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 eyeshot 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, a few 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. 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, 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 used tear gas, Mace, struck people with batons, and made arrests. Hundreds of protesters and police officers were injured by police batons and rocks. As well, dozens of journalists covering the actions were 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.
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: 
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 Shimsbukuro, Bo Taylor, David A. Baker, Richard Bosciano, Terry Gross, Donna Gripe, Benjamin Ortiz, Joseph Toornabene, and Richard Palmer.
The original eight protester/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 "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, 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 American history at 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."
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, writer Norman Mailer, LSD advocate Timothy Leary and Reverend Jesse Jackson).
|–||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.||–|
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 each fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in prison. At sentencing, Abbie Hoffman recommended that the judge try LSD, offering to set him up with a dealer he knew in Florida.
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 (Case citation 472 F.2d 340). 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.
Of the eight police officers indicted in the matter, seven were acquitted, and charges against the eighth were dismissed.
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 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.
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 both 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.
In 1987, HBO aired Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, a docudrama which re-enacted the trial using the transcript as the primary source for the script. William Kunstler, Leonard Weinglass, and all eight of the original defendants 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, 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 retraces the trial with archival footage, animation, and music used to look back at the eight anti-war protesters who were put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
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. 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.
A feature film made at the time of the trial, based on the trial transcript and distributed by New Line, The Great Chicago Conspiracy Circus, by Cannes-winning director Kerry Feltham, was released in Jan 2008 on DVD. The film won the Berlin Film Festival jury prize, as well as positive reviews from the New York Times and Newsweek.
The Chicago 8, written and directed by Pinchas Perry was filmed in September and October 2009 and is likely to release in 2010. The film is based closely on the trial transcripts and most of the action takes place in the courtroom.
Four editions of the edited transcript of the trial have been published:
Books about the trial:
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