Actors In Anti-Islam Film Say They Were Misled
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
We're learning more today about the cast of characters behind the anti-Islam video that's been linked to violent protests in the Middle East and North Africa. The film, clearly designed to offend, was produced last year in Southern California, using actors and crew who say they were misled about its content and purpose. This has been a complicated story, full of pseudonyms and apparent misinformation from those involved.
NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us to help sort out what we know and what we don't. And, Carrie, let's start with the man whom the Associated Press reports is the producer of the film. He's named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. And the AP is citing an unnamed government source confirming his identity. What have you learned about him?
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: He's from Egypt. He says he's a Coptic Christian. He's 55 years old, and he lives in a neighborhood about 20 minutes south of L.A. And this is a convoluted story, how his identity became known.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal got a phone call from a man who said he was an Israeli-American Jew who had produced the movie that we're talking about. He said his name was Sam Becile and that 100 Jews had financed his $5 million film called the "Innocence of Muslims." So background checks into that name quickly became clear that there was no such man.
He said he was a real estate developer here in California. But, you know, checks of business licenses records, everything came up empty. So then the Associated Press said they traced the cell phone call back to the address of Mr. Nakoula. And when they interviewed him at his house he admitted to having connections to the film, but he still insists that he was not this person, Sam Becile.
But like you mentioned today, the Associated Press is quoting unnamed government sources that they are one and the same.
BLOCK: And Nakoula does have a criminal record. What was he convicted of?
KAHN: He's had a very difficult time financially. According to records I found, he has at least two tax liens against him. And in 2010, he was convicted of bank fraud and sentenced to two years in prison. And that fraud was nearly $800,000. He was also sentenced, and this is interesting, to five years probation where he was ordered not to use the Internet. And the anti-Muslim movie was posted to a YouTube account by a user named Sam Becile.
BLOCK: Now, names have surfaced of two other men, also from Southern California, associated with Nakoula, both of whom are also involved in anti-Islamic activities. Who are they?
KAHN: Right, there are these two men that are well-known around here for their anti-Muslim activities. Let's start first with this man named Jim Horn, and I spoke with him late last night. He said he was sure that Sam Becile was a pseudonym and that he is a Middle Eastern Arab. Horn led a local, very contentious fight against the construction of a new mosque here.
And he's also known for going around to area high schools and handing out pamphlets condemning Islam. And he does this with another man named Steve Klein. Now, Klein is an insurance salesman in a small town about two hours east of L.A. And he's long been known for his outlandish and false claims about Muslims and Islam.
Yesterday, he was giving dozens of interviews from his office. Today, his assistant told me he's not talking to anybody. So...
BLOCK: And - I'm sorry, Carrie. Go ahead.
KAHN: Oh, Klein says he was a script consultant on this movie and that he knows Sam Becile isn't a real person.
BLOCK: Carrie, there's another well-known anti-Muslim activist involved in this story and that's Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who notoriously burned a copy of the Quran. What's his connection?
KAHN: Right, this is where the story moves across the country to Florida where Jones lives. And Terry Jones told NPR that the producer of the film got a hold of him a few weeks ago and asked him if he would include it in an event Jones was holding on 9/11. Jones says he was happy to oblige.
BLOCK: And, Carrie, one more character to talk about here and that's a self-described leader of the Coptic Christian community in Virginia, Morris Sadek. Who is he?
KAHN: He lives outside D.C. And according to Terry Jones, they're good friends, and they can be seen in a lot of photos demonstrating against Muslims in front of the White House.
So through Jones and this 9/11 event, Sadek got a hold of the 14-minute movie trailer. And according to an email obtained by NPR, it was Sadek who sent the movie clip to dozens of journalists in Egypt. And Sadek says he runs this nonprofit. We couldn't find any nonprofit under his name.
And Coptic Christian leaders have told us - and we spoke to a few - saying that he absolutely has no following. His hate speech is hurting America, and it's hurting Coptic Christians around the country. And they have denounced him.
BLOCK: OK, NPR's Carrie Kahn. Carrie, thank you.
KAHN: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.