The Chicago Seven (originally Chicago Eight, also Conspiracy Eight/Conspiracy Seven) were seven defendants—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests that took place in Chicago, Illinois on the occasion of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Bobby Seale, the eighth man charged, had his trial severed during the proceedings, lowering the number from eight to seven.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in late August—convened to select the party's candidates for the November 1968 Presidential election. Prior to and during the convention—which took place at the International Amphitheatre—rallies, demonstrations, marches, and attempted marches took place on the streets and in the lakefront parks, about five miles away from the convention site. These activities were primarily in protest of President Lyndon B. Johnson's policies for the Vietnam War, policies which were vigorously contested during the presidential primary campaign and inside the convention.
Anti-war groups had petitioned the city of Chicago for permits to march the five miles from the central business district (the Loop) to within sight of the convention site, to hold a number of rallies in the lakefront parks and also near the convention, and to camp in Lincoln Park. The city denied all permits, except for one afternoon rally at the old bandshell at the south end of Grant Park. The city also enforced an 11:00 pm curfew in Lincoln Park. Confrontations with protesters ensued as the police enforced the curfew, stopped attempts to march to the International Amphitheatre, and cleared crowds from the streets.
The Grant Park rally on Wednesday, August 28, 1968, was attended by about 15,000 protesters, while other actions involved hundreds or thousands. After the large rally, several thousand protesters attempted to march to the International Amphitheatre, but were stopped in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, where the presidential candidates and their campaigns were headquartered (as well as a young Donald Rumsfeld). Police moves to push the protesters out of the street were accompanied by tear gas, verbal and physical confrontation, frequent use of police batons to beat people, rocks and bottles thrown by protesters, damage to private commercial property by protesters, and scores of arrests. The television networks broadcast footage of these clashes, cutting away from the nominating speeches for the presidential candidates.
Over the course of five days and nights, the police made arrests, in addition to using tear gas, Mace, and batons on the marchers. Hundreds of police officers and protesters were injured. Dozens of journalists covering the actions were also clubbed by police or had cameras smashed and film confiscated. In the aftermath of what was later characterized as a "police riot" by the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, a federal grand jury indicted eight demonstrators and eight police officers.
Grand Jury and Indictment
- A conspiracy by protesters to cross state lines to incite a riot
- Violations by police of the civil rights of demonstrators by use of excessive force
- TV network violations of the Federal Communications Act
- TV network violations of federal wiretap laws.
Over the course of more than six months the grand jury met 30 times and heard some 200 witnesses. However, President Lyndon Johnson's Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, discouraged an indictment, believing that the violence during the convention was primarily caused by actions of the Chicago police. The grand jury returned indictments only after President Richard Nixon took office and John Mitchell assumed the office of Attorney General. On March 20, 1969, eight protesters were charged with various crimes and eight police officers were charged with civil rights violations.
The eight defendants were charged under the anti-riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which made it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot. The Chicago 8 indictment alleged crimes of three kinds: 
- That all eight defendants conspired (together with another sixteen unindicted co-conspirators) to cross state lines to incite a riot, to teach the making of an incendiary device, and to commit acts to impede law enforcement officers in their lawful duties.
- That David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale individually crossed state lines to incite a riot.
- That John Froines and Lee Weiner instructed other persons in the construction and use of an incendiary device.
The sixteen unindicted co-conspirators were: Wolfe B. Lowenthal, Stewart E. Albert, Sidney M. Peck, Kathy Boudin, Corina F. Fales, Benjamin Radford, Thomas W. Neumann, Craig Shimabukuro, Bo Taylor, David A. Baker, Richard Bosciano, Terry Gross, Donna Gripe, Benjamin Ortiz, Joseph Toornabene, and Richard Palmer.
|“||While defending the Chicago Seven, [Kunstler] put the war in Vietnam on trial - asking Judy Collins to sing "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" from the witness stand, placing a Viet Cong flag on the defence table, and wearing a black armband to commemorate the war dead.||”|
The original eight defendants, indicted by the grand jury on March 20, 1969, were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale. The defense attorneys were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge was Julius Hoffman. The prosecutors were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran. The trial began on September 24, 1969, and on October 9 the United States National Guard was called in for crowd control as demonstrations grew outside the courtroom.
Early in the course of the trial, Black Panther Party activist Bobby Seale hurled bitter attacks at Judge Hoffman in court, calling him a "fascist dog", a "honky", a "pig", and a "racist", among other things. Seale had wanted the trial postponed so that his own attorney, Charles Garry, could represent him (as Garry was about to undergo gallbladder surgery). The judge denied the postponement, and refused to allow Seale to represent himself, leading to Seale's verbal onslaught. When Seale refused to be silenced, the judge ordered Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom, citing a precedent from the case of Illinois v. Allen. (This was alluded to in Graham Nash's song, "Chicago", which opened with: "So your brother's bound and gagged, and they've chained him to a chair"). Ultimately, Judge Hoffman severed Seale from the case, sentencing him to four years in prison for contempt of court, one of the longest sentences ever handed down for that offense in the US up to that time.
The Chicago Eight then became the Chicago Seven, where the defendants, particularly Yippies Hoffman and Rubin, mocked courtroom decorum as the widely publicized trial itself became a focal point for a growing legion of protesters. One day, defendants Hoffman and Rubin appeared in court dressed in judicial robes. When the judge ordered them to remove the robes, they complied, to reveal that they were wearing Chicago police uniforms underneath. Hoffman blew kisses at the jury. Judge Hoffman became the favorite courtroom target of the defendants, who frequently would insult the judge to his face. Abbie Hoffman (no relation) told Judge Hoffman "you are a 'shande fur de Goyim' [disgrace in front of the gentiles]. You would have served Hitler better." He later added that "your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room." Both Davis and Rubin told the Judge "this court is bullshit."
|“||I pointed out that it was in the best interests of the City to have us in Lincoln Park ten miles away from the Convention hall. I said we had no intention of marching on the Convention hall, that I didn't particularly think that politics in America could be changed by marches and rallies, that what we were presenting was an alternative life style, and we hoped that people of Chicago would come up, and mingle in Lincoln Park and see what we were about.||”|
The trial extended for months, with many celebrated figures from the American left and counterculture called to testify, including folk singers Phil Ochs, Judy Collins and Arlo Guthrie, writers Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg, and activists Timothy Leary and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Ochs, who was involved in planning for the demonstrations, told the court how he had acquired a pig to nominate as a presidential candidate. Rubin attempted to deliver the acceptance speech for the pig, named Pigasus, but before he could finish police arrested him and Ochs under a livestock ordinance, a charge later changed to disorderly conduct.
While the jury deliberated on the verdict, Judge Hoffman cited all the defendants—-plus their lawyers Kunstler and Weinglass—-for numerous contempts of court and imposed sentences ranging from 2½ months to four years.
On February 18, 1970, all seven defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy. Two (Froines and Weiner) were acquitted completely, while the remaining five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot, a crime instituted by the anti-riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. On February 20, they were sentenced to five years in prison. In addition, they were fined $5,000 each.
On November 21, 1972, all of the convictions were reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on the basis that the judge was biased in his refusal to permit defense attorneys to screen prospective jurors for cultural and racial bias. The Justice Department decided not to retry the case. During the trial, all the defendants and both defense attorneys had been cited for contempt and sentenced to jail, but all of those convictions were also overturned.
The contempt charges were retried before a different judge, who found Dellinger, Rubin, Hoffman, and Kunstler guilty of some of the charges, but opted not to sentence the defendants to jail or fines.
Documentary and dramatic presentations
Mixing fact and fiction, Haskell Wexler's 1969 film, Medium Cool, centers around the relationship between a cameraman and young widow as they find themselves amid the turmoil and violence during the "long hot summer" of Chicago. Wexler mixed staged scenes with actual footage he shot from the demonstrations, his characters interacting with the protesters seamlessly. Indeed, at one point, the viewer can hear another filmmaker telling Wexler he is getting too close to the action.
French left-wing political filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, under the collective Dziga Vertov Group, made a film depicting the trials in 1970 called Vladimir et Rosa. In it, Judge Julius Hoffman becomes "Judge Himmler" and the accused become microcosms of French revolutionary society. Lenin and Karl Rosa also appear, played by Godard and Gorin, respectively.
In the 1971 Peter Watkins film Punishment Park, members of the counter-culture are put on trial for similar "crimes". Like Black Panther Party activist Bobby Seale, one of the African-American defendants is bound and gagged.
Woody Allen satirized the trial in his 1971 film Bananas. Allen's character, Fielding Melish, is on trial and defending himself. The judge orders Melish bound and gagged. In the next scene, a bound and gagged Allen coerces a confession, à la Perry Mason, from a prosecution witness in his cross-examination.
In 1987, HBO aired Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, a docudrama which re-enacted the trial using the court transcript as the primary source for the script. All eight of the original defendants, along with defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, participated in the project and provided commentary throughout the film. It was awarded the 1988 CableACE Award for Best Dramatic Special.
In 1993, British playwright John Goodchild adapted the original trial transcripts for a radio play produced by L.A. Theatre Works, titled The Chicago Conspiracy Trial. Its cast included David Schwimmer (Abbie Hoffman), Tom Amandes (Richard Schultz), George Murdock (Judge Julius Hoffman), and Mike Nussbaum (William Kunstler). The play received a New York Festivals award in 1993.
In the 2007 film Chicago 10, Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen intercuts archival footage from the period, including the events of August 1968, with animated scenes from the trial drawn from the court transcript. The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and released in theaters in February 2008.
A feature film made at the time of the trial, based on the trial transcript and distributed by New Line Cinema, The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus, by Cannes-winning director Kerry Feltham, was released in January 2008 on DVD. The film won the Berlin Film Festival jury prize, as well as positive reviews from the New York Times and Newsweek.
Archival footage of events at the Chicago demonstrations was featured in the 2010 documentary Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune. The film, which also featured interviews with many of Ochs' associates, including Rubin and Hoffman, was a dual portrait of the singer-songwriter's career and the protest movements of the 1960s.
The Chicago 8, written and directed by Pinchas Perry, was filmed in September and October 2009 and released on October 23, 2012. The film is based closely on the trial transcripts and most of the action takes place in the courtroom.
Writer Aaron Sorkin wrote a script entitled The Trial of the Chicago 7, based on the conspiracy trial. Producers Steven Spielberg, Walter F. Parkes, and Laurie MacDonald collaborated on the development of Sorkin's script, with Spielberg intending to direct the film. Sacha Baron Cohen was originally cast as Abbie Hoffman, while Spielberg approached Will Smith for the role of Bobby Seale, and planned to meet Heath Ledger about the possibility of playing Tom Hayden. The WGA strike, which lasted for 100 days, meant Spielberg was unable to begin filming in April 2008 and he suspended the project. Subsequently, Sorkin was to continue to rewrite the script for Spielberg, and the director intended to mostly cast unknowns to keep the budget down. Paul Greengrass and Ben Stiller have been rumored as replacement directors, but the project has apparently not moved forward.
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