Trial of the Chicago Eight...or Seven

Last August, we told you about the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the demonstrations which attended that convention. And we told you that we would tell you about the trial of what started out as the “Chicago Eight” in March. And so we will.

You might wish to refresh your memory about the demonstrations and rioting at the convention, and you can do that here.

Ramsey Clark, Lyndon Johnson’s Attorney General, tried to discourage an indictment from the beginning of the whole episode because he believed that the violence was caused by the Chicago Police Department.

He had opposed the preventive detention which led up to the convention, and he later called the indictment of Bobby Seale, a Black Panther leader, "a scandal".

On March 20, 1969, after Johnson left office and Richard Nixon had been inaugurated and John Mitchell was the Attorney General, the grand jury in Chicago indicted  the "Chicago 8" of conspiracy to crossing state lines in order to incite a riot. It had been made a federal crime by passage of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

The accused conspirators were Ton Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, David Dellinger, and Rennie Davis, all of whom were accused of each crossing state lines to incite a riot and John Froines and Lee Weiner, who were accused of teaching individuals how to build and use an incendiary device.

The trial did not begin until September of 1969, more than a year after the convention. Fifteen days later, the demonstrations were so unwieldy that the National Guard was called in to provide crowd control.

As the trial began, Bobby Seale tried to get Judge Hoffman -- who was no relation to Abbie Hoffman -- to postpone the trial because his attorney, Charles Garry, was in the hospital after having surgery on his gallbladder. The judge denied that request repeatedly, insisting that Charles Garry was his attorney of record. When Seale stated that Garry was not his lawyer and that he wished to represent himself, the judge denied that motion.

Seale rose repeatedly to assert his rights, and at various points, he called Judge Hoffman names, including “fascist dog,” “racist,” and “pig.” Each time his name was mentioned, Seale would leap to his feet shouting, “I object! I object!”

The judge ordered him to sit down, and each time it would happen again. He stated that he wanted it on the record that he was objecting because he was being denied his Constitutional right to defend himself. The judge then ordered that he be bound to his chair and gagged while he was in the courtroom. He was, in fact, literally chained to his chair.

Eventually, the judge severed Seale’s case and sentenced him to one of the longest sentences ever given for contempt of court: four years in prison for sixteen counts of contempt. That sentence was later overturned.

That was when the Chicago Eight became the Chicago Seven.

The harsh removal of Bobby Seale from the courtroom did not end the ridicule of the judge. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin continually mocked the judge and the proceedings, with Hoffman blowing kisses at the judge, comparing him to a nazi, and at one point, telling the judge, “Your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room!”

One morning they came to court wearing judicial robes and bouncing about. The judge ordered them to take off  the robes, and when they did, the judge was livid to find that beneath their robes, they wore the uniforms of the Chicago Police Department.

All manner of counterculture icons were called upon to testify, including activists Timothy Leary and Jesse Jackson, singers Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, and Judy Collins, comedian Dick Gregory, and authors Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg.

While the jury was out, the judge cited all of the defendants as well as attorneys William Kuntsler and Leonard Weinglass for contempt of court and handed out sentences from 70 days to four years.

The jury came back on February 18, 1970, nearly three years after the convention, Froines and Weiner were found not guilty, but the other five -- excluding Bobby Seale -- were found guilty of violating the Civil Rights Acts of 1968’s anti-riot provisions.

There were each fined $5,000 and sentenced to spend five years in prison.

At sentencing, Abbie Hoffman, ever the cheeky defendant, recommended that the judge try LSD, saying, “I know a good dealer in Florida.  I could fix you up.”   

He then went on to pontificate about numerous American historical figures:

Thomas Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson called for a revolution every ten years.  Thomas Jefferson had an agrarian reform program that made Mao Tse Tung look like a liberal.  I know Thomas Jefferson.

Hamilton:  Well, I didn't dig the Federalists.  Maybe he deserved to have his brains blown out.

WashingtonWashington grew pot.  He called it hemp.  It was called hemp them.  He probably was a pot head.

Abraham Lincoln?  There is another one.  In 1861 Abraham Lincoln in his inaugural address said, and I quote "When the people shall grow weary of their constitutional right to amend the government, they shall exert their revolutionary right to dismember and overthrow that government."

If Abraham Lincoln had given that speech in Lincoln Park, he would be on trial right here in this courtroom, because that is an inciteful speech.  That is a speech intended to create a riot.

On November 21, 1972, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and David Dellinger on the grounds that Judge Julius Hoffman was biased, as demonstrated when he refused to allow defense attorneys to screen prospective jurors for racial and cultural bias. The contempt sentences were all overturned as well.

The government opted not to retry them on the Civil Rights Act violations, but they did retry them on the contempt charges. Kunstler, Rubin, Dellinger, and Abbie Hoffman were all found guilty on some of the contempt charges, but the judge did not sentence them to jail or impose any fines.

In the end, the evidence against Bobby Seale was simply not there, due in part to the fact that he had been in Chicago for only two days of the convention, having acted as a last-minute substitute for activist Eldridge Cleaver.

In 1974, Abbie Hoffman sought to avoid going to trial on cocaine charges. He underwent plastic surgery and disappeared and turned himself into authorities in 1980. He was sentenced to a year in jail but did only four months. He committed suicide in 1989. He was 52 years old.

Jerry Rubin left the political arena in the early 1970s and ran a civil rights office in Echo Park, California for nearly a decade. An early Apple Computer investor, he was a multimillionaire. In 1994, he was jaywalking in front of his penthouse on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood and was hit by a car. He died of his injuries two weeks later.

Bobby Seale is still alive. In 1973, he ran for Mayor of Oakland, California and came in second in a field of nine, eventually losing in a runoff with the incumbent. He ended his involvement with the Panthers in 1974. He also appeared in “The US vs. John Lennon,” where he talked about his friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Attorney Wllliam Kunstler went on to represent the American Indian Movement members involved in the Wounded Knee incident and one of the prisoners charged with the murder of a prison guard during the Attica Prison riot. He died of heart failure at the age of 76 in 1995.

Tom Hayden is still alive. He was married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1989 and fathered a son. He is a former California State Assemblyman and a former State Senator.

Rennie Davis became a venture capitalist and founder of a nonprofit. He lectures on self-awareness and meditation.

David Dellinger was arrested in 1998 at the age of 83 while demonstrating at a nuclear reactor. He died in 2004 at the age of 90.

Judge Julius Hoffman died in 1983 at the age of 87.



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