|Photo of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula|
Authorities “don’t have an active investigation” on Nakoula, 55, and he “participated in a voluntary interview with federal probation officers,” a law-enforcement source said.
He spent 30 minutes with authorities before being released. A spokesman for the LA County Sheriff’s Department said Nakoula did not return to his home, but instead was at an undisclosed location.
“We don’t know where he went,” said the spokesman, Steve Whitmore.
Nakoula was questioned about his activities while filming “Innocence of Muslims” — a low-budget film whose 14-minute trailer was posted in July on YouTube — and whether it was a violation of his probation on a financial-crimes conviction that prohibited him from using computers or the Internet.
“If it’s a pretext for getting him not to say what he said because of the content of the movie or its impact, that would raise a First Amendment concern,” said Donald Downs, a political-science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“They need to be duly careful about undermining our free-speech rights.”
Despite its “mocking” and “highly critical” message, Downs added, the movie should be wholly protected under the First Amendment — and cautioned against calling it hate speech.
|Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (C) is escorted out of his home by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officers in Cerritos, California September 15, 2012.
Image by: BRET HARTMAN / REUTERS
The man behind it all, Nakoula, first identified himself as Sam Bacile, an Israeli real-estate mogul who boasted that he raised $5 million from Jewish investors for his pet project.
In reality, he is an Egyptian immigrant and strong Coptic Christian who has served time in federal prison on felony bank-fraud charges.
“The writer had very little to do with the content of the screenplay, other than formatting Sam’s notes in something that could be shot as a movie, with the possible exception of some tidbits of dialogue, which is always the case with writers,” the source said.
He was aided by self-described “script consultant” Steve Klein, a Christian fundamentalist in California notorious for his anti-Islam remarks.
“That is why it was all done with green-screen backgrounds, because they could not afford to pay for more than one location,” the source said. “I remember the director saying that he was going to rent an old warehouse to film that in,” he added.
The film was promoted by a network of right-wing Coptic and Evangelical Christians with a radical anti-Muslim agenda, like Egyptian American provocateur Morris Sadek and Terry Jones, a Florida pastor notorious for publicly burning a Koran.
And, acting as “consultant,” was Steve Klein, a Vietnam veteran and founder of Courageous Christians United who is notorious for protests outside mosques and Mormon temples and who told AFP he helped the moviemakers.
One of them, Tim Dax, said he was paid $75 a day to play a character he thought would be the Bible’s Samson — but eventually found himself with a spear in hand, shooting a movie with a nonsensical plot.
Another, Cindy Lee Garcia, told “Inside Edition” that the original script didn’t even include the Muslim prophet and the flick underwent “drastic” rewrites.
“The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer,” 80 crew members said in a joint statement. “We are 100 percent not behind this film, and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose.”
But the industry source, who was in close contact with the film’s director prior to filming, said he didn’t buy it.
“I do not see how anybody could have been fooled unless they did not read what they were hired to do,” the source said. “I saw this script years ago, and it was pretty obvious that Muslims would not like it — just like it was obvious with Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion of the Christ.’ ”