After YouTube clips of his amateurish, green-screen-heavy film "The Innocence of Muslims" or "Muslim Innocence" were translated into Arabic and led to riots in Egypt and Libya this week, Sam Bacile has become the most famous independent filmmaker in the world, despite the fact that nothing is known about his past, his roots or how he actually funded his project.
Bacile had no internet presence and was a member of no social media networks prior to this incident. There are no early casting calls or production notices for the film. Nor does the film have a page on IMDB, the film database. No actors or crew members have been named or identified, and only a couple of the film's apparent backers -- fringe figures like pastor Terry Jones, Morris Sadek of the Coptic Church and Steve Klein, a "consultant" on the film who self-released an anti-Islamic book in 2010 -- have come forward to reveal themselves.
What we know about Bacile and his film comes solely from his own mouth. During an interview he gave Tuesday from an undisclosed location, Bacile said he was an Israeli-American real estate developer who raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors, none of whom he identified. He doesn't appear to have a California real estate license, according to a review of online real estate databases.
Using a "thick" accent, Bacile said he used 60 actors and 45 crew members and that the project was shot in 2011 over three months in California. He called Islam a "cancer" and railed on the lack of security at the American embassies. He also said he planned to go into hiding as protests escalated.
Laura Rozen, who writes the Back Channel news blog for Al-Monitor, suggested that the name Sam Bacile may be a pseudonym for someone involved with the "Egyptian Coptic diaspora." Many people on Twitter have been attempting to figure out possible anagrams for the name, in case there might be a signal there. Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, tweeted, "Would anyone in the Jewish Twittersphere who has ever met 'SamBacile' please speak up."
Though Bacile is a mystery, we do know a bit more about Steve Klein, who told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he was a "consultant" on Bacile's film. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the former Marine was part of the controversial California "Church at Kawea," near Fresno, and a member of a "secretive cohort of militant fundamentalists" preparing for war against Muslims in spring 2012. He believed that California was riddled with Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cells "who are awaiting the trigger date and will begin randomly killing as many of us as they can."
Klein is currently listed as the "Secretary and Founder" of Courageous Christians United, a group that protests outside of Mormon temples, mosques and abortion clinics. Leah Nelson of the SPLC said Klein founded the group back in 1977. Multiple requests for comment from Courageous Christians United have gone unreturned, but Klein himself spoke with the Atlantic's Goldberg on Wednesday afternoon.
Klein told Goldberg that "Sam Bacile" is not a real name, nor is the man actually Israeli or Jewish. "All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms," Klein said. "I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign." Klein also told Goldberg that only 15 people were involved in the making of the film.
"I'm taking everything about this strange and horrible episode with a grain of salt," wrote Goldberg.
Amy Lemisch, the director of the California Film Commission, which issues permits for films that shoot in the state, told The Huffington Post no permits were given to anyone by the name of "Sam Bacile," nor to any project with the title of "Muslim Innocence" or "The Innocence of Muslims." If the filmmakers shot anything on state property, they would need a permit from the commission.
"We went to our internal database field," she said, "and we searched under 'innocence' or 'Muslims,' and we did not issue a permit for it."
A film with a supposed $5 million budget -- no small change for an independent project -- and a 45-member crew would be difficult to shoot under the radar, Lemisch said.
"It means they didn't shoot on state property, a state park or a state beach," she said. "They could have shot and didn't tell anybody, or a Ranger didn't catch them. But that would be pretty hard to do without getting a permit, unless they were in the middle of the desert on private property."
It's possible the filmmakers requested permits from local commissions, though without knowing where the film was shot, it's difficult to tell. HuffPost has reached out to other local commissions in California and is awaiting comment. But judging by the film itself, most of the "desert" scenes occurred in front of a green screen, so they could have been shot anywhere.
UPDATE: Gawker interviewed Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses from the film, who is living in Bakersfield, California. She says she was never told that the film was a spoof of Muhammed. The casting notice she had originally received from her agent was titled "Desert Warriors." She said the director called himself "Sam Bacile," and he claimed he was an Israeli real estate mogul. But Garcia said Bacile told her on set that he was actually Egyptian. Read the rest of this bizarre story on Gawker here.
09/15/2012 10:05 PM EDT
Egypt PM: Some Cairo Protesters Paid To Protest
Egypt's Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told CNN that some people involved in the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were paid to protest. He also said that some were there on their own accord, though.
For more on his comments, click here.
09/15/2012 8:16 PM EDT
Libya President: 'Foreigners' Involved In Attack
Both Libyans and "foreigners" carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, said Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf.
"We have assumptions and we have some information, and all that information we have now leads to the same direction about the perpetrators, the criminals," he told NBC.
For more on Magariaf's comments, click here.
09/15/2012 7:58 PM EDT
More Details Of Libya Attack Emerge
A local security official walked CNN through the horrific attacks in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead. Read the report here.
09/15/2012 7:32 PM EDT
Senior Libya Official Tells CNN: No Evidence That Attack Was Pre-Planned
@ JomanaCNN :
One senior official just told me they have no evidence yet to support President's statements that attack was pre-planned. #Libya
09/15/2012 7:24 PM EDT
U.S. Issues Warnings For Sudan, Tunisia
From the AP:
WASHINGTON — The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from posts in Sudan and Tunisia and is issuing travel warnings to American citizens in the two countries due to security concerns over anti-American violence.
"Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the State Department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens," said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.
To read more, click here.
09/15/2012 7:19 PM EDT
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula
In this image from video provided by CBS2-KCAL9, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Cerritos, Calif. Nakoula, 55, was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. (AP Photo/CBS2-KCAL9)
09/15/2012 5:10 PM EDT
Image Purportedly Shows Camp Bastion
This image from AP video obtained from the SITE Intel Group posted by al-Emarah Jihadi Studio, an Afghan Taliban media unit who released two clips on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what the Taliban media unit says is an attack at the base. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group)
09/15/2012 5:03 PM EDT
Far-Right Group Trying To Screen Anti-Islam Film
According to an AFP report, a far-right group in Germany wants to screen 'Innocence of Muslims,' the film that sparked protests around the world, in Berlin.
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel he would use every legal means at his disposal to stop them.
“Such groups and organizations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” he said, accusing them of recklessly pouring oil on the fire.
Read the full story here.
09/15/2012 4:36 PM EDT
Libyan President Meets U.S. Consulate Guard
President Mohammed el-Megarif, fourth right, meets an unidentified Libyan guard of the U.S. Consulate who was wounded following the deadly attack on September 11, 2012, at Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo)
09/15/2012 4:30 PM EDT
Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority on Saturday condemned the attacks on U.S. embassies as un-Islamic, according to a report by Reuters.
"It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction," he said in a speech carried by state news agency SPA.
Read the full report here.