Went to one of the strangest press conferences today -with a colleague.
A self-described Iranian group -Iran Peyvand Association -was holding forth on bringing the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or at least their leader, to justice.
The group, exiled from Iran after the '79 revolution, took root in Iraq and was more than once in the employ of Saddam Hussein, as when they squashed the '91 Kurdish and Shia uprisings.
Currently, over 3,000 MEK members live in Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, where they remain under the Geneva Convention’s "protected person" status.
The presenters also brought a strong anti-war message.
Soon the press conference descended into chaos though, as attendees, several of whom were carrying material from the Committee Against Ahmadinejad, accused the presenters of being Iranian agents.
There were repeated interruptions and one "freelance journalist" questioning their ties to Iranian intel was escorted out. A Farsi-speaking attendee complained that the translator for the press conference was giving erroneous translations. Later she said "I'm sorry, but what you're saying doesn't make any sense!" She complained of fabrications.
Silencing the interruptions was like playing "whack-a-mole" for the presenters, and they were clearly losing the game. The interruptions were aggressive - some were from journalists and others from ideologues. They made it clear they wanted to go straight to Q&A and skip the speech. (Since when does a journalist give 'orders' at a press conference?)
Adding to the circus-like atmosphere, was one of these attendees, an obnoxious crewcut-wearing Caucasian man, sporting dark glasses, and a trench coat with the collar turned up. (He was carrying who materials from Committee Against Ahmadinejad with him)
When presenters objected to his noisy and lengthy diatribes and interruptions, he warned "I'm with intelligence!" (A statement which carried all the gravitas of say, Brad Pitt's character in 12 Monkeys.)
Presenters soon called security as though they were supposed to do something. A cameraman with a British-Israeli journalist warned the guard “You are not allowed to expel anyone from here.”
The presenters finally stopped the event and called in Capitol police, more security and a rep from the Press Club. And it only got weirder.
Police questioned a British-Israeli journalist I was standing next to after she was accused by a supporter of the presenting party of taking a photograph of him.
"Did you take a picture of him? Did you take pictures of people in the audience? Did you stand on a chair and take pictures?" the officer asked her.
The reporter first was speechless.
“Of course I’m taking pictures,” the reporter said, “I’ve got a cameraman. This is a press conference.”
"Are you an Israeli?" the officer asked her.
"Well that's it," he said with a smile. "She's an Israeli. That's the problem."
To make it weirder, even though they were complaining to police about her taking photos of attendees (which she was doing) the presenters were also taking photos of attendees including of myself and a colleague of mine. Of course, part of the nuttiness is who cares? It's a press conference! And presenters often want picture of an audience to show how many people were there.
But then again, I did wonder at the time why the journalist was agressively taking individual pictures of everyone in the audience, including me and my colleague, seated in the back row. Why was that seemingly such an interesting & important issue for her? I found it odd and annoying.
And all this took place...ironically, in the First Amendment Lounge of the National Press Club.
There definitely was that aroma of paranoia -everyone accusing everyone else of being intel.
In the end a woman with the presenters was sitting at the front of the room holding her head in her hands. (And probably wishing she had some Advil).
You can find my article on this tomorrow online @ www.cnsnews.com