It turns out that the crude, low-budget, anti-Muslim film inflaming anti-American riots across the Middle East was made by a Coptic Christian from Egypt who lives in the Los Angeles area. That man is Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, and his story gets more and more curious as reporters delve deeper into his background.
Nakoula, as it happens, was convicted of bank fraud in a check-kiting scheme in 2009. He also was arrested 15 years ago in L.A. during a methamphetamine investigation of Middle Easterners. The Daily Beast even raised the possibility that he was an informant, based on his quick release after that bust when he could have gotten hard time.
This same Nakoula appears to have pulled off a trifecta in the annals of fanatical agitprop.
First, he enraged Muslims worldwide with his outlandishly bad, wildly slanderous footage mocking the Prophet Muhammad, which he oddly named "Innocence of Muslims" and posted on YouTube.
Then he claimed the footage was a "trailer" for a full-length feature film that may not even exist.
Then he blamed it all, falsely, on the Jews.
Talking to reporters trying to get to the bottom of this bizarre story, Nakoula invented a fake filmmaker named "Sam Bacile," (awfully similar to his middle name of Basseley) and said the guy was an "Israeli Jew" who'd financed the film with money from wealthy Jewish backers.
But no one has been able to find any "Sam Bacile" on the face of the Earth, and the cell phone that "Bacile" used was traced by The Associated Press to Nakoula's address. The AP also found federal court papers listing several aliases for Nakoula, including Nicola Bacily and Erwin Salameh.
In addition, a production worker on "Innocence of Muslims" told CNN the filmmaker was a Coptic Christian who, during production, had gone to Alexandria, Egypt, to find financing.
It bears noting that Copts are a minority in Egypt, and there has been a long history of bad blood between them and the Muslim majority.
So nothing coming from Nakoula about the film has been true -- not the depiction of Islam, not the name of the filmmaker, not the involvement of Israelis or Jews.
Even the dialogue in the trailer was overdubbed with outrageous slurs that the actors claim they never uttered and never would. Several said they were duped into appearing and would not have participated had they known the film's true intent.
But the lies are out there, and there's no telling when, if ever, the truth will catch up.
It doesn't help that this piece of propaganda is being promoted by another Muslim-hating extremist, Terry Jones, the Florida preacher who burned a copy of the Koran.
Nakoula is reportedly in hiding, and no wonder. His YouTube posting sparked riots throughout the Arab world.
They began in Egypt, where protesters breached the walls surrounding the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Not long afterward, in Libya, militants assaulted the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The Libyan onslaught may have been planned in advance to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, but the militants seized on the film to make it look like a popular uprising against the same Americans who helped them overthrow the hated dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Meanwhile, U.S. embassies in Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen were under siege Friday and the unrest was still spreading.
The situation was bad enough from its early stages without Mitt Romney blundering in to fan the flames, but that's what he did, and it spoke volumes about his fitness to run U.S. foreign policy.
Apparently, Mr. Romney has yet to grasp that unfolding chaos is, by definition, in motion. What seems to be happening at midnight can take a sharp turn at 12:02, and the facts of the situation may not be immediately clear. A clear denunciation of the attacks would have been appropriate for a would-be president, but Mr. Romney couldn't resist an opening to slam his rival.
Informed on Tuesday of a tweet disavowing Nakoula's film from an embassy employee in Cairo who was attempting to cool the passions of protesters outside, Mr. Romney let loose an ill-informed, badly aimed salvo against President Barack Obama, accusing him of "apologizing" to terrorists. Apparently, if Mr. Romney had been in charge, he'd have given those people a stern talking to, and they all would have gone home, chastened.
Shortly thereafter, the attack in Libya was under way and four Americans were killed. Mr. Romney's attempt to score political points in the midst of tragedy backfired badly. He appeared so eager to undermine Mr. Obama that he wasn't thinking about the safety of American embassy workers in peril.
In a subsequent interview on "60 Minutes," Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney had a tendency to "shoot first and take aim later." Of the tweet, the president said: "It came from people on the ground, who are potentially in danger. You know, my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."
As the president also noted, "It's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make them."
Well, yes. Nakoula may or may not have gotten what he wanted from his film, but I doubt Mr. Romney was counting on the backlash he provoked. If this is his idea of foreign policy, Americans have reason to doubt his fitness for the presidency.sallykalson
Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1610).