'The Trial of the Chicago 7' Ending: What Happened Next?

Tom Nicholson
·8-min read
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020
Photo credit: Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2020

From Esquire

As we've explored recently, the true story of the trial of the Chicago Seven is far stranger and more incredible than Aaron Sorkin's film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, could hope to portray. Sorkin didn't even get to the bit where the Yippies officially endorsed a pig called Pigasus as their presidential candidate for the 1968 election.

The lives that the main players in the trial went on to have were frequently just as fascinating: murder trials, gurus who can fly jets, cosmetic nose surgery to facilitate a brand new identity, hippy stockbrokers, and a man drinking so much carrot juice that his legs turn orange.

Abbie Hoffman

Photo credit: Tyrone Dukes - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tyrone Dukes - Getty Images

Just before the rioting at the Democratic National Congress kicked off, Hoffman turned up on stage at Woodstock, attempting to crash The Who's 5am set to protest the jailing of White Panther John Sinclair. There's some disagreement over whether Pete Townshend whacked him with his guitar or just screamed, "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" while charging at him, but Hoffman was booted off either way.

After the trial, Hoffman continued his activism. In 1971 he published Steal This Book, a guide on how to organise, fight, and live for free as part of the counterculture using guerrilla tactics to overturn the capitalist status quo. Many bookshops decided against stocking as so many people took its title's advice and was outright banned in Canada. It still sold about 250,000 copies that year.

He wrote several other books, including Vote! with Jerry Rubin, but had another brush with the law in 1973 when he was arrested for intent to sell and supply cocaine. (Hoffman maintained he was set up.) Before he could be tried, though, he disappeared, getting cosmetic surgery to change his nose and hiding out in Montreal and Mexico City before settling in the tiny town of Finneview, New York, under the name Barry Freed. He eventually surrendered in 1980 and was convicted of possession of cocaine.

He was tried in another big court case in 1986, when he managed to get himself and 14 others off charges of trespassing when protesting a CIA recruitment day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and later cameoed in Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July as himself. Hoffman killed himself in 1989, at the age of 52. More than a thousand mourners came to his remembrance service, including Rubin and codefendant David Dellinger. His personal FBI file ran to 13,262 pages.

Jerry Rubin

Photo credit: David Fenton - Getty Images
Photo credit: David Fenton - Getty Images

Rubin kept protesting after the trial, but by the time the Democrat George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in the 1972 election, began to consider retiring from politics. Instead, he became an investor and businessman. And he was very good at it – after investments including an early punt on Apple Computers, he was a millionaire by the end of the Seventies.

"Yes, it's a far cry from leading a march on the Pentagon to sitting cross-legged, counting my breaths," he wrote in his autobiography. "But there is no contradiction. We activists in the 1960s eventually lost touch with ourselves... Dissatisfaction is not the only source for political action; people can be political from a personally satisfied place."

By 1980 he had gone the whole hog and become a Wall Street stockbroker with John Muir & Co. "I know that I can be more effective today wearing a suit and tie and working on Wall Street than I can be dancing outside the walls of power," he reflected. Despite his change of tack he remained friends with Abbie Hoffman, even going on a national debating tour with him where they sparred over what form revolution ought to take in the Eighties. Rubin was all in favour of wealth creation for poorer areas of America rather than the kind of counterculture Hoffman favoured. Rubin was a big proponent of networking too, so you've got him to thank for any lost evenings spent drinking room temperature white wine and collecting business cards. He was also drinking so much carrot juice at one point in the Eighties that one of his legs turned orange.

Sadly Rubin also died young. He was hit by a car while crossing the road in Los Angeles in November 1994, and died two weeks later aged 56.

Bobby Seale

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

After he was removed from the trial, Seale was sentenced to four years in jail for contempt of court due to his outbursts at Judge Julius Hoffman. While serving his sentence he was tried along with several other Black Panthers – the New Haven Nine – for the murder of Alex Rackley, a Panther suspected of being a police informer, though Seale himself wasn't present when Rackley was murdered. The jury couldn't come to a conclusion and the charges were dropped.

In 1973 he came second in the race to become Mayor of Oakland, California, and in 1974 he ended his affiliation with the Black Panthers. Some accounts say that was because of a big fight with Huey Newton; Seale always denied it. Since the Eighties Seale has remained a vocal advocate of Black rights and education programmes, giving speeches at hundreds of universities and colleges about his life in activism. At one point in the early Nineties, he also ended up working for Rubin as a salesman for Wow!, a health drink made from kelp, ginseng and bee pollen.

Tom Hayden

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

In the early Seventies, Hayden continued his anti-war protests by visiting North Vietnam and Cambodia, and married fellow campaigner Jane Fonda in 1973 (oddly enough, their son, Troy Garity, played his father in the 2000 Abbie Hoffman biopic Steal This Movie). Starting in 1976, he became a fixture in mainstream American politics, challenging to become Senator for California that year and serving on the California State Assembly and later the State Senate as well as teaching classes on political science and journalism. He became an advocate for green policies and animal rights issues. He married twice more and died in 2016 of a stroke aged 76.

Rennie Davis

Photo credit: Leni Sinclair - Getty Images
Photo credit: Leni Sinclair - Getty Images

Davis became a very vocal supporter of Guru Maharaj Ji, a teenaged Indian mystic whose arrival Davis called "the greatest event in history". Davis helped organise a peace event for the guru called Millennium '73 at the Houston Aerodrome. (That was oddly apt; the guru had learned how to fly a jet by the age of 15.) The hoped-for 100,00-strong crowd ran to about 20,000 and was generally mocked.

Like Rubin, Davis applied his countercultural viewpoint to business, becoming a venture capitalist and a lecturer in self-awareness and meditation.

David Dellinger

Photo credit: Donaldson Collection - Getty Images
Photo credit: Donaldson Collection - Getty Images

A lifelong pacifist, Dellinger quietly kept up his activism out of the public eye, writing six books and, even at the age of 85, getting up at 3am to hitchhike from his home in Vermont to Quebec to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2001. He died in 2004 aged 88.

William Kunstler

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

A string of further high-profile cases followed the Chicago Seven for Kunstler, most notably his unsuccessful defence of the prisoner accused of murdering a guard at the Attica prison riot in 1975. He continued to defend incredibly unpopular clients, including Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Egyptian terrorist responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, American conscientious objectors, and organised crime figures. He also managed to defend the practice of flag-burning before the Supreme Court. In Spike Lee's Malcolm X he played a judge, and he turned up on Law & Order as himself. He died aged 76 in 1995.

Judge Julius Hoffman

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

A review by the appeals court after the Chicago Seven trial said that Hoffman hadn't done anything like enough work to make sure the jury was unbiased, and took issue with his "deprecatory and often antagonistic attitude toward the defence". A 1974 investigative book, The Benchwarmers, found that 78 per cent of attorneys in Chicago disliked him, and felt that he was particularly biased and rude.

In 1982 he was ordered not to take on any more cases because he was becoming more and more erratic, but somehow still oversaw trials up until his death at 87 in 1983.

"I did nothing in the trial that I'm not proud of," he said in an interview just before he died. "I presided with dignity. When I felt I had to be firm, I was firm... The case was important because we let certain kinds of lawyers know there are certain kinds of things you don't do when you're trying a lawsuit in the highest trial court in the land."

John Froines

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Froines went back to teaching chemistry at a college in Vermont, and is currently a professor emeritus at UCLA. That's pretty much it.

Lee Weiner

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Weiner's contempt charge stemmed almost entirely from his correction of Judge Hoffman's pronunciation of his name – "When the judge would say Wee-ner, I would shout out, "It's Wye-ner" – and he was sentenced to two and a half months, which were later dropped. In 1972, an offer to teach sociology at Rutgers University was pulled after he was heard joking about starting a new communist party at Seale's birthday party. Since then he's continued protesting for greater AIDS research funding, and has worked for the Anti-Defamation League. His memoir, Conspiracy to Riot, came out this summer.

"My hopes for the book are that it prompts a hard-left revolution in the United States and ends up with every fourth banker being strung up on lampposts, and taunted, and starved until they die," he told Medium. "That’s my hopes. Don’t put that in your fucking article."

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