Dispatches from the small group of reporters that always travel with the president – referred to as “pool reports” – are usually pretty mundane affairs: Air Force One landed at such and such a time, POTUS (president of the United States) motorcaded to such and such spot, POTUS did this, POTUS did that.
But Saturday evening in Chicago, as the pool of roughly seven or eight reporters waited for President Obama while he and his family attended a backyard barbecue at a friend’s house, they were surrounded by nearly two-dozen members of the Nation of Islam’s security services.
Here’s how it went down, based on pool reports from the New York Times’ Jackie Calmes. Pool reports are sent out to the entire White House press corps, as well as other reporters who ask to receive them.
At 4:10 p.m., the reporters in the pool were positioned at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and East 50th Street and watched as the president, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters Malia and Sasha, and the first lady’s mother and brother and his wife walked up the street to the home of Marty Nesbitt.
The pool was then moved, in vans as part of a motorcade, to Woodlawn and 49th, where they waited for several hours. It turns out, they were right in front of the home of Louis Farrakhan, the current leader of the Nation of Islam.
As the handful of reporters stood on the sidewalk outside the vans passing time, a man came out of Farrakhan’s mansion and asked them to keep their feet off the grass, though as Calmes’ report notes, the only grass their feet had touched was city curbside property.
The man went back inside the mansion’s black iron fence and paced back and forth while talking on a cell phone. He then picked up a two-way radio. Calmes noted that he could be heard uttering the words “CIA.”
The man, never identified in the pool report, then came back to the reporters in the pool and talked to the Secret Service agent with them. The agent could be heard asking the man, “How is this a security breach?”
Calmes wrote: “The man said something else and at that point the agent stuck out his hand to shake hands and introduced himself as a Secret Service agent. He added, ‘Sir, I can assure you that we will do nothing to interfere with whatever is going on in there.’”
By 8 p.m., the man had been joined by three others, one of whom began “staring daggers” at Calmes and her fellow reporters.
Calmes asked the man twice if they were standing next to Farrakhan’s house, prompting the man to say, “I don’t have no comment.”
By 8:45 p.m., about a dozen men had arrived, and Calmes referred to them as Fruit of Islam members, which is the NOI’s paramilitary wing. Two walked by the reporters chanting, “Islam.” Several of the men photographed the reporters, the government van carrying them and its license plates.
“As each casually dressed man arrives, he exchanges elaborate handshake/hug/double air-kisses with others,” Calmes wrote. “One came and stood close to a couple poolers and OUR agent. He asked if he could help. No answer. He asked again. The man said no. The agent said, ‘Secret Service — Please move away from this group of people.’”
As it was growing dark, the Secret Service agent asked the reporters to move into their van.
By 9:20 p.m., there were 22 men surrounding or nearby the reporters in the van. But three other Secret Service agents showed up. One talked to one of the NOI members, and then the three agents left.
At 10:15 p.m., the standoff ended with the help of a local clergyman.
Calmes wrote: “Your pooler got a call at about 10:15 local time from a pool report reader who identified himself as the Rev. Gary Hunter, a Baptist minister in Motown … He said he had called Minister Farrakhan and his son and asked them to have the Fruit stand down.”
“’I told him you were good people,’ Rev. Hunter said. ‘He said he didn’t know you all were just waiting for the president.’”
At 10:33 p.m., the van rejoined the motorcade for the short drive back to the Obama’s home.