Ambassador killed: Mystery surrounds maker of anti-Muslim film
Does the filmmaker whose movie sparked the deadly Libyan assaults even exist?
Questions arose Wednesday about the identity of Sam Bacile, who has claimed responsibility for the movie in media interviews. An expert in far-right extremist groups said he had doubts about whether Bacile was a real person, and a consultant on the film said the name was a pseudonym and he was unsure of the man's true identity.
The anti-Muslim video apparently sparked outrage in eastern Libya, where a mob stormed the U.S. Consulate and killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Tuesday night.
A version of the film -- "Innocence of Muslims" -- first screened in Hollywood this summer, sources say.
Then called "Innocence of Bin Laden," the film was shown in a theater on Hollywood Boulevard on June 23 to an audience of less than 10, a source familiar with the showing said. An "attractive" woman stood on Hollywood Boulevard trying to interest passersby in the movie, but got few takers, the source said.
"The acting was of the worst caliber," the source said.The source said the man who brought the film to the theater was not named Bacile.
A man who identified himself as Bacile told the Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday that he was an Israeli Jew living in California and had made the movie with $5 million in donations from 100 Jewish donors.
But Max Blumenthal, an author who has written extensively about anti-Islamic groups, said the assertions were "ridiculous" and at odds with his knowledge of how Jewish activists work.
"No one uses that kind of rhetoric unless they are extremely unfamiliar with the culture of the Jewish community and how protective they are against anti-Semitic attacks .…What he has done is play into an anti-Semetic fantasy," Blumenthal said.
The movie appears to be extremely low-budget with an amateur cast. Steve Klein, a Hemet insurance agent, told the Atlantic magazine that he was a consultant on the film and met the filmmaker for an hour. He said Bacile was a pseudonym and that he never knew the man's real name.
He disputed Bacile's claim that he was Jewish and Israeli.
"I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign," Klein told the magazine's website.The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, had no record of Sam Bacile, but had a lengthy file on Steve Klein. The group's file on Klein described him as an ex-Marine who had been active in anti-Muslim and extremist groups for decades.
According to the center, in 1977, Klein founded Courageous Christians United, which has staged protests outside mosques and abortion clinics. In 2007 he sued the city of San Clemente after it ordered him to stop planting anti-illegal immigration fliers on cars.
More recently, Klein has headed up a group called Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which last year launched a campaign of distributing fliers at high schools, many of them "depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a sex-crazed pedophile," according to the center.
Klein also conducts drills at the Church at Kaweah, a militant fundamentalist group that holds trainings at the edge of the Sequoia National Park in anticipation of attacks by Muslim sleeper cells, the center said.
"He's obviously fiercely, fiercely afraid of a Muslim takeover of the United States, and he seems to think there are all these plots afoot to get that done," said Heidi Beirich, director of intelligence for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Pastor Warren Mark Campbell of the Church of Kaweah, said Klein had spoken to the congregation but is not currently involved in the church. Campbell said he had no knowledge of the “Innocence of Muslims” movie until Wednesday.
“He has spoken twice on the subject of Islam, but he’s not a member of the church,” Campbell said, and then hung up.
For the last couple of years, Klein has hosted a weekly program on an Arabic Christian outlet called The Way TV. An office manager at the station said the channel -- broadcast in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East -- focuses mainly on spreading Christianity, but that Klein’s program was focused on criticizing Islam.
“It’s against Islam, it’s an anti-Islam program,” said office manager Diana Awad.
Another station representative who declined to give his name said that because of Klein’s involvement in the controversial film the station is considering cutting ties.
“We’re not sure if he’s going to continue because we’re not involved in this. He didn’t tell us he’s making a film like this. I’m not sure he’s still going to make a show on our channel.”
The man described Klein as “a nice guy” and said the station would have stopped him if they knew his plans to be involved in the film. Asked why the station objected to an anti-Islam film, but not Klein’s anti-Islam show, the man said, “I don’t know,” and ended the call.
-- Harriet Ryan, Jessica Garrison, Robert Faturechi and Abby Sewell