© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What We Know About 'Sam Bacile,' The Man Behind The Muhammad Movie

A trailer for the film <em>Innocence of Muslims</em> was uploaded to YouTube in early July.
A trailer for the film Innocence of Muslims was uploaded to YouTube in early July.

Most Americans knew nothing about Innocence of Muslims. That's the film that has set the Muslim world on fire, causing protests in Egypt and Libya that led to the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

The bottom line is that we know very little about "Sam Bacile," the man who says he produced the film and says Sam Bacile is his name. The Wall Street Journal caught up with Bacile before he went into hiding. (Update at 3:34 p.m. ET. Some of the claims made in the Journal interview have come under question. We've updated this post below to reflect that.)

According to the Journal, Bacile raised "$5 million from 100 Jewish donors" and he produced the film using 60 actors and 45 crew members.

Bacile told the Journal that he made the film to expose "Islam as a hateful religion."

"Islam is a cancer," he told the paper. "The movie is a political movie. It's not a religious movie."

In another interview, Bacile told The Associated Press that he was a real estate developer and an Israeli Jew, but Israeli authorities told the wire service they have no records of him being a citizen.

NPR's library did not turn up any footprint for Bacile. It found no property, phone, licenses or court records. And Bacile had not made news until today.

Bacile repeated what he told the Journal to the AP.

"The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we're fighting with ideas," he said. The AP story also points out that Bacile may have been warned this film would be controversial and perhaps even incite violence.

"You're going to be the next Theo van Gogh," Steve Klein, a consultant on the film, told the AP he told Bacile. Van Gogh, the AP explains, was the Dutch filmmaker who was killed after making a movie perceived as insulting to Islam.

Innocence of Muslims is a feature-length film. In early July, "Sam Bacile" posted a 14-minute trailer of the film on YouTube. (Be warned, many have found the video offensive.) The preview portrays Muhammad as an imbecile and as a false prophet.

For Muslims it's offensive to simply depict the prophet. To insult him is a whole other story.

Bacile told the AP that he was sorry for the death of Ambassador Stevens, but he blamed his death on the security system.

"I feel the security system [at the embassies] is no good," Bacile said. "America should do something to change it."

When clips of the film were shown on an Egyptian TV program, they were described as being the work of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who has burned Qurans. Jones, The Wall Street Journal reports, was merely promoting the film, saying he would screen the trailer at his church on Sept. 11.

"The film is not intended to insult the Muslim community, but it is intended to reveal truths about Muhammad that are possibly not widely known," Jones said in a statement obtained by The Orlando Sentinel.

Update at 7:27 p.m. ET. Calif. Coptic Christian Confirms Role:

Using the cellphone number they talked to "Sam Bacile," The Associated Press tracked down a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lived at the address that aligned with cellphone records.

Nakoula denied that he directed the film but admitted that he was the manager for the production company. He also told the AP that he was a Coptic Christian.

The AP notes that Nakoula has a criminal record: He pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges and served 21 months in federal prison.

The AP adds:

"Nakoula denied he had posed as Bacile. During a conversation outside his home, he offered his driver's license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found the name 'Basseley' and other connections to the Bacile persona.

"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."

Update at 6:18 p.m. ET. Actress Says This Wasn't What She Signed Up For:

Gawker has an interview with Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress from Bakersfield, Calif., who appears in the film.

She said the film makes her "sick" because she was never told this was the movie she was making. In fact, the lines she delivered were dubbed over to insert the offensive and blasphemous lines.

Gawker reports:

"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. 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."

This is in line with the analysis that On The Media presented earlier. It found the offensive speech in the 14-minute trailer was always dubbed over.

"I can't help but wonder if the actors involved in the project were told what kind of film they were making," OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman writes.

Also, using the title Desert Warriors, we found a casting call for the film. "Sam Bassiel" is listed as the producer.

The film is described as a "historical Arabian desert adventure film."

Update at 5:19 p.m. ET. 'Bacile' Never Gave His Name:

Sarah Curran of member station WUSF spoke to Pastor Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., today.

Jones told her that Bacile, which he said is not his real name, contacted his church so it could screen the film.

Jones said he talked to Bacile today, but doesn't know anything about him.

"In our conversations," Jones said, "he has never given us his name."

On tonight's All Things Considered, NPR's Elizabeth Blair explains that the film received attention because Jones scheduled a screening of the trailer for Sept. 11.

That got picked up by Jones' friend, an Egyptian-born Christian activist in Washington, D.C., named Morris Sadek.

Dion Nissenbaum, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, told Elizabeth that Sadek promoted the event through his email list, which goes out to many Egyptian journalists.

Update at 2:17 p.m. ET. Bacile Not His Real Name?:

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic writes that he just got off the phone with Steve Klein, whom the AP describes as an associate of Bacile.

Klein told Goldberg that Bacile is not a real name.

"I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no," Klein told Goldberg. "I can tell you this for sure, the state of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones [the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor] is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign."

Klein, by the way, was profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes him as an "extremist" who has led anti-Muslim protests.

"In 1977, he founded Courageous Christians United, which now conducts 'respectful confrontations' outside of abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques," the SPLC reports. "Klein also has ties to the Minuteman movement. In 2007, he sued the city of San Clemente for ordering him to stop leafleting cars with pamphlets opposing illegal immigration."

So, we repeat again, with this story it's better to remain highly skeptical.

Update at 1:02 p.m. ET. That $5 Million Figure:

The Hollywood Reporter has some important context about that $5 million figure thrown out by Bacile:

"Though Bacile claims he spent $5 million on the movie — a figure that would put the film on par with the Toronto festival entrant Julianne Moore-starrer What Maisie Knew — the 13 minutes of footage available online look unprofessional. Furthermore, Bacile has virtually no footprint in the Hollywood community. The writer-director-producer has no agent listed on IMDBPro and no credits on any film or TV production."

What's safe to say now is that we should look at those claims with a great deal of skepticism.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.