The Phantom Director

This story has been coming into focus for at least a day (with considerable help from Sarah Posner and Jeffrey Goldberg), but now the FBI is confirming that the supposed California Israeli-American “Sam Bacile” who was said to be responsible for the nasty video pastiche Innocence of the Muslims doesn’t exist, and the name appears to be a pseudonym for a Coptic Christian living in California, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. This dude has a rap sheet that includes a federal bank fraud conviction and a string of aliases. His compadres in making the “movie” appear to be an another Copt living in America, who claims he wasn’t aware of passages that went beyond documenting persecution of his coreligionists, and a shady but talkative California wingnut who’s spent a lot of time leading “protests” at mosques, Mormon temples and abortion clinics. Then, of course, there’s the wonderful Terry Jones, the Koran-torching Florida cleric who claims not to have played any role in the flick’s production, but promoted it probably more than anyone other than Middle Easter radical Islamists.

I’m sure a lot of Jews are relieved to be freed of association with “Sam Bacile,” and from the laughable claim that this piece of crap video was produced via multi-million-dollar Jewish financing. But this is a real problem for Copts, who face real persecution in Egypt. Coptic leaders there and in the U.S. have hastened to condemn the anti-Islamic slurs.

The whole mess is a reminder of how easy it is to cause big trouble with bigotry in the YouTube era. Past famed examples of troublesome anti-Islamic “insults” (e.g., Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons of the Prophet) were published by respectable outlets and actually read by their intended audiences. But it’s not clear whether much of anyone saw the amateur idiocy of Innocence of the Muslims before the trailer was translated into Arabic and sent like a germ warfare missile onto computer screens in the Middle East.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.