Media Researches Innocence of Muslims Originators and Promoters

With considerable media interest in the authorship of the anti-Islam Innocence of Muslims YouTube videothe AP tracks down one of its originators:

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles that he was manager for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims”…

Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cell phone number that AP contacted Tuesday to reach the filmmaker who identified himself as Sam Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. Federal court papers said Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.

The only reasonable conclusion from this is that Nakoula is Bacile. And it seems that Nakoula – who has a fraud conviction – is playing some sort of game: the “Sam Bacile” persona described himself to journalists as being an “Israeli Jew”, and he claimed that “100 Jewish donors” had contributed to the short film’s production. Presumably the motive is that this will incite acts of anti-Semitism, thus exposing “true” Muslim attitudes (aspects of a vigilante syndrome I’ve seen before).

The AP account also draws attention to Steve Klein, “a Christian activist involved in the film project”. At the AtlanticJeffrey Goldberg reports speaking with him:

He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. “After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me.”

…I asked him who he thought Sam Bacile was. 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.”

It should be noted that tone of the Innocence of Muslims is crude and satirical – there is nothing suggestive of a religious motivation, and the actors, according to the AP, claim that they were lied to about the film’s subject matter.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has further details about Klein, who is involved with militia groups:

Klein has been waging his own holy war since 1977, when he founded Courageous Christians United (CCU), a group that conducts “respectful confrontations” outside of abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques.

…Klein now heads Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group recently partnered with the ironically named Christian Anti-Defamation Commission to leaflet California high schools with material depicting the prophet Mohammad as a sex-crazed pedophile.

…He runs 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 trainings, which allegedly take place at the Church at Kaweah’s sprawling central California compound, are described as a “unique system of learning how to survive the Muslim Brotherhood as we teach the Christian Morality of Biblical Warfare.”

The Fresno Bee has further details on the church (also sometimes called “the Church of Kaweah”):

The church at Kaweah — it uses a lower-case “c” in its name — is a rustic, one-story building off a rural foothill road just west of Sequoia National Park.

…Pastor Warren Mark Campbell on Wednesday confirmed that Klein has spoken twice, in 2010 and 2011, at The church at Kaweah: “He came to our church and spoke to us on Islam and the history of Islam and problems with jihad in America and around the world. He’s a specialist on the subject of Islam.”

…Klein is not a member of The church at Kaweah, Campbell said. But he refused to answer questions about the church’s relationship with Klein.

The church at Kaweah is the focus of the Southern Poverty Law Center Spring 2012 intelligence report, which states that it teaches far-right views and trains a militia.

Campbell blasted the report as “full of lies and distortions. They never met with me or anyone.”

The SPLC report on the church notes that the church holds regular “Old Paths Christian History Conferences”, which have involved the likes of militia John Trochmann, creationist Eric Hovind (son of Kent Hovind), Gary DeMar of American Vision, and Chuck Baldwin. Further:

The church’s obsession with Muslims appears to have begun in 2010, when it invited white Zimbabwean evangelist Peter Hammond to speak at its Old Paths conference. A staunch defender of Zimbabwe’s last white leader, the racial supremacist Ian Smith, Hammond heads a South Africa-based “ministry” called Frontline Fellowship that is anti-Islam, anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-communist.

I wrote about Hammond here.

However, Klein is not confined to the fringes of the Christian Right; Max Blumenthal notes links to better-known activists who focus on Islam:

It appears Klein (or someone who shares his name and views) is an enthusiastic commenter on [Pam] Geller’s website, Atlas Shrugged, where he recently complained about Mitt Romney’s “support for a Muslim state in Israel’s Heartland.” In July 2011, Spencer’s website, Jihad Watch, promoted a rally Klein organized alongside the anti-Muslim Coptic extremist Joseph Nasrallah to demand the firing of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, whom they painted as a dupe for Hamas.

I discussed Nasralla in June 2010 here, after he took part in Geller’s anti-mosque protest in New York (he came to wide attention because he had been mistaken for a Muslim and abused). As reports note, Klein has a programme, entitled Wake Up America, on Nasralla’s The Way TV station; the station is part of Nasralla’s “Media for Christ” organisation.

The AP also notes the involvement of two other familiar individuals:

The AP located Bacile after obtaining his cell phone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who had promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Egypt’s Christian Coptic population has long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Arab majority.

Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, Fla., who burned Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, said he spoke with the movie’s director on the phone Wednesday and prayed for him.

As I discussed Sadek and his links to Jones here.

UPDATE: It seems that Nassralla was directly involved with the creation of the film; the Los Angeles Times reports:

…An official at Media for Christ said Wednesday the charity was not connected to the movie and was upset by its controversial content. The same day, an associate who served as a script consultant told the paper that Nassralla “had nothing to do with it.”

But Duarte’s deputy city manager said she had been told by sheriff’s officials that the permits to shoot the movie had been issued to Media for Christ.

UPDATE 2: Nassralla has now issued a statement, in which he says that Nakoula had made use of the Media for Christ name to get the permit “without knowledge or permission”.

UPDATE 3: Another Los Angeles Times article has some background to Nakoula’s anti-Islam motivation:

…While in the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, he lectured a fellow Egyptian inmate about his devotion to [anti-Islam preacher Zakaria] Botros.

“He called him Abouna [father] Zakaria. He was just obsessed with the guy,” recalled the inmate, Mohamed, a Northridge doctor who asked that his last name not be used because he did not want it known that he had been in custody.

He said that Nakoula’s cell was stacked with Arabic books about Islam, and that he carried a heavily annotated Koran around the common areas of the prison, using the holy book’s own words as ammunition for his anti-Islamic lectures.

“He used to go to Botros and he used to bring him people that wanted to convert from Islam to Christianity,” said the doctor, a Muslim married to a Catholic. He added that Nakoula urged him to convert and promised to set up a meeting with Botros.