Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is in federal prison. He's scheduled to remain there until September. He's held under the name "Nakoula Basseley Nakoula," not as "Sam Bacile" (the name he used make the anti-Islamic film "the Innocence of Muslims,") nor under the name "Mark Bassely Youssef" (which he now claims is his current correct name, notwithstanding that he pleaded guilty to a federal crime under the Nakoula name).
Why is he in prison? It depends on who's talking.
To hear some people talk, he's in prison because he made an anti-Islamic movie, because the Obama Administration is eager to cover up the root causes of the Benghazi catastrophe, and because the Obama Administration wants to appease censorious Islamists. Some people merely imply this with headlines: "The guy who made “Innocence of Muslims” is still in jail, and we still don’t know who attacked Benghazi" Some people, like National Review's Rich Lowry, come right out and say it, asserting that Nakoula would not have been arrested and charged with a supervised release revocation but for his speech:
He is not going to win any good citizenship awards and violated the terms of his probation by using an alias (something Nakoula admits).
A violation of probation, though, usually produces a court summons and doesn’t typically lead to more jail time unless it involves an offense that would be worth prosecuting in its own right under federal standards. Not for Nakoula.
This wasn’t a case of nailing Al Capone on tax evasion. As Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute points out, Al Capone’s underlying offense was racketeering and gangland killings. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula’s underlying offense wasn’t an underlying offense. He exercised his First Amendment rights.
These people all have something in common. They've never prosecuted a supervised release revocation in federal court. They've never defended someone accused of violating supervised release in federal court. They've never worked as a federal probation officer or filed a petition to revoke a sueprvisee's release. They've never worked as a federal judge and approved or denied such a petition, or presided over such a hearing. They've never seen a supervised release revocation hearing. Moreover, I'd wager a substantial amount of money that before they opined about the proceedings against Nakoula they didn't talk to anyone who had ever done any of these things, or anyone reasonably well informed about how they are done.
I've observed, and participated in, federal supervised release revocation proceedings since 1995. In writing about Nakoula I've drawn not only on that experience but on the actual documents from his case and on the law. My premise has been this: anyone on supervised release for a federal fraud conviction and owing more than $700,000 in restitution would face supervised release revocation if the Probation Office discovered that they were using aliases, engaging in unreported financial transactions, and using computers in those transactions, all in violation of their terms of release. Most federal judges would issue arrest warrants, not summonses, and most federal judges would order jail time to such a person if they found he had obtained and used a false driver's license and concealed transactions from the Probation Officer. Rich Lowry's claim that "[a] violation of probation, though, usually produces a court summons and doesn’t typically lead to more jail time unless it involves an offense that would be worth prosecuting in its own right under federal standards" is quite frankly pulled straight out of his ass. Supervisees are routinely arrested rather than summoned, particularly when there are indications they might be a flight risk — like using a false identity. Supervisees are routinely returned to prison for offenses that would never be prosecuted federally as separate crimes.
Is Nakoula in federal prison because he made the "Innocence of Muslims" video? Superficially, perhaps, in the sense that his behavior may have escaped detection if he hadn't become famous. It's even possible that someone in the Obama Administration tipped off — or pressured — the Probation Office about his conduct. (If that's what happened, there ought to be a Congressional investigation.) But Nakoula's conduct is the sort that would absolutely be pursued if detected by his Probation Office and would routinely result in a revocation of supervised release and a return to federal prison. People saying otherwise don't know what they are talking about or don't care, or both.
I support a vigorous Congressional inquiry into the attack at Benghazi. The most charitable interpretations of the inquiry to date raise grave concerns about the honesty and decency of Obama Administration officials. I support asking hard questions about whether anyone in the administration contacted the U.S. Probation Office in Los Angeles about Nakoula. But this inquiry doesn't require, and shouldn't encourage, lying about the law. We should absolutely fight, to our last breath, pressure to yield to unprincipled "hate speech" and "anti-blasphemy" norms of other countries. But the cause of freedom of expression is not advanced by cynical and dishonest partisan bullshit.
Edited to add:
Mr. Baldwin, you're completely awesome. But my days of taking you serious politically are certainly coming to a middle.
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