Trial of the Chicago 7/8

Aaron Sorkin’s liberal revisionist take on the trial of the Chicago 7/8 has sent me in search of more accurate portrayals of the trial, for example, Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, which relies entirely on the actual court transcripts and includes later interviews with the defendants. Another more accurate depiction is Chicago 10:

The proceedings against the defendants was a show trial orchestrated by the Nixon administration in order to break the back of radical protest and revolutionary movements in the United States in the late 1960s. The original 8 defendants, including Black Panther leader, Bobby Seale, were accused of conspiracy to incite riots at the Democratic Party National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

What really happened is more accurately described as a “police riot,” with the Chicago police assaulting and arresting hundreds of anti-Vietnam war protestors outside of the Convention. The defendants, with the exception of Bobby Seale, had helped organize the protests, but were then put on trial for allegedly instigating the so-called riots by the protestors who were being beaten by the police. The trial was a farce, with Bobby Seale being bound, gagged and chained in the courtroom, until his case was severed from the other defendants, leaving the 7 defendants of the title to Sorkin’s Hollywood version of the trial.

The most radical of the defendants were the two Yippies (Youth International Party), Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Hoffman had been involved in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and then became more radical, advocating a youth-based cultural revolution, departing from the boring rituals of leftwing protest by doing things like showering the New York Stock Exchange trading floor with dollar bills to disrupt the heart of world capitalism. Jerry Rubin had been involved in the free speech movement in Berkeley, California, and then became active in the Yippies, an anarchistic, anti-capitalist as well as anti-war group. While Sorkin at least portrays Hoffman as a smart and funny guy (well played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen), Rubin is portrayed as an irresponsible stoner nitwit with a penchant for molotov cocktails and female FBI infiltrators of the protest movement (all untrue according to Rubin’s then companion, Nancy Kurshan (https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/22/i-was-in-the-room-where-it-happened-one-womans-perspective-on-the-trial-of-the-chicago-7/).

The veteran anti-war activist David Dellinger (I included a piece by him in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas), is portrayed in Sorkin’s film as a middle-class pacifist do-gooder provoked into punching a sheriff at the trial (which never happened either).

One of the prosecutors is portrayed, again inaccurately, as having doubts about putting people on trial for their radical ideas.

One of the few good parts in Sorkin’s version of the trial is that it includes (briefly) one of the leaders of the Black Panthers in Chicago, Fred Hampton, and the fact that he was murdered by the FBI during the trial.

Fred Hampton

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