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7 Reasons Why the Chicago 8 Trial Mattered

September 24, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

The arguing that the anti-riot law set a dangerous precedent.

“The effect of this ‘anti-riot’ act is to subvert the first Amendment guarantee of free assembly by equating organized political protest with organized violence,” it read. “Potentially, this law is the foundation for a police state in America.”

The letter was signed by 19 people, including Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Benjamin Spock, Judy Collins and Norman Mailer (Collins and Mailer would also testify at the trial). Because the Chicago Eight had begun referring to themselves as “The Conspiracy,” the 19 signers dubbed themselves the Committee to Defend the Conspiracy. They pledged to raise money to fund the Chicago Eight’s legal defense and encouraged readers to make donations.

3. There was a clear cultural clash between the judge and the defendants.

Judge Julius Hoffman, 1969.

During the trial, yippies Hoffman and Rubin sometimes used unusual tactics to draw attention to their arguments. In one instance, they showed up to court wearing judicial robes to protest Judge Julius Hoffman’s decision to revoke Dellinger’s bail. When the judge demanded they remove their robes, they took them off and stomped on them. Underneath, they were wearing Chicago police uniforms. Another time, Hoffman unfurled a National Liberation Front (aka “Viet Cong”) flag on the defense table, and engaged in a tug-of-war over it with a court marshal who tried to remove it.

Sharman says the media tended to emphasize moments like these because they were so unusual. However, he thinks it’s important to understand these incidents in the context of the judge’s behavior toward the defendants.

“Even on the first day, Tom Hayden gave a fist salute to the jury and he was given a contempt of court citation,” he says. “It was like nothing could be done without the judge sort of stamping on them, so that sort of encouraged them to do it, I think.” By the end of the trial, the judge had charged all of the Chicago Eight as well as defense attorneys William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass with contempt of court.

4. The judge ordered Bobby Seale to be chained and gagged in court.

Courtroom drawing of Bobby Seale bound and gagged during the trial, by Franklin McMahon.

Froines argues Hoffman and Rubin’s robe incident “was basically a minor disruption,” and that “the main event in terms of disruption was Bobby Seale being chained and gagged.”

Seale had chosen …read more


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