A closer look at the movie Innocence of Muslims had all of the classic signs of a black propaganda operation. Consider the features and its making:
- Non-existent movie producer “Sam Bacile”
- Deceitful casting calls under false titles like Desert Warrior
- False plots and altered scripts
- Post-production voice-overs
- Multiple post-production title releases like The Innocence of Bin Laden or The Real Life of Muhammad
- Strategic placement
- False flag attempt with “American” name tag as first source
- Conspiracy to incite Islamic-US conflict
- Disinformation to blame Israel and shelter anti-Islamic activists
The 13-minute trailer was released by an unidentifiable source that mocks the Prophet Mohammed and everything Muslim. The film actually has two minor objectives that support its larger strategy: demonstrating that Muslims hate Americans, and demonstrating that Islam is a religion of violence. The project was specifically designed to incite Muslim anger by portraying Islam as a violent and intolerant religion.
The main theme of this propaganda effort is to provoke an American war against Islam. The Islamic extremist objective is now to wage war against the U.S. Islamic extremists have reacted with mass riots and violence in more than two dozen countries. Some are still protesting the U.S. after several weeks. A Pakistani politician has called for the killing of the man responsible. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has asked the U.S. to punish the filmmakers. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has called for continual anti-American protests and an international law that would ban insults to Islam.
Of course, Islam is not itself a religion of violence. Muslims can be peaceful or militant like any other group. Propaganda is not about reason; it is about the planned formation of attitudes and behaviors.
Black propaganda hides its true identity and imputes its message to another source. This film was planned by anti-Islamic activists, most likely Coptic dissidents and American fundamentalist Christians. The primary objective is to bring the United States into direct confrontation with Islam and its followers. The videos exist to provoke Muslims and purportedly to “inform” the Western world of the greater “Islamic” threat.
The techniques of both Islamic and anti-Islamic forces and their messages lead to emotional responses from their intended audiences through various methods of propaganda.
In this article, the term “Islamic extremists” refers to parties conducting militant or violent action. “Islamic fundamentalists,” such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are separate players peacefully addressing the issue and supporting Islam. The anti-Islamic activists involved in the film are a combination of Coptic Christians, small elements of right-wing American Christian movements, and potentially an unknown party.
Muslim extremists are taking advantage of the film by inciting more anger among their own people. They do this to increase recruitment and pressure other Muslims into their way of thinking. There are even some Muslim fundamentalist groups that seek to censor America’s anti-Muslim speech through means other than violence, calling it “hate speech” and “Islamophobia.”
Who is behind the Propaganda war?
According to the media, the film was screened in June and posted on YouTube on July 2 by a “Sam Bacile”. For over two months the video went unnoticed. Then, as Forbes reports, on September 4 an anti-Islamic Egyptian Coptic named Morris Sadek contacted an Egyptian reporter named Gamel Girgis to promote the film “Innocence of Muslims.” A short column was run but nothing was posted on the front page until a Salafist commentator named Sheik Khalid Abdullah aired the clip on his show—Al Nas TV—on September 8.
Then things began to spiral out of control. On September 11, U.S. pastor Terry Jones called for International Judge Mohammed Day. The Arabic-speaking social media world passed the clip shown by Khalid Abdullah far and wide. What was originally intended to be a local anti-Egyptian Muslim piece soon turned international.
Who posted it on YouTube? It was believed that Morris Sadek had posted an Arabic version on YouTube in early September. “Sam Bacile” wrote a comment on September 11 in Arabic: “Idiots, this is an American film 100%.”
Unraveling the identity of Sam Bacile, the supposed producer, is a daunting task. It is widely believed that Bacile (or Sam Basseley) is none other than Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, but there was some speculation that he was any one of several other participants in or promoters of the film. On September 13, an anonymous federal law enforcement officer told the Associated Press that Nakoula was Bacile. The AP reported the connection.
Bloomberg admitted on September 13 that it could not independently confirm Sam Bacile as Nakoula. Thom Mrozek, a public affairs officer in the Los Angeles US Attorney’s office, told reporters Christopher Palmeri and Edvard Pettersson during an interview that he couldn’t confirm Nakoula was Sam Bacile.
A Wall Street Journal article mentioned that there were two names listed as producers to the movie: Sam Bacile and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The question remained: If Nakoula is Bacile, why list both names, including the one he is trying to hide?
Nakoula has denied that he is Bacile, but did claim he was the “manager” of the film. The man known as Sam Bacile does not exist on record, nor can he be found by any journalists. This could mean that Bacile is Nakoula or it could mean that the name “Sam Bacile” is a false name for use of another interested partner yet unidentified.
Nakoula was on probation in 2011 for bank fraud charges and has just been arrested for violation of those terms for using an alias, among others. He has a long list of false names: Mark Basseley Youssef, Youssef M. Basseley, Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh, P.J. Tobacco and Kitbag Drifrat.
Is Nakoula really the mastermind behind the film? It seems unlikely. Nakoula was recruited in the 1990s as as a drug runner and fraudster by Eiad Salameh **. Federal authorities have been after Salameh for at least a decade. Nakoula became a federal informant after drug charges in 2009, according to a document obtained by “The Smoking Gun.”
The larger Coptic diaspora has lost interest as church officials deny any part in the film and condemn it in unison. There may be justifiable suspicions for a clandestine network of foreign Egyptian Coptic agents, especially if you consider the groups of people associated and the false names, charities and false accounts involved in the operation.
The Media for Christ is an American fundamentalist Christian organization that helped to obtain permits and sponsor the project. They broadcast anti-Islamic media in Arabic to the Middle East. Some other players involved or promoting the movie: far right Christians like Steve Klein and Pastor Terry Jones and radical Coptics like Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Morris Sadek and Zakaria Botros Henein.
The director of the film has been identified by the media as Alan Roberts (alias for Robert Alan Brownell), who has directed pornographic videos. Eighty actors involved with the movie have signed a list denouncing the project and claiming they were deceived in its making. They now say they believed they were making a completely different movie.
Other figures of anti-Islamic activists reported in rallies with these some of the sponsors above included blogger Pamela Geller and Director of Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer. Together they co-chair Stop Islamization of America and Geller has been identified with ambitions to start an anti-Islamic movie having the same impact as “Innocence.” Additionally, there is the New York subway agitation propaganda by Geller which is designed to keep the topic on the surface in tandem with other anti-Islamic elements.
We may never know the full details behind the shadowy story of the film and its film makers. There could be more actors behind the actors—even state actor(s)—it is just uncertain. What is new is the growing American and Western anti-Islamic fervor which is now venting itself through propaganda actions in the wake of this film.
The second propagandists in the war
Pro-Islamic extremists are also agitators behind the short movie samples. They use it to round up Muslims and attack the US and Us personnel overseas. By using the clips, the extremists seek to prove how hateful all the American people are towards their religion. A primary sub-propaganda theme of theirs is that this video clip represents “all” of America, despite what American leaders say. A secondary theme is that the film represents America’s freedoms, like free speech.
Ultimately, the main shared goal of Islamic extremists and fundamentalists is to stop the video. They differ on their tactics. The extremists are using intimidation and violence abroad and the fundamentalists are using lobbying and diplomacy in the US and the West.
Is the propaganda operation a success or a failure?
It is difficult to say. The anti-Islamic film makers did not intend to be blamed for American deaths and riots, which they were not responsible for—an outcome largely resulting from Islamic fundamentalists successfully employing counter-propaganda.
They did not expect the US authorities and the news media to track them down so fast or arrest them. So far, only Nakoula (allegedly Sam Bacile) has been arrested on charges of apparent probation offenses and “endangering the public”.
Originally, the response was a little slow. Many Americans blamed US leadership for weak reactions and terrorists. The American audience embraced a strong stance associating the film with free speech—even if it was despicable and renounced. Then the media was flooded with the considering the controversy of the film as hate speech instead of free speech.
Now some Western Islamic institutions and a growing number of Americans are pleading for some sort of censorship of anti-Islamic speech. Many condemn the violence but blame the film makers not the Muslims. Many Muslims were united in calling for the arrest and punishment of the producer and the people responsible. Surely the arrest of Nakoula will be seen and used by fundamentalists as a short victory and the extremists as a weakening.
It is unclear whether the producers and affiliates intended to incite anything other than mass protests in Egypt against America. Why? Because one of their main objectives is to bring the US into a direct religious war against the success of the Arab Spring or the discrimination and persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt.
The activist film makers expected an outburst as proof of their claims against Islam, not that Americans should suffer directly, talk of censoring anti-Islamic speech, or closing down any of their embassies. On all of those fronts, they seemed to have lost ground to extremists and fundamentalists. [To be clear, the extremists and fundamentalists are not necessarily working together, they simply have common cause against the film and the anti-Islamic radicals.
The move to divert the attention to Israel was a bit of disinformation with at least two advantages: to protect identities by shifting the blame and to divert the attention away from America directly, giving it time to cool.
Most likely the activists were not expecting such a large response by the Muslim world. The initial area of interest was Egypt. They would have known from past experiences, like the Danish cartoonist or Theo van Gogh and Pastor Terry Jones that Islamic vilification bring riots and assassinations. Their main focus was on the American audience and pulling them closer to their line of thinking.
What was a simple tug-of-war between anti-Islamic propaganda and the pro-Islamic counterpropaganda, now other parties have seized the opportunity regarding the original propaganda stream. Global players are wrestling over maximizing gains at the other’s expense.
A recent example that has exacerbated the situation further was the French cartoon by Stéphane Charbonnier. President Barack Obama in his recent speech at the United Nations has asked that the Muslim world accept free speech and ignore insults by individuals.
The Muslim reaction
No single propaganda operation or technique is enough but when one is launched, the opposition engages in counter-propaganda. At least two forces first circulated around the film but in different ways.
To many Muslims, the film was treated as an unwanted ‘product’ of America. All Muslims saw it as an outrage. The rioters and mobs were being manipulated by pro-Islamic extremists who were stirring up passions and directing the anger at American embassies. They have exaggerated the significance of this low-budget hate film and twisted their own fictitious anti-American propaganda against the US.
Muslim extremists reactions were designed to send the US the message that it does not have the right to freely speak about the Prophet Muhammad and all insults should be weighed with the threat of violence or death.
Meanwhile, the more mild protests in Europe and the US are being conducted by non-violent-fundamentalists, carrying the message that one should not insult the prophet and incite hate speech.
The US reaction
Widespread American responses initially took a familiar shape: You don’t like what some idiot says, then tough. Don’t watch the film if you hate it so much. This is a free country where people can say what they want. The tone of media coverage changed only as more details about the movie’s production came to light.
The president in his United Nations speech made it clear that the movie should be seen through a free speech lens: permitted, but not supported or appreciated by the administration and most Americans. Federal law enforcement has complicated this somewhat by arresting the movie’s “manager.”
Already there are film-makers that are planning more anti-Islamic movies. The United States has become an inadvertent player in a propaganda war between Muslim and anti-Muslim radicals who are also involved in U.S. domestic politics. The U.S. is a safe haven for anti-Islamic dissidents and activists. We will continue to protect free speech at the cost of permitting the spread of anti-Islamic propaganda. Other filmmakers are already planning more anti-Islamic movies. None of this means the furor over Innocence of Muslims is a story about the United States government or its people. Unfortunately, that won’t stop more extremists and activists from trying to draw the U.S. and Muslim worlds into greater conflict.
** The original post had an error regarding Eiad Samaleh as listed as being a Coptic Christian has been disputed.
About the author: Brett Daniel Shehadey
Brett Daniel Shehadey is an analyst, writer, and commentator. His areas of interest include: strategy, political theory, foreign affairs, intelligence and security. He holds an M.A. in Strategic Intelligence from American Military University and a B.A in Political Science from UCLA.