Early yesterday morning VICE was anonymously furnished with documents that link a California man named Robert Brownell (aka Robert Brown) to the pre-production of Innocence of Muslims, the F-grade anti-Islamic film that has resulted in violent protests at and around US embassies in Sanaa, Yemen; Cairo; Tripoli; and Doha, Qatar. He is a man who has, as of yet, not been named in association with the film.
The documents clearly state that in 2009 and 2011 Robert Brownell purchased pre-production services related to Desert Warrior, which has been widely reported as the working title of the film that the world now knows as Innocence of Muslims.
The documents also include Robert Brownell’s address in Tarzana, California (or at least his address when the purchases were made in 2009; the property is now up for sale), phone number, and “contact information,” which lists yet a different name—Alan Roberts.
If you’ve been following this story closely, you know that Alan Roberts was listed as the film’s original director alongside a man who produced—and some reports suggest ended up directing—the film: Sam Bacile, aka Sam Basselley, aka Nakoula Bassely Nakoula.
Peoplefinders.com lists a 65-year-old man named Robert Alan Brown in North Hollywood, California, as having the aliases Roboert [sic] Brownell and Alan B. Roberts. His “business associations” include Alan Roberts Entertainment. A cross-search on Nexis’s public records database seems to corroborate that Robert Brownell, Robert Brown, and Alan Roberts are all the same person.
Digging around on the person—or persons—named Robert Brownell, you’ll find myriad accounts for him on places like YouTube, GodTube, Jokeroo, and many other religious-themed video-streaming sites. (This video is particularly… interesting.) There’s also divinerevelations.info, a terribly designed website that on first glance appears to be an ode to a funny-looking Korean Christian pastor named Yong Doo Kim, but if you keep digging you’ll discover that divinerevelations.info corresponds almost identically with a spiritlessons.com, “The Testimony of Robert Brownell,” a goofball account of some guy who was obsessed with porn but eventually found the lord. After reaching out to crew members who worked on Desert Warrior/Innocence of Muslims, a few agreed to speak to me on background and confirmed that the Robert Brownell responsible for posting all of the pro-Christian videos I linked to above WAS NOT the Robert Brownell associated with the film, but they did confirm that the Robert Brownell in question is in his mid-50s to late-60s with gray hair and glasses.
So for now, exactly who directed this scourge of humanity—and whether or not it had multiple directors and producers—is still unclear, but I have a feeling it won’t be that way for long.
As I see it (and to make things streak-free clear, this is only my personal theory), there are two ways this can go: 1) Robert Brownell/Robert A. Brown is an unlucky guy who had his identity stolen by the person who paid for aspects of the film's pre-production (which isn’t out of the question considering that Nakoula Bassely Nakoula has gone to prison for identity theft, among other things), or 2) Robert Brownell/Brown and Alan Roberts are the same person. Multiple calls to and voicemails left on the number listed for Alan Roberts in the documents were not returned. And to my ears, the voicemail greeting states, "Hi, thanks for calling. I'm sorry I'm not in to take your call but if at the sound of the tone you leave me your name and telephone number, I'll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks for calling and have a great day," spoken in the even-cadenced voice of a middle-age man. Is this Alan Roberts? Robert Brownell? Robert Brown? Will we ever know?
The documents also list a purchase made by a second (or possibly third) party: Jimmy Israel, who says he had minimal involvement in the film, the script of which he says was drastically different from the YouTube clips that have been denounced by members of the cast and crew and sparked widespread outrage in the Middle East. The accounts through which this information was obtained are registered to two users: Jimmy Israeal—and wouldn’t you know it—Adenob Basseley (whose address is listed as being in Hawaiian Gardens, CA, which would match up with the AP story that listed Nakoula Bassely Nakoula’s approximate location).
After innumerable dead-end calls and emails to Steve Klein, various cast and crew members, and completely unrelated people who happened to have the same names as people associated with the film, I attempted to contact Terry Jones (whom Motherboard interviewed yesterday) whose associate told me he was too busy to answer one follow-up question. When asked to relay the question she said, “No, nu-uh, we have never heard of a Robert Brownell or Robert Brown.” I pressed her: “Are you sure Terry has never heard of this name?” She said no. It seemed to me that if Robert Brownell played more than a cursory and unmemorable role in the film’s production, no one was going to own up to it.
The only other people to speak to me on the record were model and Desert Warrior/Innocence of Muslims cast member Tim Dax (who respectfully declined an interview with a “:)” and “Way too much!”) and, completely unexpectedly, Jimmy Israel—the only name without “Brown” in it that appeared in the leaked documents mentioned above.
Judging from our conversation, Jimmy seems like a very nice man. But if he does know Alan Roberts, or is friendly with someone named Robert Brownell, he did not spill the beans. (But if you have any information about this person or persons and are willing to share it with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
VICE: I was sent information that suggests you purchased pre-production services for Desert Warrior/Innocence of Muslims.
Jimmy Israel: I don’t deny that, but I will only speak for myself. No one else.
Then the original person came back. I worked two days on this job and that was it.
What was your official position on the production? Do you know if you’re credited in the film?
No. When Sam Bacile came to me he wanted me to produce the film, and I said OK. I am not a director; I am a producer. But I was going to—I wanted to direct the film. The original person who introduced me to Sam came back and said he would do it, so Sam went with him. So I worked two days and that was it.
What other movies have you produced?
I haven’t. I’ve written screenplays. I have worked at the very highest levels of European filmmaking, but they were not produced. I have only worked on very fine literary-type feature films. This was something that came out of left field. And when I read the screenplay I was really sick. Not so much because of the blasphemy of Mohammed, but how in the original screenplay his name isn’t Mohammed, it’s George.
Yeah, it seems like whoever was responsible for the final product majorly misled the cast and crew.
Yeah, and I mean it’s not—if you read the whole screenplay, you know, it’s very thinly veiled that [the main character is] Mohammed. You can tell that it is Mohammed, at least for me. It’s all of his characteristics. So that’s all I did, and then I was replaced. I think it wasn’t right that Sam changed the whole thing to include the blood, torture, and all of this horrible crap.
How did you meet Sam Bacile?
I met him through the other fellow, the fellow that originally took over to back the production.
And you’re saying that Sam Bacile is absolutely not Nakoula Basseley?
He’s not, he’s not—I’m sorry, what?
Sam Bacile and Nakoula Basseley are not—
I don’t know, I really don’t know. I heard Nakoula Basseley was the name of his son.
I see, but you’re saying that, as far as you know, they’re not the same person.
Well, he told me it was his son.
Do you know Robert Brownell, aka Robert Brown?
I have no comment on—it’s not my place to comment. I don’t know anybody else.
As far as I know, his name has not been associated with this film thus far. I do have his number and I do have other information about him, but you’re saying you don’t know this man?
No. I’m certain that I have no comment on this person at all. Like I said, I’m only here to comment on my own about myself.
Has there been any fallout from the film’s release? Have you had any death threats or anything?
No, no, no.
Seeing as you got out of it early—
I’ll probably be the first one to have [threats] because my name was found out. If you can find out and other people can… all the other news agencies are calling me. So…
And I know that must not be great, but I appreciate you talking to me.
I don’t have time, I’m not a wealthy man and I need work. As I said, I worked on this two days. That’s it.
It’s been reported that the original director, who you will not name, is in hiding.
Yes, he is. He is very frightened.
I would imagine. And did the original director know going in that perhaps Bacile had ulterior motives for the final product?
The film is about the persecution of Coptic Christians through Egypt. That’s what it’s about. The references to the pre-contemporary times where, you know, George appears are integrated into the story, the contemporary story. And so, what was the question again?
There have been allegations that it has been redubbed. I know you don’t have knowledge of this specifically because you weren’t—
No, I don’t have knowledge of that. What I think is that Sam Bacile went to Egypt. He told me he was trying to raise money. I don’t know why, how, and so forth, but he might have shown this picture and some people in Egypt might’ve said they wouldn’t give money out but they took a copy of it and dubbed it, that’s my guess. But did Bacile himself do this? I don’t know. Because, as I said, the name of the character [in the original script] was not Mohammed, it was George.
Do you have a copy of the original script?
I do somewhere, and I haven’t found it yet. I just got the calls yesterday. And I haven’t looked. I also have thrown out a lot, just recently, so I don’t know if I threw it out or whatever but I have my notes on the screenplay, which are pretty intensive. That’s what I’ve got.
You haven’t seen the full film, correct?
I have not seen the full film. I didn’t see anything from Sam because he still owes me money. He does to everybody on the film, I think. He was, he was still… he was kind. He’s not a vicious person but he’s kind of sly, you know, and what was the—
It’s OK, it’s very confusing, all of this. I guess I’ll ask you, have you ever known Sam Bacile to be anti-Islamic or extreme in any way in terms of ideology?
You know, he’s just… he was very concerned about the Coptic Christian problem. He is a Coptic Christian. That’s what he told me, and that’s what the story is about. It’s not about the hatred of Mohammed or the hatred of Muslims, but if you’re a Coptic Christian, when you’re being persecuted it’s kind of like being Jewish and having fear and hatred of the Nazis. I myself am a pacifist and don’t hate anybody.
Do you have any religious affiliation?
I’m mostly Buddhist but I was raised Jewish.
What do you think about the initial rumors that said the film was financed by wealthy Jewish backers?
That’s ridiculous. That’s totally, totally ridiculous. Sam himself was the person who put up the money, maybe $90,000, maybe 100, but you know, I don’t really know, something like that. And that’s all that was spent on the film. It’s a terrible film. I saw the clip on YouTube.
You haven’t seen the full film though, right?
No, no. I don’t even know if there is a full film. He was continuing to edit, and that’s all I know.
Do you know anything about how it ended up on YouTube? What I don’t understand is—
No. No, I don’t, I don’t. I was just… I guided myself there yesterday and took a look yesterday.
Something I don’t quite understand is that you said there’s a possibility that some extremists got ahold of the film when he was trying to get financing and dubbed it. Is that hearsay? Is it just a hunch you have?
That’s just my, you know, story of, you know, my fiction. I created that. I don’t know anything about that. He didn’t tell me that. He just told me he was in Egypt trying to raise money. So if you’re trying to raise money, you usually show part of the picture and then people say, “Oh yeah, we’ll give you what you want.” So I guess that’s—my guess is, that’s just a guess, that’s all it is.