Lee Weiner

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Lee Weiner
Weiner outside the Chicago Federal Building on February 11, 1970, during the trial of the Chicago Seven
Weiner outside the Chicago Federal Building on February 11, 1970, during the trial of the Chicago Seven
Born1938/1939 (age 82–83)
Chicago, Illinois, US
Alma materNorthwestern University
Notable worksConspiracy to Riot (2020)

Lee Weiner (born 1938 or 1939)[1] is an author and member of the Chicago Seven who was charged with "conspiring to use interstate commerce with intent to incite a riot" and "teaching demonstrators how to construct incendiary devices that would be used in civil disturbances"[2][3][4] at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Weiner and his co-defendant John Froines were acquitted of the charges by the jury.[5] In 2020, Weiner published a memoir, Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7.

Early life and education[edit]

Weiner is the only member of the Chicago Seven from Chicago,[4] and was raised on Chicago's South Side.[6] When the trial of the Chicago Seven began in September 1969, Weiner was a doctoral candidate and teaching assistant at Northwestern University, had previously graduated from the University of Illinois, studied political philosophy at Hebrew University of Jerusalem,[1] and earned a master's degree in social work from Loyola University's School of Social Work in Chicago.[7] At Northwestern University, Weiner worked for Howard S. Becker as a research assistant.[8]

As a caseworker, Weiner witnessed dire poverty in Black neighborhoods, and wrote in his memoir, "Every day ... the work I did drove punishing truths into my head about what was wrong in America."[9]

At the 1968 Chicago demonstrations, Weiner served as a marshal with the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.[10] In 2018, Weiner told Olivia Waxman of TIME magazine that "On Aug[ust] 28, during the huge battle on Michigan Avenue with the National Guard, I separated myself from the crowd to stand on the steps of the Art Institute and watch the crowd of people. It was the only time in my life I thought a revolution might happen in the United States."[11]


First dubbed the "Conspiracy 8" and later the "Chicago 7", the defendants included Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale, as well as "little-known community activist and social worker" Lee Weiner.[12][13] Each of the defendants contributed an essay to the 1969 book, "The Conspiracy," edited by Peter Babcox and Deborah Abel. In Weiner's essay, "The Political Trial of a People's Insurrection", Weiner writes:

Using the artificial, state-controlled rules of the court, the U.S. government's prosecutors and judge will attempt to interpret the people's insurrection in Chicago as the private and deliberate manipulation of eight evil men. The government will be desperate to play down the independent action of thousands of people who openly resisted illegitimate political and police power. The trial, therefore, must blur and soften the contours of what actually happened, and instead focus upon and magnify the roles of these eight men in particular. The alternative image – one of a popular insurrection rooted in the experience and desires of people that was put down by the deliberate exercise of state-controlled violence – too clearly focuses public attention on what America is all about. The government effort is intended to punish and frighten a growing, insurgent mass movement of both the young and concerned adults, and to protect the official myths of political reality in America.[14]

J. Anthony Lukas described Weiner as "a strangely remote figure who shunned most of the defendants' extracurricular activities."[15][4] According to Professor Douglas Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, "Weiner rarely attended defense strategy sessions, perhaps out of a belief that their cause was hopeless. He spent most of his trial hours reading science fiction paperbacks or books on eastern philosophy. Weiner reacted to few courtroom developments, viewing the proceedings with a mixture of scorn and amusement."[15] During the trial, a poster that said "Make a New Year's Revolution, Kids!"[16] featuring Weiner and his girlfriend at the time, Sharon Avery, nude and with lights in their hair, was distributed "to the young people waiting out on the cold to sit in on our trial to thank them for supporting us," according to Weiner.[11]

Groucho Marx was asked to testify at the trial, and Weiner wanted him to teach the courtroom about satire; Groucho said it would be "an honor" but declined, thinking his last name would bias the judge against him.[9] According to Weiner, towards the end of the trial, "there was no question we would be put in jail. I ended up going, mostly for correcting my name. People always pronounced it Wee-ner. It's Wye-ner. When the judge would say Wee-ner, I would shout out, "It's Wye-ner," and he got pissed off and charged me with contempt, which was a perfect summary of my political stance. I was sentenced to two and a half months."[17][18] While the jury deliberated, the judge cited the defendants and their lawyers for 159 counts of criminal contempt; Weiner was convicted on seven charges of criminal contempt.[19]

After being taken to jail following their convictions for contempt on February 14, 1970,[20] the defendants "almost immediately" stood on top of tables in the common areas and gave speeches of "defiance", getting applause and laughter from fellow inmates, and were quickly put into isolation cells.[9] With the exception of David Dellinger, jail officials cut the long hair of the defendants for 'sanitary reasons.'[21] Weiner recalls Abbie Hoffman "yelled that we should fight, force them to pay a price, that our hair was a symbol of our freedom and of everything we believed and we couldn't just acquiesce," before being held down by guards for the haircut.[22] After the haircuts, Cook County Sheriff Joseph I. Woods showed pictures of the defendants to an audience on February 23, 1970, that according to John Kifner of The New York Times included "about 100 laughing and applauding members of the Elk Grove Township Republican organization at a meeting in the suburban Mount Prospect Country Club."[21] The defendants were released from jail on February 28, 1970.[23]

The jury acquitted all seven defendants of conspiracy and only acquitted Weiner and John Froines on all charges.[24][25] Weiner's contempt convictions were later reversed and remanded on appeal.[19][5] At retrial, Weiner was acquitted of all contempt charges.[10]


After the trial, Weiner left Chicago after accepting an offer to teach in the sociology department of Rutgers University,[26] and moved to Brooklyn with his girlfriend at the time, Sharon Avery.[11]

People magazine reports, "At a birthday party for Black Panther leader Bobby Seale in 1972, Weiner was overheard joking that he was "starting a new Communist party in New Jersey." The remark turned up in print, and he was told that his teaching contract at Rutgers would not be renewed."[27] Weiner completed his PhD in sociology[28] and dissertation, The Professional Revolutionary: Notes on the Initiation and Development of Careers in Revolution Making in 1975.[29]

In the years following the trial, Weiner continued to work and protest for causes. He has worked for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in New York,[30][31] participated in protests for Russian Jews and more funding for AIDS research,[32] and was a vice president for direct response at the AmeriCares Foundation in Stamford, Connecticut.[33] He currently resides in Florida,[4] and has offered commentary on similarities from his experience and protests in 2020,[34] including the police response in Phoenix, such as what Weiner recalls in his memoir as the hair of the Chicago Seven defendants being displayed by a sheriff after they were taken to jail and given haircuts, and recent police challenge coins, with Weiner stating, "It's clear they're trying to accomplish the same goal, the same thing the federal government did in 1968, '69, '70 ... What they were trying to do is indict a bunch of people and scare the s*** out of anybody that looked like them."[35]


Weiner has written a memoir, Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7,[36] about how "the actions that brought him before a jury and a vindictive government were part of a long tradition of American radicalism that had shaped him from an early age and remain directly relevant to today's efforts to change America for the better."[12]

According to Malik Jackson, writing for South Side Weekly, "when reading Weiner's recollection of the demonstrations, which mostly took place on Michigan Ave. and in Grant Park, one is struck by the similarities between this imagery and the events we've witnessed on our own streets in recent years. There is the common instance of police charging crowds and trampling protesters, picking out individuals at random to beat with clubs. There were other instances of undercover cops blending into the crowd to overhear strategic discussions between marshals and subsequently stalking them—which is how Weiner was caught and indicted."[37]

Kirkus Reviews describes the memoir as "a welcome addition to the library of the countercultural left," noting "Weiner closes with a stirring paean to activism. 'While a political life isn't easy,' he writes, 'and while frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, and confusion are sometimes pieces of it, I believe there is no more self-respecting, fulfilling life to try to lead.'"[38]

The book was published in August 2020 by Belt Publishing,[12] and an excerpt was published by Belt Magazine on July 23, 2020.[28]


  • Jeremy Kagan interviewed Lee Weiner in 1987 in Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8 for a personal account of his experiences.[39]
  • Oren Nimni and Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs conducted a live interview with Lee Weiner, who "speaks about his childhood as a red diaper baby, becoming involved with radical anti-war politics, and being put on mass-televised trial for conspiracy and inciting to riot outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention."[40]
  • Malik Jackson of South Side Weekly conducted a live interview with Lee Weiner about his memoir Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago Seven. "In the conversation, Weiner discusses his life of activism beyond the famous trial where he and seven other organizers were targeted and tried for conspiracy in federal court for their role in the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention."[41]
  • "The story of the Chicago 7 trial" (Interview with Lee Weiner, CBS Sunday Morning, October 4, 2020)[42][43]
  • Phil Manicki interviewed Lee Weiner about his history as a protester, his work as a community organizer, the Chicago Seven, and more.[44]

Popular culture[edit]

  • Weiner was portrayed by Robert Fieldsteel and appears in the 1987 film Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8. "The people who were growing up then are in positions of authority now," Weiner said in 1987, "and this was real important in people's lives. Politics is real, again, in people's lives. The message of the trial is that people can and should act politically. In almost every context, there's a way to act politically, effectively."[45]
  • Marc Aubin portrayed Weiner in the 2000 film Steal This Movie!
  • Chuck Montgomery portrayed Weiner in the 2007 film Chicago 10
  • Aaron Abrams portrayed Weiner in the 2011 film The Chicago 8
  • Weiner was portrayed by Noah Robbins in the 2020 Sorkin film The Trial of the Chicago 7. When discussing "creative liberties with history" taken by Sorkin "that end up distorting it," Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs notes, "defendant Lee Weiner was extremely hairy and hippie-ish but is presented in the film as clean-cut and nerdy."[46] Weiner told The Mirror he believes their story is highly relevant to 2020, and “It is a movie. It is not a documentary. The movie does work – it shows and tells people that resistance to injustice is both possible and necessary – whether it be on the streets with brutal police or in a biased, ugly courtroom."[47]


  1. ^ a b Irvy, Benjamin (October 16, 2020). "Meet the last surviving Jewish member of 'The Chicago 7'". The Forward.
  2. ^ Ragsdale, Bruce A. (2008). "The Chicago Seven: 1960s Radicalism in the Federal Courts" (PDF). Federal Judicial Center. (at pp. 4, 16, 39)
  3. ^ Linder, Douglas O. ""The Chicago Eight" (or "Chicago Seven") Trial (1969 - 1970) - Indictment". Famous Trials. UMKC School of Law.
  4. ^ a b c d Borrelli, Christopher (October 15, 2020). "The only Chicagoan of the Chicago 7 just wrote a memoir and says he's a fan of the Netflix movie 'Trial of the Chicago 7'". The Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 16 October 2020. Retrieved 29 November 2020. Alt URL
  5. ^ a b Tribune News Service (October 24, 2016). "Background: Chicago 7 trial". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  6. ^ "About Lee". Lee Weiner. Belt Publishing. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  7. ^ Babcox, Peter; Babcox, Deborah; Abel, Bob, eds. (1969). The Conspiracy. New York: Dell Publishing. p. 193. OCLC 53923.
  8. ^ Becker, Howard S.; Richards, Pamela (2010). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, Or Article (2nd, ReadHowYouWant ed.). University of Chicago Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 9781459605558. OCLC 921056926. I don't think I realized how this reading and commenting and being read and commented on by peers affected my professional development until I hired Lee Weiner as a research assistant a few years after I started teaching at Northwestern. I was away the summer he began work, and as a conscious revolutionary, Lee (who later became one of the Chicago Seven), read all of my correspondence, although it was not part of his duties. When I returned in the fall, he told me excitedly how much he had learned by looking through the folders I kept on papers I had written, seeing what my friends had written on, and about, succeeding drafts, and how I had taken those comments into account in my next version.
  9. ^ a b c Loerzel, Robert (July 30, 2020). "Court of Chaos". Chicago Magazine. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Biography of Lee Weiner". Federal Judicial Center. Archived from the original on February 24, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Waxman, Olivia B. (August 28, 2018). "'Violence Was Inevitable': How 7 Key Players Remember the Chaos of 1968's Democratic National Convention Protests". TIME Magazine.
  12. ^ a b c Belt Publishing. "Products: Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7". Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  13. ^ Harrington, Adam (October 20, 2020). "'Banality Punctured By Moments Of Sheer Horror:' A Reporter Remembers The Real Trial Of The Chicago 7". CBS 2 Chicago. [Topanga Bird, formerly known as Marti Ahern, a 19-year-old desk assistant for the Chicago Sun-Times with a press credential to cover the trial,] described Weiner as a 'nice guy; polite, intellectual,' adding, 'Nobody ever did figure out why he was corralled into this scrum.'
  14. ^ Babcox, Peter; Babcox, Deborah; Abel, Bob, eds. (1969). The Conspiracy. New York: Dell Publishing. p. 198. OCLC 53923.
  15. ^ a b Linder, Douglas O. "Biography of Lee Weiner". Famous Trials. UMKC School of Law. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  16. ^ "Sharon Avery, Artists' Poster Committee of Art Workers Coalition, Michael Abramson: Make a New Year's Revolution, Kids!". ICP. International Center of Photography (ICP). Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  17. ^ Kisseloff, Jeff (2007). Generation On Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s, An Oral History. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. p. 94. ISBN 978-0813124162. OCLC 68623920.
  18. ^ "U.S. Seeks Review of Chicago 7 Case". The New York Times. March 26, 1971.
  19. ^ a b Ragsdale, Bruce A. (2008). "The Chicago Seven: 1960s Radicalism in the Federal Courts" (PDF). Federal Judicial Center. (at p. 8, p. 9, "In unsparing language, the court of appeals censured Judge Hoffman and the government attorneys for their open hostility toward the defendants and their failure to fulfill "the standards of our system of justice.")
  20. ^ Ragsdale, Bruce A. (2008). "The Chicago Seven: 1960s Radicalism in the Federal Courts" (PDF). Federal Judicial Center. (at p. 11)
  21. ^ a b Kifner, John (February 25, 1970). "Ex-U.S. Aides Urge Bonds in Chicago". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Weiner, Lee (2020). Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7. Cleveland, Ohio: Belt Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 9781948742689.
  23. ^ "The Chicago 7 and the Days of Rage". The Chicago Tribune. August 16, 2018.
  24. ^ Ragsdale, Bruce A. (2008). "The Chicago Seven: 1960s Radicalism in the Federal Courts" (PDF). Federal Judicial Center. (at p. 8)
  25. ^ Schmich, Mary (August 17, 2018). "The Chicago Seven put their fate in her hands. One juror's rarely seen trial journals reveal how that changed her forever". The Chicago Tribune.
  26. ^ Kisseloff, Jeff (2007). Generation On Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s, An Oral History. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0813124162. OCLC 68623920.
  27. ^ McCall, Cheryl (September 12, 1977). "Their Anger Behind Them, the Chicago 7 Declare Peace in the '70s". People Magazine. Archived from the original on March 10, 2011.
  28. ^ a b Weiner, Lee (July 23, 2020). "Taking it to the Streets: Protesting at the 1968 Democratic National Convention". Belt Magazine.
  29. ^ "NU Sociology Dissertations, 1927 to present" (PDF). Northwestern University Department of Sociology. September 2018.
  30. ^ Kifner, John (October 30, 1994). "Silver Protest Reunion For Yesteryear's Yippies". The New York Times.
  31. ^ Haberman, Clyde (August 2, 1996). "An Ex-Radical Puts Chicago 8 In Distant Past". The New York Times.
  32. ^ "1960s radical Jerry Rubin, 56, dies in California of heart attack". The Baltimore Sun. New York Times News Service. November 29, 1994.
  33. ^ Bennett, Kitty (August 27, 2010). "Chicago Seven". AARP Bulletin. AARP. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  34. ^ Ahmad, Meha; Kueppers, Courtney (November 21, 2020). "Director Aaron Sorkin Says This Summer's Protests 'Looked Exactly Like Footage From 1968'". WBEZChicago. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  35. ^ Biscobing, Dave (March 9, 2021). "Member of 'Chicago 7' compares Phoenix protest arrests to 1968 incident". ABC15. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  36. ^ Weiner, Lee (August 4, 2020). Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing. ISBN 9781948742689.
  37. ^ Jackson, Malik (October 14, 2020). "The Road There Is A Battlefield". South Side Weekly.
  38. ^ "Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7". Kirkus Reviews. May 10, 2020. Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020
  39. ^ Kagan, Jeremy. "Lee Weiner Interview 1987". Vimeo. Retrieved 31 January 2021. a personal account of his experiences as a defendant in the Chicago Trial recreated in the award winning movie CONSPIRACY:The Trial of the Chicago 8
  40. ^ Robinson, Nathan; Nimni, Oren (August 20, 2020). "Lee Weiner of the Chicago Seven on "conspiracy to riot"". Patreon. Current Affairs. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  41. ^ Jackson, Malik. "Lee Weiner of the Chicago 8". Soundcloud. SSW Radio. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  42. ^ Smith, Tracy (October 4, 2020). "The story of the Chicago 7 trial". YouTube. CBS Sunday Morning. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  43. ^ "Retelling the story of the Chicago 7". CBS News. October 4, 2020. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  44. ^ Manicki, Phil; benandersonwgnam (November 28, 2020). "American activist Lee Weiner on the Chicago Seven and more". WGNRadio720. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  45. ^ Beale, Lewis (February 15, 1987). "Disorder in the court: HBO movie re-creates raucous Chicago 7 trial". The Chicago Tribune.
  46. ^ Robinson, Nathan J. (October 22, 2020). "The Real Abbie Hoffman: Why it's impossible to Sorkin-ize the great revolutionary clown". Current Affairs. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  47. ^ Killelea, Amanda (October 24, 2020). "The Chicago Seven's Lee Weiner on how 2020 struggles show "we haven't won yet"". The Mirror.

Further reading[edit]

  • Edited by Judy Clavir and John Spitzer. The Conspiracy Trial: The extended edited transcript of the trial of the Chicago Eight. Complete with motions, rulings, contempt citations, sentences and photographs. Introduction by William Kunstler and foreword by Leonard Weinglass. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1970. ISBN 0-224-00579-0. OCLC 16214206
  • Edited with an introduction by Jon Wiener. Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven. Afterword by Tom Hayden and drawings by Jules Feiffer. New York: The New Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-56584-833-7
  • Edited by Mark L. Levine, George C. McNamee and Daniel Greenberg / Foreword by Aaron Sorkin. The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Official Transcript. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020. ISBN 978-1-9821-5509-4. OCLC 1162494002
  • Schultz, John. The Conspiracy Trial of the Chicago Seven. Foreword by Carl Oglesby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. ISBN 9780226760742. (Originally published in 1972 as Motion Will Be Denied.)

External links[edit]