In a capitulation to hacking by North Korea, Sony did not release the Seth Rogen flick, “The Interview,” as planned. Released Sony emails proved embarrassing, and threats to theater bombings shut down a Hollywood film in an unprecedented way. President Obama took to the airways and said:
“Sony Pictures “made a mistake” when it decided to cancel the theatrical release of “The Interview” in the wake of cyber attacks from North Korea….
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” the president continued. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they do when they start seeing a documentary they don’t like, or news reports they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers or distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone whose sensibilities probably need to be offended,” reported CBS News.
President Obama’s remarks are accurate, but they make anyone with a memory feel as though they’ve just entered the twilight zone, since President Obama has already silenced at least one filmmaker right here in America not so long ago.
On September 11, 2012, crowds gathered in Egypt and Libya and assaulted U.S. diplomatic compounds. This led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stephens in Benghazi, Libya. Notwithstanding the coincidence of the date and the annual air of celebration many in the radical Muslim world have for this day of death in America, the Obama administration told the nation the protests were in response to Innocence of Muslims, an on-line You Tube video written, produced, and directed by Mark Basseley Youssef, aka Sam Bacile, depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a way Muslim’s consider blasphemous.
In September 2012, Bacile was arrested and held in federal detention without bail. The New York Times cited reports that leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan issued warrants for Bacile’s death, and, so we were told, the detention was for Bacile’s own safety. While in custody, coincidentally, Bacile was then charged in federal court for violating four conditions of his probation from a 2010 bank fraud case for maintaining additional identities. How convenient for the government. The assistant United States attorney Robert Dugdale later dropped the four charges against Bacile relating to Innocence of Muslims, but then proceeded to use those very charges against him as he argued for jail time, the New York Times reported. Bacile entered a guilty plea and served one year in prison.
A lot was uncovered about Bacile’s past, and complaints by some of the cast of Innocence of Muslims have been filed against him for fraudulently inducing them to act in the project. His character notwithstanding, there can be no credible argument that the arrest and subsequent jailing of Bacile did not amount to censorship by the United States government on a filmmaker. Bacile’s arrest, detention without bail, and one-year sentence seem obviously connected to the administration’s response to the 2012 9/11 events and amount to censorship. Charging his probation violations shields the government’s true motive here.
So we learn another lesson today. North Korea cannot bully U.S. filmmakers. We have our president’s support in preserving the American way and the very fabric of our civil society — free speech — is intact. However, when a filmmaker or even a conservative nonprofit group decides to express an opinion the president doesn’t like, filmmakers are jailed and the IRS attacks. This duplicitous behavior on the part of government should give us all pause. Ask Bacile, who was released from prison in August 2013 to a half-way house in Los Angeles. In this way, the very fabric of our civil society — free speech — becomes frayed, and protecting it has become an arbitrary exercise at the whim of government.
“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding” (Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis).