Man arrested in terrorist case was 'South Park' protester

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Virginia man who had issued "warnings" to the creators of Comedy Central's animated series "South Park," saying they risked death if they showed the prophet Muhammad in a bear costume, has been arrested and charged with giving material support to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab.

Zachary Chesser, 20, was arrested Wednesday on charges unrelated to the online "warnings" that he posted to "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker over the show's 200th and 201st episodes, in which viewers were led to believe Muhammad was disguised in a bear suit -- only it turned out to be Saint Nicholas in the bear costume.

Comedy Central censored the episodes when they were telecast in April, clumsily wiping out the cartoon bear-suited Santa Claus from its scenes.

According to records, Chesser, an Oakton High School grad, told federal agents he twice tried to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab as a fighter. According to an FBI affidavit made public Wednesday, Chesser told authorities he had traveled with his infant son to avoid suspicion when attempting to reach Somalia.

Comedy Central declined to comment on Wednesday's arrest; efforts to reach Stone and Parker were unsuccessful.

In April, the two men issued an angry statement complaining about the Viacom-owned Comedy Central censoring the episodes after Chesser posted that the cartoon satirists would likely be killed for their depiction (or not) of Muhammad.

"We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode," the duo said in their missive, which they slapped on the show's Web site. "Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all, but it got bleeped too," Stone and Parker complained.

After the 200th episode debuted, the Web site posted a statement saying, "We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid. . . . They will probably end up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show." That's a reference to the Dutch filmmaker who was murdered in 2004 after making a documentary about violence against Muslim women. In its "warning" to Stone and Parker, the Web site illustrated its point with a photo of the filmmaker's body. The site also posted the addresses of Comedy Central's New York headquarters and of the "South Park" production company.

In the 201st episode, all verbal references to Muhammad were bleeped out and the bear costume was unzipped to reveal Santa Claus inside. All images of Muhammad were redacted with a large black strip on which was written the word "censored." In 2001, however, Parker and Stone included images of Muhammad in an episode that was not censored. Ironically, the two censored episodes are nominated for an Emmy this year.

Chesser's initial court appearance is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in federal court in Alexandria.

Julie Chen gets a 'View'

Julie Chen has added another show to her CBS empire.

The network announced Wednesday that Chen will be one of the panelists on a new "The View"-like daytime chick-panel talk show, debuting in the fall.

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