Architect of anti-Islam YouTube clip returns to jail

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was sentenced to return to jail for violating parole on a felony fraud conviction.

Bret Hartman/Reuters
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (c.) is escorted out of his home by Los Angeles County Sheriff's officers in Cerritos, California in this September 15 photo.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (AKA "Mark Basseley Youssef"; AKA "Sam Bacile;" etc...) was returned to jail yesterday.

Mr. Nakoula, a Coptic Christian and Egyptian immigrant to the US, was jailed for violating the terms of his parole over an earlier fraud conviction stemming from a scheme he ran to steal money from ATM machines. He's far, far better known as the author of the script that became the YouTube clip that prompted a brief takeover of the US embassy in Egypt, and continues to feed much confusion around what exactly happened in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. 

Why has he gone back to prison? Given the nature of his financial fraud, the terms of his release required him to use only his legal name, to tell the truth to his parole officers. In the making of the YouTube clip, he told actors hired for the film that his name was "Sam Bacile." The actors themselves were misled about his plans for the movie, with the most virulently anti-Islamic content dubbed in over their lines later.

In conversations with reporters after the controversy erupted in September, he continued to claim his name was "Sam Bacile" and also lied in claiming that he was an Israeli citizen. His lies, not the content of his video, finally caught up with him.

I wrote about the film as a small cog in the outrage machine between anti-Islam activists in the West and chauvinistic and intolerant Muslim clerics and followers in the East at the time. For a few days, it looked like another major outbreak of mob violence was coming on the heels of the movie, much like what happened after Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005.

But as it turned out, the violence subsided far more quickly. The US embassy breach in Cairo was alarming, but more for what it said about the competence of Egyptian security and perhaps the attention of its new Muslim Brotherhood-led government than of some swelling wave of anti-Americanism. The murder of four US government employees in Benghazi, among them the ambassador to Libya, was at most opportunistically linked to the video, if that. The jihadis who attacked the US government intelligence gathering and diplomatic operations in Libya's second-largest city had planned their attack for some time, and hardly needed extra encouragement to attack Americans.

What's most interesting now is how little notice has been taken of Nakoula's return to prison. While some have expressed suspicion that the push to prosecute Nakoula is more about punishing his speech than his parole violation, there is no evidence to support that, and US officials have not drummed up attention to his punishment as would be expected if this were about mollifying the Muslim world. And so, what seemed like one of the biggest stories in the world for a few days in September is of almost no public interest today.

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