The anti-Islam video linked to this week’s violence in Libya, Egypt and Yemen and the Sept. 11 killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, originated in a web of U.S. right-wing extremists.
It also appears that anger over the video was used by far-right elements in Libya to cloak an organized attack on the U.S. consulate in order to advance their political agenda.
Wanis el-Sharef, eastern Libya’s deputy interior minister, told the Associated Press that Tuesday’s attack there was suspected to have been timed to mark the 9/11 anniversary and that heavily armed militiamen used civilians protesting the film as cover for their action.
Libyan novelist Hisham Matar writes in the New Yorker that the attack “is thought to be the work of the same Salafi, ultra-religious groups who have perpetrated similar assaults in Benghazi.”
“This is Libya’s extreme right,” says Matar. “And, while much is still uncertain, Tuesday’s attack appears to have been their attempt to escalate a strategy they have employed ever since the Libyan revolution overthrew Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship. They see in these days, in which the new Libya and its young institutions are still fragile, an opportunity to grab power. They want to exploit the impatient resentments of young people in particular in order to disrupt progress and the development of democratic institutions.”
The YouTube video, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” is a crude 14-minute film portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a lecherous, violent schemer. First reports attributed it to an Israeli American individual in California who claimed it was funded by Jewish donors. It turns out that the “Israeli American” and Jewish donors do not exist, and the real architects of the film include a right-wing Egyptian American Christian convicted of bank fraud in 2010, and a longtime U.S. religious right activist with ties to Christian militias and Obama-hating clergy.
Justice Department investigators say Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, who lives in southern California, was a key player on the film. He is still under a five-year probation from the 2010 fraud case, which includes barring him from Internet use.
Nakoula is a Coptic Christian, a mainstream Egyptian branch of Christianity whose believers are about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. Nakoula is said to be virulently anti-Muslim. Another right-wing Coptic Egyptian American, Morris Sadek, spread the video to the Middle East via his anti-Islam Arabic-language blog. The film is also linked to Joseph Nasralla Abdelmasih, another far-right Egyptian American Coptic Christian who has been promoted by many of the country’s most vocal anti-Muslim agitators. The Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America has issued a statement condemning the film and affirming that “such efforts to insult and offend a neighbor with which the Copts have coexisted for nearly fourteen centuries violate the fundamental teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and contradict the virtues of love and tolerance by which Christians are governed.”
Sadek apparently has close ties to extremist anti-Obama Flortida minister Terry Jones, who has promoted the film. Sadek’s blog displays a photo of him with Jones at a June anti-Islam protest in Washington.
A writer for People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch looked at Sadek’s Facebook page before Sadek took it down on Wednesday. It showed Sadek as a fan of the Republican Party, the right-wing Hudson Institute, right-wing ideologue Daniel Pipes, Terry Jones’ extremist Stand for America, and similar groups.
Steve Klein, an ex-Marine described as a “consultant” to the film, “has been active in extremist movements for decades” and “is allied with Christian activist groups across California,” according to a report this spring by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups.
The report says in 2011 Klein worked with the Vista, Calif.-based Christian Anti-Defamation Commission “on a campaign to ‘arm’ students with the ‘truth about Islam and Muhammad’ – mainly by leafleting high schools with literature depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a sex-crazed pedophile.”
The group’s advisory board includes figures from a long list of far-right groups, including the Operation Rescue anti-abortion bombers, the Minuteman border vigilantes, and far-right minister Rick Scarborough, whose group VisionAmerica features a Sept. 5 “40 Days to Save America Letter” on its own website. The letter says its goal is “to elect and install Godly leaders at every level this November – from the smallest school and village to the President of the United States.” It lists as future speakers for this supposed nonpartisan effort Gov. Rick Perry, “Sen.” Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum – all right-wing Republicans.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center report, Klein has recently formed close ties to the Church at Kaweah, “a secretive cohort of militant Christian fundamentalists” 70 miles from Fresno, Calif., that maintains a militia. Its website offers for sale a DVD titled, “To Teach Them War,” in which “Christian audiences will be exhorted and equipped to begin to train martially.”
Klein conducts drills with the Christian Guardians, a San Francisco-based group headed by an American-born Pakistani Christian who calls Islam “a giant crime syndicate” and hopes his group will become “the most feared militia in the world.” The Church at Kaweah has sponsored joint trainings with the Christian Guardians.
Klein also has ties to extremist anti-abortion and anti-immigrant groups such as the Minutemen.
He has a weekly online satellite TV show called “Wake up America” carried on The Way, which says it is “made up of Christians from around the world who believe God can use Christian satellite television to transform the Middle East , North Africa, Europe, America and Canada.” Nasralla is listed as producer.
Cairo-based journalist Ashraf Khalil writes in Time magazine about the video, “This was essentially a case of an American group of fringe Christian fundamentalists successfully provoking and enraging a similar group of fringe Muslim fundamentalists.”
Max Blumenthal, from The Nation Institute, comments on the Egyptian violence in the UK Guardian, “A group of rightwing extremists aimed to destabilize post-Mubarak Egypt and roil US politicians. They got their wish.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday appeared to identify the film as representing “America’s values.” Continuing his criticism of the Obama administration for condemning the film, Romney declared, “Apology for America’s values is never the right course.”
He was backed by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who said, “It was disheartening to hear the administration condemn Americans engaging in free speech that hurt the feelings of Muslims.” Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus echoed the far-right mantra, saying: “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt.” Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also tweeted support.
Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, told the New York Times, “This is really about political or symbolic opportunists, who use religious symbols to advance their own power or prestige against other groups.” He was referring to the Libyan events, but the same clearly applies to the U.S.
Photo: Steve Klein, “consultant” for the inflammatory anti-Islam video, broadcasts a weekly far-right satellite TV show.