Behind the anti-Muhammad movie – a new pastor Terry Jones?
There is no online profile for 'Sam Bacile,' who has told reporters he's an Israeli who wrote and produced the movie that sparked protests in Libya and Egypt. But there is information about one of his collaborators, Steve Klein, who has ties to evangelical militia groups.
The people responsible for the murder of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans yesterday are those who attacked them. The serious security breach at the Cairo embassy, in which a crowd was allowed to climb the fence of the ordinarily heavily guarded compound and take down the US flag, is likewise the fault of those people first, and the Egyptian government second.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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And what led to the mobilization of crowds against the US embassy in Cairo and the US consulate in Benghazi was the decision of an Islamist TV station to draw attention to a hate-filled anti-Islamic film, with it's own spin that it was a "US" production, implying the US government had something to do with it.
Without that, the year-old movie, would have remained in obscurity.
But the existence of the film is the precipitating event. A 14-minute clip from the film online, which presents the prophet Muhammad as a lascivious simpleton who condoned child-rape, will never go down as later-day "Birth of a Nation" when it comes to propaganda films. The shooting, acting, and dialogue literally drew chuckles from me and could be used to teach a film class what not to do. Many of its claims and assertions about the founding of Islam and the contents of the Koran are manifestly false.
Who made it? The Associated Press spoke to a man who identified himself as "Sam Bacile," who told their reporter that he's Jewish, Israeli, and real estate developer residing in California. The man claimed he'd raised $5 million from "100 Jewish donors" to make the film, that it was filmed in the summer of last year, and that it's been shown once in a mostly-empty theater in Hollywood.
Neither I nor anyone else can find any records of a "Sam Bacile" in California, and it looks highly likely that it's a pseudonym. Israeli officials say they have no records of a citizen of that name. (I wrote a piece earlier today in which I credulously accepted the identity as provided by the AP, and for that I apologize.) I can't see how someone prominent enough in the Jewish community to raise $5 million from exclusively Jewish donors could have no online footprint at all. I very much doubt there is such a person.
Some details of one of the people behind the film can be confirmed. The AP also spoke to a man named Steve Klein, who told them he'd acted as a consultant for the film. A little online sleuthing turned up a "Steven A. Klein," who's involved with a group called "Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment," which appears mostly focused on criticizing Islam, which the group says is a fundamental threat to the US Constitution and way of life.
For instance, in July 2011, Mr. Klein was the only signatory on a letter from the group that said it would hold a "First Amendment educational outreach" in front of the Los Angeles County Administration Building. The letter is largely focused on opposition to Islamic law and its threat to the US, and also argues that the First Amendment should allow regulation of religion when it comes to Islam.
The letter is hosted at The Way TV (atvsat.com), a Los Angeles-based satellite television channel devoted to Christian evangelical outreach in the Middle East. A perusal of its website indicates that most of its founders are Coptic Christians, and that it takes a particular interest in Egyptian affairs.
Klein works with Joseph Nasralla, a Coptic-American activist who was involved in the campaign against building the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in Manhattan and, like Klein, views Islam as a threat to the US. Mr. Nasralla is a founder of The Way TV, which hosts Klein's television show, according to anti-Islam activist Robert Spencer.
A call to the station in California was answered by a woman speaking Egyptian Arabic, who said she's originally from Alexandria. She said that Steve Klein hosts a program on the station called "Wake up America," and that he was indeed the man who worked on the film that sparked yesterday's events. She promised to pass on my number to him. Mr. Klein has not called back, though to be fair I left my message just an hour ago. She also said the station had received an email I'd sent to email@example.com, an email address Klein offered as the best way to reach him in the comments of a story about an anti-Islam protest his group had organized at Murrieta Valley High School in California.
"Western civilization is absolutely superior to Islam, period," he says in his latest broadcast, in which he says he served as a Marine in Vietnam and that his son has served as a Marine in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. When a caller from Egypt to the broadcast says Islam and Muhammad are the "anti-Christ" and that all Muslims are "child-molesters," Klein agrees, and chuckles at the notion that any Muslims might be "good people... "
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks what it terms hate groups, wrote about Klein earlier this year, alleging he's been involved in training a far-right militia in California.
"In a 22-acre compound at the southern edge of Sequoia National Park in California, a secretive cohort of militant Christian fundamentalists is preparing for war. One of the men helping train the flock in the art of combat, a former Marine named Steve Klein, believes that California is riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells 'who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can,'" the SLPC writes. It continues: "Over the past year, Johnson and the church militia have developed a relationship with Steve Klein, a longtime religious-right activist who brags about having led a “hunter killer” team as a Marine in Vietnam. Klein ... is allied with Christian activist groups across California."
The SLPC also writes that Klein "has been active in extremist movements for decades," that he founded a group in 1977 that "conducts 'respectful confrontations' outside of abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques" and that he has ties to the Minutemen militia movement.