LOS ANGELES—A federal judge on Thursday determined that a California man behind a crudely produced anti-Islamic video that inflamed parts of the Middle East is a flight risk and ordered him detained.
Citing a lengthy pattern of deception, U.S. Central District Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal said Nakoula Basseley Nakoula should be held after officials said he violated his probation from a 2010 check fraud conviction.
“The court has a lack of trust in this defendant at this time,” Segal said.
Nakoula, 55, was arrested Thursday. He had eight probation violations, including lying to his probation officers and using aliases, and he might face new charges that carry a maximum two-year prison term, authorities said. Nakoula will remain behind bars until another hearing where a judge will rule if he broke the terms of his probation.
Nakoula wore beige pants and a collared shirt when he was led into the courtroom handcuffed and shackled. He appeared relaxed, smiling at one point before the hearing and conferring with his attorney.
After his 2010 conviction, Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was barred from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer, though prosecutors said none of the violations involved the Internet.
In July, a 14-minute trailer for the film “Innocence of Muslims” was posted on YouTube, leading to protests around the Middle East. Nakoula, a Christian originally from Egypt, went into hiding after he was identified as the man behind the trailer, which depicts Muhammad as a womanizer, religious fraud and child molester.
In court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale said Nakoula was a flight risk, partially because of the uproar over the film. The violence in the Middle East broke out Sept. 11 and has spread since, killing dozens, including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
“He has every incentive to disappear,” Dugdale said.
The hearing had an unusual wrinkle as the news media were banned from the courtroom, and reporters had to watch the proceedings on a TV in a different courthouse a couple blocks away. Court officials didn’t give a reason for the decision.
Nakoula’s attorney Steven Seiden sought to have the hearing closed and his client released on $10,000 bail. He argued Nakoula has checked in with his probation officer frequently and made no attempts to leave Southern California.
Seiden was concerned that Nakoula would be in danger in federal prison because of Muslim inmates, but prosecutors said he likely would be placed in protective custody.
The full story about Nakoula and the video still isn’t known.
The movie was made last year by a man who called himself Sam Bacile. After the violence erupted, a man who identified himself as Bacile spoke to media outlets, including The Associated Press, took credit for the film and said it was meant to portray the truth about Muhammad and Islam, which he called a cancer.
The next day, the AP determined there was no Bacile and linked the identity to Nakoula, a former gas station owner with a drug conviction and a history of using aliases. Federal authorities later confirmed there was no Bacile and that Nakoula was behind the movie.
Before going into hiding, Nakoula acknowledged to the AP that he was involved with the film, but said he only worked on logistics and management.
When the judge asked him during Thursday’s hearing what his true name was, Nakoula said his name was Mark Basseley Youseff. He said he’d been using that name since 2002.
Some of the false statements in Nakoula’s alleged probation violations had to do with the film, Dugdale said. Nakoula claimed his role was just writing the script, and denied going by the name Sam Bacile in connection with the film, Dugdale said.
None of the violations relate to using the Internet, Dugdale said.
Lawrence Rosenthal, a constitutional and criminal law professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, said it was “highly unusual” for a judge to order immediate detention on a probation violation for a nonviolent crime, but if there were questions about Nakoula’s identity it was more likely.
“When the prosecution doesn’t really know who they’re dealing with, it’s much easier to talk about flight,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve prosecuted individuals who’d never given a real address. You don’t know who you’re dealing with, and you’re just going to have very limited confidence about their ability to show up in court.”
A film permit listed Media for Christ, a Los Angeles-area charity run by other Egyptian Christians, as the production company for “Innocence of Muslims.” Most of the film was made at the charity’s headquarters. Steve Klein, an insurance agent in Hemet and outspoken Muslim critic, has said he was a consultant and promoter for the film.
The trailer still can be found on YouTube. The Obama administration asked Google, YouTube’s parent, to take down the video. But the company has refused, saying the trailer didn’t violate its content standards.
Nakoula has put his home up for sale, disconnected his phones and gone into hiding since violence erupted over the film.
Enraged Muslims have demanded punishment for Nakoula, and a Pakistani cabinet minister has offered a $100,000 bounty to anyone who kills him.
First Amendment advocates have defended Nakoula’s right to make the film while condemning its content. And federal officials likely will face criticism from those who say Nakoula’s free speech rights were trampled by his arrest on a probation violation.
Meanwhile, a number of actors and workers on the film have come forward to say they were tricked. They say they were hired for a film titled “Desert Warrior” and there was no mention of Islam or Muhammad in the script. Those references were dubbed in after filming was completed.
Actress Cindy Lee Garcia has sued to get the trailer taken down, saying she was duped.