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Mark Basseley Youssef, whose Innocence of Muslims video initially was blamed for riots and the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, is searching for partners to make a new movie and a TV show about the roots of Islamic terrorism. In a wide-ranging interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Yousseff says that the entertainment industry is too timid to honestly explore the issue.
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Two movies are in the works about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi: one from HBO and another from a production company called Thunder Road, but according to Youssef, none of the filmmakers from either project have reached out for his side of the story.
“I blame all producers and I put them in shame,” Youssef says, in broken English, through a thick accent. “Every producer, director and actor in Hollywood — watch them since Sep. 11 until now. How many messages did you deliver about terrorism? I wish some producer in Hollywood would say, ‘You have information and experience. Come, we can write together.’ I have very bad English, but if I have an editor and others to help, I have a treasure of information. I ask: Where is Hollywood? Reporters and Hollywood have a responsibility. Are they educating people? Some American people don’t know where Libya is, or what Benghazi is.”
Youssef, who was released from a halfway house last week after serving several months in prison for an unrelated 2010 bank fraud conviction, says he holds no grudge against public officials — including President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — for initially blaming him for the attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and Navy SEALS Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. After widespread news coverage of the video in the Middle East, deadly riots broke out in several countries.
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“You think, sir, that I am worthy of criticizing the commander in chief? I can’t,” Youssef says. “He’s the commander in chief. Maybe he saw something I didn’t know. Maybe he has intelligence I didn’t know. What can I do? I’m an American citizen. I have to obey the commander in chief. I cannot judge him.”
Youssef, also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Sam Bacile and other aliases, was arrested shortly after the attack on Benghazi and pled guilty to charges that he violated his parole, stemming from a check-kiting scheme a few years earlier.
Asked why he was motivated to make such an inflammatory, anti-Muslim video that portrays Muhammad as a womanizer, a fraud and a child molester, Youssef rattles off a long list of atrocities he says Muslims have committed against Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“I have a simple message: to tell Americans how Christians suffer in Egypt,” he says. Youssef also uses the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington as justification for his video. “The United States didn’t do anything to these people. The United States spends taxpayer money to educate these people and give them medicine, and they call us invaders. It makes me mad. I, and you, and everybody, we have to do something against this Muslim death culture, but without drawing blood.”
Youssef says he lost everything since the Benghazi massacre — his three adult children are afraid to speak to him and he lives with no money in a Southern California church that feeds and shelters him. He also complains of harsh treatment during his recent stint in prison.
“Some people believed I caused death to Americans outside the United States. That’s why they dealt with me as a terrorist. It hurts me. It hurts me a lot,” he says. “I was in a special housing unit, about 2 yards-by-3 yards big, talking to myself for eight months. I was almost going crazy. They said it was for my own protection.”
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Youssef says he is restricted from using the Internet and can no longer post videos to YouTube, where he posted Innocence of Muslims a little more than a year ago. He says that the 14-minute video that sparked riots in the Islamic world is a trailer for a two-hour film that he keeps locked in a safe-deposit box.
“I need a brave distributor,” he says.
The full-length movie, he says, is based on his self-published book, Innocence, which he has since dedicated in part to the four Americans killed in Benghazi. He wrote the book under Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the name he says authorities have asked him to use nowadays. “The government got me a credit card, or debit card or something in that name. It’s crazy.”
Despite an Egyptian court sentencing him to death in absentia for making an anti-Muslim film, Youssef says he does not live in fear for his life. “It doesn’t matter if I go to jail, or if they kill me. I could be killed. It’s OK. But I have a message. We have to be against the terror culture to save human lives. I need the people with me,” he says.
For Innocence of Muslims, Youssef hired actors for as little as $75 a day each. Their lines did not include mention of “Muhammad,” but he says he called the actors back another day to have them speak the name, which he dubbed in during post production. Some of the actors have since complained, but Youssef says it was for their own good that the true nature of the film be hidden from them until the last moment. “We were worried terrorists would attack us,” he recalls.
“I told them, ‘After this, you will be very famous,’ and they laughed. They didn’t care about the dialogue then, only now. When I asked them to come again and say ‘Muhammad,’ they only asked that I pay them more. It’s my right as producer to change anything,” he says.
Youssef calls the four who died in Benghazi “American heroes” and he pleads for “the administration and our intelligence to get the killers … they got Osama Bin Laden after eight years. They’ll get these people sooner or later. They don’t have to tell us how or when. It’s not our job to know. Myself, I trust the United States government.”
Does Youssef believe that his 14-minute YouTube video is responsible for the deaths of the Americans?
“I don’t think so. I thought it when it happened,” he says. “That’s why I couldn’t face the media. I felt like a kid wearing his father’s suit. I kept my mouth shut until now. I’m nothing. I’m a very little person. I like to live in peace and deliver my message. If somebody kills me, or if somebody blames me for this or that, it’s OK. I forgive them. Someday, they will know the truth.”
He adds: ”The American media is smart and powerful. It threw Nixon out of office. It is powerful. The reason I didn’t talk to them is I did not think I was qualified to face them. They told me four Americans were killed because of my movie. How could I face them? What would I say to them? What could I say to the families? So they said whatever they said about me.”
Paul Bond Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com
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