Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (one of many, many aliases)
is a criminal and a pathological con man who has trouble keeping track of his own lies. You could say he's so dishonest that he's even befuddled himself. His is a pitiful existence, barely surviving at a California homeless shelter, rarely working except for the occasional manual labor job. And yet, this is the man who members of the Obama administration have repeatedly blamed for "sparking" the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
Last week, The Daily Beast's M.L. Nestel published an in-depth profile of Nakoula, the writer and producer of perhaps the most notorious incoherent Youtube video of all time.
I'm talking about that YouTube short variously called "Innocence of Bin Laden," "Desert Warrior," "First Terrorist," "Innocence of Muslims"—and, in the iteration that was blamed for setting off riots around the globe, "Muhammad Movie Trailer." The one that portrayed the prophet as a sodomizing, womanizing pedophile. The one that Hillary Clinton was talking about when, according to the father of a Benghazi victim, she promised, "We are going to have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of [your] son."
It was quite a claim for a movie directed by a porn veteran, produced by a convicted huckster, led by actors who claim they were duped into the roles, and promoted by a collection of anti-Islamic hatemongers and almost comically crackpot preachers.
Nestel describes Nakoula as "an Egyptian Coptic Christian with a pathetic criminal history (convictions for gas-pump price fixing, intent to manufacture meth, Social Security fraud) and a list of pseudonyms longer than the Suez Canal." Nestel concedes that after meeting with the man three times last October, "whether anything he told me is true remains to be seen…given his slipperiness about his criminal history and his documented record of lying about the Youtube film."
Indeed, Nakoula has had a hell of a time keeping his story straight about the film. To the Wall Street Journal, he said, "Islam is a cancer" but to CNN he insisted his film is not anti-Islam and that in fact, he could "never be against any religion." Nestel's entire article is worth reading for a lot of reasons, but perhaps more than any other is the window it provides into the world of a truly unremarkable and delusional putz who unwittingly affected the course of history.
THIS is the guy who created a worse-than-public-access movie trailer which former US ambassador to the United Nations (and current National Security Advisor) Susan Rice repeatedly claimed had "sparked" not only the coordinated attack on the embassy in Benghazi, but also violence in places like Yemen and Pakistan, where only 10%-20% of the population has access to the internet.
The Republican-led hearings on Benghazi were a largely worthless grilling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but they did yield one important piece of evidence: emails from Clinton to her daughter Chelsea to the Egyptian prime minister on the night of the attack saying, "We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack—not a protest."*
There's no need to re-litigate all the apologies for free speech, the pressure the administration put on Google to pull the video from Youtube, or all the willful misrepresntation of facts that came from the administration in the weeks following the attack. After all, what difference at this point does it make?
But Nestel's profile is a helpful reminder that all the calamities "sparked" by the short-sighted foreign policy actions of the most powerful nation on Earth can be swept under the rug if a convenient loser is available. It is far from impossible that another anti-Muslim bigot could put a stupid video up on Youtube, which an opportunistic imam can then use to gin up protests among his followers who almost certainly never saw it (not that such a thing happened in Benghazi).
If such hypothetical protests were to turn violent, the blueprint for how a US administration deals with the fallout is already available.
*-Correction: Clinton also emailed her daughter Chelsea the night of the attack, writing that the embassy had been attacked by an "Al Queda-like group" (sic).
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.