Over the past week or so, I’ve been inundated with emails, texts, Facebook messages, and the like asking for my reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s movie The Trial of the Chicago 7. It’s nice to get that attention, but I have yet to comment in public. Well, Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind allows me the opportunity to prattle to my friends without having to engage in redundant or even repetitive keyboard tapping.
For those who came in late, the Conspiracy trial (a.k.a. the Chicago 8 trial, a.k.a. the Chicago 7 trial) was a heavy-handed attempt by President Richard Nixon and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1969 to intimidate, incarcerate, and obliviate the still-surging protest movement which, at that time, mostly was focused on opposition to the Vietnam War and on civil rights.
We believed the choice of the Democrat’s smoke-filled room, Hubert Humphrey, was a criminal warmonger. He was the vice-president who stood beside President Johnson and cheered him on knowing, as L.B.J. knew beyond a doubt, that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that turned the Vietnam conflict into a full-blown war was complete and utter bullshit. My source on that is Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who later copped to it in his memoir. This was confirmed by the NSA, among others. It’s a fact.
Combined, the Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam war movements quickly led to a major reinauguration of the feminist movement, to the establishment of gay rights movement, as well as many other such programs that encouraged Americans to stand up for themselves.
It was a heady time to say the least. Those invested in the status quo do not like having their oxen gored. Yet they do not like to be revealed as the right-wing self-absorbed bigoted assholes they are. As Lenny Bruce said, “I’ve got to do business with” the common people.
So Nixon, Daley and their coconspirators hand-picked eight people they decided were leaders of the Democratic National Convention protests held in Chicago. The one where the whole world was watching the cops gas and beat lawful protestors, as well as the media, Women for Peace, Teachers for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, unaffiliated hippies and aging beatniks, and gawking bystanders alike. Not to mention Jules Feiffer and Hugh Hefner.
A special commission was appointed to investigate what happened. Their Walker Report stated “The nature of the response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night. That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring.”
This greatly upset ÜberDemocrat Mayor Daley. During the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr four months earlier, Daley gave his police the authority “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand … and … to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” This, too, upset him and he was not about to just ignore the Walker Report.
In the presidential election held shortly thereafter, ÜberRepublican Nixon squeezed out a victory beating Humphrey by seven-tenths of one percentage point. With that overwhelming mandate, Nixon decided to keep Daley’s Democratic hack federal attorney Tom Foran in office and they had eight radical “conspirators” prosecuted for conspiracy. In the words of defendant Abbie Hoffman, these eight, who had never met together previously, “couldn’t even agree on where to have lunch.”
(Full disclosure: I worked with and for Abbie during the trial and for a couple years thereafter. He personally financed the first comic book I ever published, Conspiracy Capers, edited by Skip Williamson as a fundraiser for the Trial. It’s a small world, ain’t it?)
I was on the staff of the Conspiracy Trial. I was one of the first four hired, and I focused on working with what was then referred to as the underground or alternative media, which was akin to the social media of today. I had a background in this stuff as I was on work-release from the journalism program at my college, at the time of the police riot I was a precocious and obnoxious lad of 18, and I had been on the staff of the Chicago Seed for, oh, several months. I also had been on the staff of the Chicago Defense Fund, an effort by a bunch of lawyers to deal with all the legal poo that happened in the wake of said police riot.
One of the things I did for the CDF when we heard these indictments were going to come down was research the backgrounds of that district’s federal court judges. I noted that one of them, Julius J. Hoffman (who looked like Mr. Magoo’s great uncle) was so right-wing, so paranoid and so asinine that, given the immutable laws of dialectics, he would be a great boom to the protest movement — although not-such-great news for whomever got indicted. For example, Julie Magoo had found the last 27 people (give or take) who came before him for avoiding the draft guilty as charged and sentenced most of them to the full term.
Judges are supposed to be selected by lottery so, as fate would have it, Julie Magoo was selected to run the trial in his Mies Van Der Rohe sculpted courtroom. The one Abbie referred to as “the neon oven.”
I was a participant in the Democratic Convention demonstrations and, as a reward for my effort, I enjoyed a ham-fisted police truncation across my left hip; I still suffer from the consequences 52 years later. But it helped me get myself ready for the year (start to finish) I spent on the Conspiracy Trial staff.
All this is why I’ve been asked by so many decent people what I thought of the Sorkin movie. To this, I respond:
I have yet see it.
I’ll tell you why tomorrow.