a 2010 conviction for check fraud, was prohibited as part of his parole from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer. Innocence of Muslims inflamed the world after being posted on YouTube, where versions of it remain despite efforts to take it down.
Nakoula's face was wrapped in a towel as federal agents hauled him away, according to video on CNN. His subsequent U.S. District Court hearing this afternoon was closed to media and the public.
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