Republished fifty years later to coincide with the release this fall of the film of the same title written and directed by Aaron Sorkin with an all-star cast, this is the classic account of perhaps the most infamous, and definitely the most entertaining, trial in recent American history.
In the fall of 1969 eight prominent anti-Vietnam War activists were put on trial for conspiring to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. One of the eight, Black Panther cofounder Bobby Seale, was literally bound and gagged in court by order of the judge, Julius Hoffman, and his case was separated from that of the others.
The activists, who included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden, and their attorneys, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, insisted that the First Amendment was on trial. Their witnesses were a virtual who’s who of the 1960s counterculture: Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Norman Mailer, among them.
The defendants constantly interrupted to protest what they felt were unfair rulings by the judge. The trial became a circus, all the while receiving intense media coverage. The convictions that resulted were subsequently overturned on appeal, but the trial remained a political and cultural touchstone, a mirror of the deep divisions in the country. The Trial of the Chicago 7 consists of the highlights from trial testimony with a brief epilogue describing what later happened to the principal figures.