* New updates down below
The California mystery man who the news media has been calling Sam Bacile is likely not an Israeli Jew, and that's probably not his name, reports are starting to agree. It all seems to be coming back to the "militant Christian activist in Riverside" who has been funneling information to the news media. From Jeffrey Goldberg on The Atlantic's website:
As part of my search for more information about Sam Bacile, the alleged producer of the now-infamous anti-Muhammad film trailer "The Innocence of Muslims," I just called a man named Steve Klein -- a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, California (whose actual business, he said, is in selling "hard-to-place home insurance"), who has been described in multiple media accounts as a consultant to the film.
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."
He said the man who identified himself as Bacile asked him to help make the anti-Muhammad film. When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: "I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. 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."
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."
The grains of salt on this story are now boulder sized. From the Jewish Journal's Hollywood Jew blog:
The director of a film that sparked violent protests in Libya and Egypt, who is alleged to be an Israeli Jew based in California, in fact appears to be completely unknown among both Jewish and Israeli leaders in Los Angeles, including top-level people involved in the film industry.
The filmmaker, whose name -- or perhaps pseudomyn -- is Sam Bacile, gave interviews by phone to the Associated Press and others about the film on Tuesday, in which he called Islam “a cancer.” He said he had intended the film to be “a political movie,” and that he had gone into hiding.
Israelis involved in the film industry contacted by The Journal on Wednesday morning, however, have never heard of anyone by that name.
“I don’t know him, never heard about him, don’t know anything about this guy,” said Meir Fenigstein, who founded the Los Angeles-based Israel Film Festival in 1982.
Jesse Scharf is chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s real estate division and co-chair of the real estate division at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher....“If this person was, in fact, Israeli, in the real estate business, in Los Angeles, somebody would know the guy,” he said. “Pretty rare that a person active in real estate wouldn't have a story.”
* Added from the LA Times:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, had no record of Sam Bacile, but had a lengthy file on Steve Klein. The group's file on Klein described him as an ex-Marine who had been active in anti-Muslim and extremist groups for decades.
According to the center, in 1977, Klein founded Courageous Christians United, which has staged protests outside mosques and abortion clinics. In 2007 he sued the city of San Clemente after it ordered him to stop planting anti-illegal immigration fliers on cars.
More recently, Klein has headed up a group called Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which last year launched a campaign of distributing fliers at high schools, many of them "depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a sex-crazed pedophile," according to the center.
* 6 p.m. update: It gets not curioser and curioser, but smarmier and smarmier. AP talked to a Coptic Christian, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who said he was manager for the company that produced "Innocence of Muslims." His middle name bears a similarity to Bacile, the previously mentioned filmmaker who appears not to exist, and Nakoula's address "outside Los Angeles" is the same one that AP tied to Bacile yesterday. Nakoula denied posing as Bacile, but AP clearly has its doubts.
Nakoula, who talked guardedly about his role, pleaded no contest in 2010 to federal bank fraud charges in California and was ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution. He was also sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and ordered not to use computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
The Youtube account, "Sam Bacile," which was used to publish excerpts of the provocative movie in July, was used to post comments online as recently as Tuesday, including this defense of the film written in Arabic: "It is a 100 percent American movie, you cows."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Leigh Williams said Nakoula set up fraudulent bank accounts using stolen identities and Social Security numbers, then checks from those accounts would be deposited into other bogus accounts from which Nakoula would withdraw money at ATM machines.
It was "basically a check-kiting scheme," the prosecutor told the AP. "You try to get the money out of the bank before the bank realizes they are drawn from a fraudulent account. There basically is no money."
The actors who appeared in the film tried to distance themselves from the controversy in a joint statement Wednesday, per AP: "The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer," said the statement, obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "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."