The Chicago Seven (originally Chicago Eight, also Conspiracy Eight/Conspiracy Seven) were seven defendants—Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner—charged by the US federal government with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to anti-Vietnam War and countercultural protests that took place in Chicago, Illinois, on the occasion of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Bobby Seale, the eighth man charged, had his trial severed during the proceedings, dropping the number of defendants from eight to seven.
The trial resulted in five of the seven convicted for inciting riots. All were acquitted of conspiracy. However, during the trial, Judge Julius Hoffman sentenced all of the defendants to lengthy sentences for contempt of court. In subsequent proceedings, the judge's contempt charges were reversed, and all of the convictions for inciting riots were overturned.
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The 1968 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago in late August 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 itself.
Anti-war groups had petitioned the city of Chicago for permits to march 5 miles (8.0 km) from the Loop to within sight 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; other nearby activities involved hundreds or thousands of protesters. After the rally at the bandshell, several 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 worked to push the protesters out of the street, and then used tear gas, verbal and physical confrontation, and police batons to beat people who began to chant "The whole world is watching". The police made scores of arrests. The television networks broadcast footage of what was later called a police riot, cutting away from the nominating speeches for the presidential candidates.
Over the course of five days and nights, the police made numerous arrests, in addition to using tear gas, mace, and batons on the marchers. Hundreds of protesters and police officers were injured. Dozens of journalists covering the actions were also 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.
Following the convention on September 9, 1968, a federal grand jury was convened to consider criminal charges. The grand jury focused on the possible grounds for charges in four areas:
Over the course of more than six months, the grand jury met 30 times and heard some 200 witnesses. President Johnson's Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, discouraged an indictment, believing that the violence during the convention was primarily caused by mishandling of the protests by 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 federal crimes and eight police officers were charged with civil rights violations.
The eight defendants were charged under the anti-riot provisions of Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which made it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent to incite a riot, or to conspire to do so. The Chicago Eight indictments alleged crimes of three kinds:
The 16 people who were named as alleged co-conspirators but not indicted were: Wolfe B. Lowenthal, Stewart E. Albert, Sidney M. Peck, Kathy Boudin, Corina F. Fales, Benjamin Radford, Thomas W. Neumann, Craig Shimabukuro, Bo Taylor, David A. Baker, Richard Bosciano, Terry Gross, Donna Gripe, Benjamin Ortiz, Joseph Toornabene, and Richard Palmer.
There is evidence that at least one other person, Eric Weinberger, was considered for indictment.
The original eight 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 trial began on September 24, 1969. The defense attorneys were William Kunstler, Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights, as well as Michael Kennedy, Michael Tigar, Charles Garry, Gerald Lefcourt, and Dennis Roberts. The judge was Julius Hoffman, and the prosecutors were Richard Schultz and Tom Foran. On October 9, the governor of Illinois requested the United States National Guard for crowd control as demonstrations increased outside the courtroom.
When the names of the defendants were mentioned in court, at the early part of the trial, Judge Hoffman made a comment about defendant Abbie Hoffman (no relation); "He is not my son." In an immediate reply, Abbie called out, "Dad, dad, have you forsaken me?!" Right from the beginning of the trial, Judge Hoffman showed a marked bias for the prosecution in his rulings and a dislike of the defense lawyers, making it clear that he disapproved of Kunstler's long hair.
According to The Chicago Tribune, "[b]eginning as the Chicago Eight Trial, it quickly became the Chicago Seven when Seale, after loudly disrupting the trial when he could not have the lawyer of his choice, was at first bound and gagged in the courtroom and then severed from the case for a later trial, which never occurred." Seale requested that the trial be postponed so that his 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. Seale vehemently protested the judge's illegal and unconstitutional actions, and arguing that they were not only illegal, but also racist. Seale told the courtroom: "This racist administration government with its Superman notions and comic book politics. We're hip to the fact that Superman saved no black people. You got that?...You have did everything you could with those jive lying witnesses up there presented by these pig agents of the government to lie and say and condone some rotten racists, fascist crap by racist cops and pigs that beat people's heads in-and I demand my constitutional rights!" The judge in turn accused Seale of disrupting the court, and on October 29, Hoffman ordered Seale to be bound, gagged, and chained to a chair, citing a precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court case Illinois v. Allen.
For several days, Seale appeared in court bound and gagged before the jury, struggling to get free and managing to make muffled sounds. Defense attorney Kunstler declared, "This is no longer a court of order, Your Honor, this is a medieval torture chamber." 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". Trying Seale with the other seven defendants also proved to be a fiasco, as it was revealed that Seale had not participated in the planning for the demonstration, but had gone to Chicago as a last-minute replacement for Eldridge Cleaver and was only in the city for two days of the convention. Ultimately, Judge 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 the U.S. up to that time. Due to the judge's unconstitutional actions, the contempt charges against Seale were soon overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Chicago Eight were then reduced to the Chicago Seven. The defendants, particularly members of the Youth International Party ("yippies"), Hoffman and Rubin, mocked courtroom decorum and the widely publicized trial became a focal point for a growing legion of protesters. One day, defendants Hoffman and Rubin appeared in court dressed in judicial robes. Hoffman blew kisses at the jury. Judge Hoffman was a frequent target of the defendants, who insulted him to his face. Abbie Hoffman told Judge Hoffman "you are a shande fur de Goyim [Yiddish for "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."
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 lifestyle, and we hoped that people of Chicago would come up, and mingle in Lincoln Park and see what we were about.
While defending the Chicago Seven, [Kunstler] put the war in Vietnam on trial—asking Judy Collins to sing "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" from the witness stand, placing a Viet Cong flag on the defence table, and wearing a black armband to commemorate the war dead.
The trial extended for months, with many celebrated figures from the American left and counterculture called to testify, including singers Phil Ochs, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, and Country Joe McDonald; writers Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg; and activists Timothy Leary and Jesse Jackson. Ochs, who was involved in planning for the demonstrations, told the court that he had acquired a pig to nominate as a presidential candidate. Rubin had tried to deliver the acceptance speech for the pig, named Pigasus, but before he could finish, police arrested him and Ochs under a livestock ordinance; this charge was later changed to disorderly conduct.
While the jury deliberated on the verdict, Judge Hoffman cited all the defendants—plus their lawyers Kunstler, Kennedy, Weinglass, Lefcourt, Roberts and Tigar—for numerous contempts of court, imposing sentences ranging from 2½ months to four years. Judge Hoffman gave Kunstler four years in prison for addressing him as "Mr. Hoffman" instead of "Your Honor", Abbie Hoffman received 8 months for laughing in court, Hayden one year for protesting the treatment of Seale, and Weiner two months for refusing to stand when Judge Hoffman entered the courtroom. Despite also engaging in occasional courtroom disruption, it was acknowledged that Froines' courtroom antics were mild compared to those of his other Chicago Seven co-defendants.
On February 18, 1970, each of the seven defendants was acquitted 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. The crime was instituted by the anti-riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, a provision that was introduced in the House by Representative William C. Cramer of Florida. On February 20, they were sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000 each.
Dellinger told the court that whatever punishment he faced in prison "will be slight compared to what has happened already to the Vietnamese people, to the black people, to the criminals with whom we are now spending our days in the Cook County jail". Hayden charged that the responsibility with the riots at the Chicago Democratic convention laid with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who had denied permits for protesters, saying: "We had no choice. We had no choice in this trial. The people always do what they have to do". Abbie Hoffman pointed to the portraits of American Revolutionary War heroes on the wall behind Judge Hoffman and said: "I know those guys on the wall. I know them better than you, I feel. I know Adams. I mean, I know all the Adams. They grew up twenty miles from my home in Massachusetts. I played with Sam Adams on the Concord Bridge. I was there when Paul Revere rode right up on his motorcycle and said, 'The pigs are coming, the pigs are coming. Right into Lexington'. I was there". In a final gesture of contempt towards those on trial, Judge Hoffman ordered that the barbers of the Cook County Jail cut the long hair of the defendants and defense lawyers that he found so offensive. At a press conference, Sheriff Joseph Woods of Cook County proudly displayed Abbie Hoffman's shorn hair.
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, and the FBI surveillance of the defense lawyers' offices. The Justice Department decided against retrying the case. During the trial, all of the defendants and both defense attorneys had been cited for contempt and sentenced to jail, but those convictions were also overturned on appeal. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the personal nature of the conduct at issue required all of the contempt charges to be tried before another judge, and that each appellant whose sentence exceeded six months was entitled to a jury trial on the charge. 
The contempt charges were retried before a different judge, who found Dellinger, Rubin, Hoffman, and Kunstler guilty of some of the charges, but did not sentence any of them to jail or fines.
Over 25 songs referenced the Chicago Seven and the 1968 Chicago demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention. One of the first, released in 1968, was "Telling It Straight in '68" by country artist Jim Hartley, about the 1968 presidential election, which noted the confrontation in Chicago. A popular song was by Graham Nash, called "Chicago", for his debut album, Songs for Beginners. The songs's first line, "So your brother's bound and gagged, and they've chained him to a chair", is a reference to Bobby Seale. Other notable songs included "William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed" and "Where Were You in Chicago" by Phil Ochs, featured on his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement, "Circus '68 '69" (1970) by Charlie Haden, "Christmas in My Soul" (1970) by Laura Nyro, "Free Bobby Now" (1970) by Black Panther group The Lumpen (about Bobby Seale), "Chicago's 7" by Walt Wilder, "Chicago 7" by Warren Farren, "Chicago Seven" (1971) by blues artist Memphis Slim, and "The Chicago Conspiracy" (1972) by David Peel.
On November 5, 1969, Richard Avedon made his first wall-sized mural portrait of the Chicago Seven in what appears to be a police-like line-up before the trial is completed. It was first exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the summer of 1970 and has since been exhibited in museums around the world. Avedon called the group of defendants "heroic." 
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