Who Is “Sam Bacile?”

Updates below.

Both the AP and the Wall Street Journal have reported interviews with Sam Bacile, the man who claims to be a California real estate developer who raised $5 million from Jewish donors to make his obviously lowest-of-low budget, amateurish anti-Islam film.

But before the July 2012 upload of the film trailer to YouTube, under the user name Sam Bacile, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of the existence a California real estate developer online. What’s more, if whoever made the film actually spent $5 million on it, the expenditure hardly shows in the content, acting, or production values. Amateurish doesn’t even begin to describe the 13-minute trailer on YouTube.

The film was promoted by anti-Muslim zealot Terry Jones.

The WSJ reported yesterday:

The film’s 52-year-old writer, director and producer, Sam Bacile, said that he wanted to showcase his view of Islam as a hateful religion. “Islam is a cancer,” he said in a telephone interview from his home. “The movie is a political movie. It’s not a religious movie.”

Mr. Bacile said he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors, whom he declined to identify. Working with about 60 actors and 45 crew members, he said he made the two-hour movie in three months last year in California.

The AP reported early this morning (before the brutal murders of US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others were confirmed) that Bacile was “in hiding”:

An Israeli filmmaker based in California went into hiding Tuesday after his movie attacking Islam’s prophet Muhammad sparked angry assaults by ultra-conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya, where one American was killed.

Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, writer and director Sam Bacile remained defiant, saying Islam is a cancer and that the 56-year-old intended his film to be a provocative political statement condemning the religion.

* * * *

Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world.

“Islam is a cancer, period,” he said repeatedly, his solemn voice thickly accented.

The two-hour movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” cost $5 million to make and was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors, said Bacile, who wrote and directed it.

The Times of Israel says Bacile spoke from telephone with “a California number”:

Speaking from a telephone with a California number, Bacile said he is Jewish and familiar with the region. Bacile said the film was produced in English and he doesn’t know who dubbed it in Arabic. The full film has not been shown yet, he said, and he said he has declined distribution offers for now.

“My plan is to make a series of 200 hours” about the same subject, he said.

Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Christian in the U.S. known for his anti-Islam views, told The Associated Press from Washington that he was promoting the video on his website and on certain TV stations, which he did not identify.

Both depicted the film as showing how Coptic Christians are oppressed in Egypt, though it goes well beyond that to ridicule Muhammad—a reflection of their contention that Islam as a religion is inherently oppressive.

“The main problem is I am the first one to put on the screen someone who is (portraying) Muhammad. It makes them mad,” Bacile said. “But we have to open the door. After 9/11 everybody should be in front of the judge, even Jesus, even Muhammad.”

Consider all the contradictions: small ones, true, like in one account he is 52 and in another he is 56. To the AP he is “a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew” and to the Times of Israel he is “Jewish and familiar with the region.” And what about that bit at the end of the statement to the Times of Israel—that “even Jesus” should be “in front of the judge”? That sounds like someone who is trying to provoke more than just Muslims. A lot of things don’t add up here about the claimed identity of the filmmaker.

UPDATE: A detail I failed to note earlier this morning from the AP story: “Israeli officials said they had not heard of him and there was no record of him being a citizen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to share personal information with the media.”

Also, Laura Rozen raises some questions about Steve Klein, who told the AP that he was a “consultant” on the film who warned Bacile he would be “the next Theo van Gogh.” Klein told the AP that Bacile was concerned for relatives in Egypt, something Bacile would not confirm.

Rozen:

And there were some hints that Bacile may be a pseudonym for someone affiliated with the Egyptian Coptic Christian diaspora.

A consultant on the film, Steve Klein, told the AP that Bacile has family members in Egypt. A 2007 interview with Klein, a self-styled terrorism expert and former Marine Corps Vietnam vet, mentions his ties to the Copt diaspora community.

Klein’s author biography in a self-published work, “Is Islam compatible with democracy,” states: “With 9/11 2001, I immersed myself with Islam in America; went to every major Mosque in SoCal with Arabic speaking Christians as translators and uncovered useful information about many Mosques being the head quarters of terrorism in America.”

If that is true, and “Bacile” was claiming to be Jewish and to have raised money from Jews for the film, it only multiplies the incendiary nature of his project.

FURTHER UPDATE, via Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic, who talks to Klein:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know “Bacile”‘s real name. 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.”

Klein also tells Goldberg that he doubts “Bacile” is Jewish, and that the claims he is were a “disinformation campaign.” He added, about the people involved in the film, “Some are Copts but the vast majority are Evangelical.”

Final update of the day:

US officials say that the Libya attack that killed the US ambassador and three others may have been planned ahead of time, and was not spurred by the film.

And in the weirdest twist of the day in the who-is-Sam-Bacile mystery, actors in the film denounce it and say “Bacile” misled them. Cindy Lee Garcia tells Gawker:

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 words Muhammed were dubbed over in post-production, as were essentially all other offensive references to Islam and Muhammed.

Garcia also says that “Bacile” told her he was Egyptian and spoke Arabic on set. The Times’ Robert Mackey notes that On The Media’s Sarah Abdurrahman first noticed the dubbing.

Really final update for today:

The Guardian reports:

The hunt for the maker of the anti-Islamic video that inflamed mayhem in Egypt and Libya and triggered a diplomatic crisis has led to a Californian Coptic Christian convicted of financial crimes.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lives outside Los Angeles, confirmed on Wednesday he managed and provided logistics for The Innocence of Muslims.

Nakoula, who pleaded no contest to federal bank fraud charges in 2010, told AP in a brief interview outside his home that he considered Islam a cancer and that the film was intended to be a provocative political statement assailing the religion.

He denied being Sam Bacile, the pseudonym for the video’s purportedly Israeli Jewish writer and director, but AP said the cellphone number it called for a telephone interview with Bacile on Tuesday matched Nakoula’s address.


For more RD coverage of the events in Libya see “Tragic Violence in Libya: No Excuses,” by Haroon Moghul — ed.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email