What you need to know about that anti-Islam video that contributed to U.S. embassy attacks

A roundup of what has been reported about "Innocence of Muslims," the anti-Islam film that contributed to attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya, Cairo and now Yemen, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staffers:

It may not exist. A squadron of reporters has failed to locate evidence that anything longer than the film's extremely weird "trailer" has been produced.

Associated Press reporters Gillian Flaccus and Stephen Braun report:

Hollywood and California film industry groups and permit agencies said they had no records of the project under the name "Innocence of Muslims," but a Los Angeles film permit agency later found a record of a movie filmed in Los Angeles last year under the working title "Desert Warriors."

A man who answered a phone listed for the Vine Theater, a faded Hollywood movie house, confirmed that the film had run for a least a day, and possibly longer, several months ago, arranged by a customer known as "Sam."

Little, if anything, filmmaker "Sam Bacile" has said about himself has checked out. Bacile called himself an Israeli Jew and said he'd raised $5 million to make the film. Flaccus and Braun note great similarities between "Bacile," who is purportedly in hiding, and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian activist who was sentenced to prison in 2010 for what Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Leigh Williams called "basically a check-kiting scheme." Law enforcement confirmed Thursday to the AP that Nakoula is responsible for the film. Nakoula was later brought in for questioning. The AP issued a correction that also confirmed the movie was backed by "Media for Christ," not Jews.

Another person involved in the film has ties to hate groups. Insurance salesman Steve Klein has been identified as a producer and a technical adviser on the film; he arranged an interview between "Bacile" and AP. Adam Nagourney reported in The New York Times that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Klein has "taught combat training to members of California’s Church at Kaweah, which the center described as a 'a combustible mix of guns, extreme antigovernment politics and religious extremism' and an institution that had an 'obsession with Muslims.' ” Klein and Nakoula have expressed admiration for the same Los Angeles Coptic Cleric, who is also linked to "Media for Christ."

The actors didn't know they were making a propaganda film. Cindy Lee Garcia, who appeared in the movie, told Gawker's Adrian Chen the trailer's anti-Muslim language was dubbed in later. "On the Media" 's Sarah Abdurrahman found a flock of poorly dubbed references to Islam. The cast and crew issued a statement saying they "are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose."

Its only purpose is to provoke. That's James Poniewozik's theory:

The film is also obviously effective—if you assume its sole purpose is to stir trouble, and it’s hard to imagine another one. If it were actually meant to win over Westerners, its poor production and inscrutability would be crippling; if it were meant to persuade Muslims, it wouldn’t be so transparently provoking.

Klein told the AP: "We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen."

After all that, the film may not have been the impetus for the attacks. "A mob of enraged Muslims attacking American embassies in the Middle East on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 because of a film that insults the prophet makes a good plot for a bad film," Lisa Goldman writes in TechPresident. "The facts, however, undermine the theory."

Century Foundation fellow Michael W. Hanna, a well known Middle East expert, points out that Salafi groups had been planning anti-U.S. demonstrations for September 11 weeks before yesterday's embassy attacks. A US-based Islamist website published a call (in Arabic) in late August for a September 11 protest of the imprisonment of the "Blind Sheikh," Omar Abdel Rahman. The sheikh is serving a life sentence in the United States for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Mohamed al Zawihiri, brother of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawihiri, tweeted a call for demonstrations in Arabic.

Meanwhile, the videos, which were actually uploaded to YouTube in early July, were suddenly discovered and broadcast on a Salafi television station on September 9.

"The timing," Hanna commented, "is obviously pretty fishy."

Google has blocked the film in Egypt, Libya, India and Indonesia. It "will stay on YouTube,” the video service's corporate owner said in a statement. “However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt, we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”

"[I]f the connection between the violence and the video is as flimsy as it seems," Mathew Ingram writes, "then why take this kind of step in the first place? All it does is highlight the fact that the company can remove or block content any time it wishes to, regardless of whether doing so is ethically or legally justifiable."

Early press coverage was as chaotic as the events it chronicled. Tom McGeveran writes about the fumbles and stumbles he encountered. "The rest of the things to be untangled are largely questions I'd never have had if I hadn't read so much that was confusing or untrue early in the morning today."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon