The Trial of the Chicago 7: The true story behind Netflix film which saw protestor gagged & CHAINED in courtroom

HUNDREDS of cops clashed with protestors in a storm of batons and tear gas for five blood-soaked days in Chicago, 1968.

The demonstrators had gathered in the city to peacefully oppose the horrific violence of the Vietnam War – only to find themselves become the most talked about political issue in America.

A year after the protests, which coincided with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, eight of the anti-war protesters were put on trial and charged with conspiracy to incite a riot.

It became one of the most important – and shocking – political trials in US history.

Defendants were shackled to chairs and gagged in the courtroom, while others had their hair forcibly cut in jail, as millions of people from all around the world watched the five-and-a-half-month saga unfold.

Now 51 years on, a new Netflix drama directed by West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin and starring Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Sacha Baron Cohen tells the incredible true story behind The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Riots raging in bloody clashes

Over 15,000 protesters filled the streets of Chicago in late August, 1968, to demonstrate against President Lyndon B. Johnson's policy on the Vietnam War.

The year had already been tense – huge riots swept the nation after Martin Luther King was assassinated in April and Bobby Kennedy was shot dead in June.

The activism in Chicago began peacefully, but as crowds attempted to march towards the International Amphitheatre where the Democratic National Convention was being held, cops cracked down on the demonstration.

Protesters were clubbed and maced by police, who also made dozens of arrests, causing the anti-war activists to retaliate by throwing rocks and bottles.

Media attention was directed away from the Convention and towards the bloodshed in the streets as hundreds of officers and protesters alike were hurt in the mayhem.

Rennie Davis, 80, who was later put on trial as one of the organisers, was savagely beaten by police attempting to push the protestors off the streets.

"As they approached me, I literally could hear police yelling, ‘Kill Davis!’," he told The Guardian.

"I was hit on the head and knocked to the ground.

"I was on the ground crawling with my two arms trying to get away and just being clubbed and clubbed and clubbed."

A Presidential Commission would later describe the violence as a "police riot",blaming the cops' actions for instigating the unrest.

But when Richard Nixon's administration came to power in 1969, eight of the alleged ringleaders were prosecuted.

They were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot, to teach the making of an incendiary device, and to commit acts to impede law enforcement officers in their lawful duties.

'Medieval torture chamber' trial

What happened during the trial was absolute pandemonium – with the National Guard called in to manage raucous crowds gathering daily outside the courthouse.

The defendants were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, and Bobby Seale.

They were originally referred to as the Chicago Eight, but became seven when Black Panther co-founder Seale was severed from the trial in extraordinary circumstances.

Seale loudly protested the actions of the judge, Julius Hoffman, after Hoffman refused to allow Seale to have the lawyer of his choice and forbid him from representing himself.

Hoffman responded by ordering Seale to be bound, gagged, and chained to a chair in the courtroom.

Seale struggled against his restraints and his muffled cries were heard by the jury for several days.

Defence lawyer William Kunstler famously declared: "This is no longer a court of order, Your Honour, this is a medieval torture chamber."

It emerged during the trial that Seale hadn't been involved in the planning of the protests – but Hoffman sentenced him to an extremely harsh four years for contempt of court all the same.

With Seale gone from the trial, the remaining seven defendants continued to disrupt court procedures, and even insulted the judge to his face.

One day, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin arrived in court wearing judicial robes.

When Judge Hoffman ordered they remove the garments, the pair complied – revealing Chicago Police uniforms they had on underneath.

And early in the trial, when Judge Hoffman declared that he wasn't related to Abbie Hoffman, Abbie yelled: "Dad, dad, have you forsaken me?!"

In response to the defence's antics, Judge Hoffman handed out more lengthy contempt of court sentences.

Lawyer Kunstler was slapped with a four-year sentence for addressing the judge as "Mr Hoffman" instead of "Your Honour", and Abbie Hoffman was given eight months for laughing in court.

Justice done

Froines and Weiner were completely acquitted by the jury, but the other five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot.

They were sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined $5,000 each – and Judge Hoffman even ordered jail barbers to cut the long hair of the defendants and their defence team, which was proudly displayed at a press conference.

But three years after the trial, all of the charges were overturned on appeal, with the appeals court finding Judge Hoffman to have been biased.

Now 50 years on, Netflix's dramatisation of the trial comes after another year of heightened tensions over police violence and mass protests across the US.

"The movie has always been about today even though it’s set in 1968, 1969,” Jeremy Strong, who plays Jerry Rubin in the film, told Reuters.

“I think the movie is a celebration of protest.

"I think it’s an exhortation to go out into the streets and to fight for the values that we need to fight for that are endangered."

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is out today on Netflix.


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