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David Dellinger, the son of a lawyer, was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, on 22nd August, 1915. While studying economics at Yale University he became involved in politics. He was arrested during one demonstration in support of the trade union movement.
After graduating in 1936 Dellinger spent a year working in a factory in Maine. He then went travelling with his friend Walt Rostow. Dellinger rejected Rostow's communist ideas and instead became a radical pacifist.
Dellinger won a fellowship to Oxford University. While in England he visited Nazi Germany. A supporter of the Popular Front Government in Spain and drove an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War.
On his arrival back in the United States Dellinger enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. In 1940 Dellinger refused to register for conscription. He was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison in Danbury. While in prison he organized protests against the segregated seating arrangements in the jail. This resulted in being placed in solitary confinement. Dellinger was eventually released but was arrested once again when he refused to join the armed forces when the United States entered the Second World War and spent another two years in prison.
After the war Dellinger joined with Abraham Muste and Dorothy Day to establish the Direct Action magazine in 1945. Dellinger once again upset the political establishment when he criticised the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dellinger also became the editor of Liberation Magazine. A post he was to hold for over twenty years.
Dellinger also took an interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The researcher, Vincent Salandria, had an article published in Liberation Magazine. Salandria later recalled that it only appeared because it was fought for by Dellinger and Staunghton Lynd: "Staughton Lynd of Yale, about whom we have spoken, made the final decision. Dave Dellinger was the brave soull who made the fight for our side. There was a policy fight because of the fear that this would 'open up Pandora's box'."
Dellinger also played a prominent role in opposition to the Vietnam War. He organised the 1967 protest march on the Pentagon. He also visited North Vietnam and as a result of meeting Ho Chi Minh helped secure the release of captured American servicemen.
In 1968 Dellinger was one of the radicals charged with conspiring to incite riots around the Democratic Party Convention which endorsed Hubert Humphrey as its presidential candidate to take on Richard Nixon. Dellinger's fellow defendants included Bobby Seale (Black Panthers) Tom Hayden (Students for a Democratic Society), Rennie Davis (National Mobilisation Committee) and Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party). Seale, who repeatedly interrupted court proceedings, was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt of court. in 1970 the Chicago Seven were eventually all acquitted on conspiracy charges.
Dellinger was the author of several books including Beyond Survival: New Directions for the Disarmament Movement(1985), Vietnam Revisited: From Covert Action to Invasion to Reconstruction (1986) and his autobiography, From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter (1993).
Dellinger continued to be active in politics and in 1996 said that "evils in society today are greater than they were in 1968" and even in his eighties continued to take part in protest marches. This included the demonstration against the North American Free Trade Agreement in Quebec City in 2001. He also held regular fasts in an effort to change the name of "Columbus Day" to "Native American Day."
David Dellinger died at Montpelier, Vermont, on 25th May, 2004.
As a radical pacifist, the American-born David Dellinger, who has died aged 88, spent his life involved in non-violent action against war and oppression. But his most prominent role was as elder statesman of the Chicago Eight, the disparate group of radicals who were charged with conspiring to incite riots around the 1968 US Democratic party convention which endorsed Hubert Humphrey's nomination as presidential candidate after President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the race at the height of the Vietnam war.
Dellinger's principled stand and commitment to non-violence belied Washington's accusations against him, and, for many involved in the anti-Vietnam movement, served as an inspiration.
By the time he graduated from Yale University in 1936, with honours in economics and as captain of the cross-country team, Dellinger was already being radicalised. He had been arrested while marching to support unionisation at Yale; he spent a summer working in a factory in Maine, and another travelling with hoboes. His friends included the young Walt Rostow (obituary, February 17 2003), who then argued the virtues of communism, which Dellinger found lacked a "spiritual dimension". Rostow went on to become an architect of Vietnam policy under US presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Dellinger discovered his pacifism when, during a brawl at a Yale football game, he punched a New Haven "townie". As his victim fell, stunned, he later wrote, "the lesson I learned was as simple, direct and unarguable as the lesson a child learns the first time it puts its hand on a red-hot stove. Don't ever do it again!"
I'm in shock. I just received an email from a very good friend here in Vermont telling me that David Dellinger died the afternoon of May 25th. Dave was a lifelong antiwar activist who refused to fight in World War Two and actively opposed every US war since then. He was 88 years old and had been suffering from worsening health. Indeed, he had just been moved to a nursing home not more than two or three months ago.
Although I only met Dave five years ago when a group of us sat in on Representative Bernie Sanders' office in opposition to his support of the bombing of Yugoslavia, he has been an influence on my life and thought ever since I first heard about him in junior high. As a young peacenik who found the militancy and flamboyance of activists and groups like the Black Panthers and Yippies quite appealing, it was David Dellinger's thoughtful, yet militant antiwar stance that provided me (and millions of others, it seems) with a fundamental belief that what I was doing was worthwhile. After all, this man had devoted his entire adult life to opposing imperialism and the wars that system demands without ever even throwing a brick at a cop. Like the Berrigan brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., his commitment to nonviolence was total. At the same time, he understood that pacifism was not passivism.
Peace activist David Dellinger, one of the Chicago Seven arrested and tried for their part in the violent anti-war protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, has died at 88.
Dellinger died Tuesday, said Peggy Rocque, administrator of Heaton Woods, the Montpelier retirement home where the activist had been living.
Dellinger was a pacifist who devoted much of his life to protesting. A member of the Old Left whose first arrest came in the 1930s during a union-organizing protest at Yale, he was a generation older than his Yippie co-defendants in the Chicago Seven case.
"Mainly I think he'll be remembered as a pacifist who meant business," said Tom Hayden, a fellow '60s radical and member of the Chicago Seven who went on to become a California legislator. "His pacifism was very forceful. He didn't mind interjecting himself between armed federal marshals and someone they were pushing around."
At the Chicago Seven trial in 1969 and 1970, Dellinger and four co-defendants - Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Rennie Davis - were convicted of conspiracy to incite a riot at the 1968 convention. Those convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court, which cited errors by U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman.
When Hoffman invited Dellinger to address the court during sentencing, he continued to speak after the judge ordered him to stop.
"You want us to be like good Germans, supporting the evils of our decade, and then when we refused to be good Germans and came to Chicago and demonstrated, now you want us to be like good Jews, going quietly and politely to the concentration camps while you and this court suppress freedom and the truth," Dellinger told the judge. "And the fact is, I am not prepared to do that."
Greg Guma, editor of the political magazine Toward Freedom, called Dellinger "one of the major figures in terms of peace and social justice of the last half century."
David Dellinger, whose commitment to nonviolent direct action against the federal government placed him at the forefront of American radical pacifism in the 20th century and led, most famously, to a courtroom in Chicago where he became a leading defendant in the raucous political conspiracy trial of the Chicago Seven, died Tuesday in a retirement home in Montpelier, Vermont. He was 88.
An avuncular figure among younger and more flamboyant mavericks, Mr. Dellinger emerged in the 1960's as the leading organizer of huge antiwar demonstrations, including the encirclement of the Pentagon that was immortalized in Norman Mailer's account "Armies of the Night." At the same time, making use of his close contacts with the North Vietnamese, he was able to organize the release of several American airmen held as prisoners and to escort them back from Hanoi.
In the often turbulent world of the American left, Mr. Dellinger occupied a position of almost stolid consistency. He belonged to no party, and insisted that American capitalism had provoked racism, imperial adventures and wars and should be resisted.
A child of patrician privilege, he had since his days at Yale learned and practiced strategies of civil disobedience in a variety of causes, steadfastly showing what he called his concern for "the small, the variant, the unrepresented, the weak," categories he cited from the writings of William James.
An unwavering nonviolent pacifist, David Dellinger (born 1915) devoted his life to the promotion of peace through his writings, his organizational talents, and his personal acts of courage. He spoke up for what he believed and remained an active speaker well into the 1990s.
David Dellinger was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, on August 22, 1915. His father was a lawyer, a Yale law school graduate, and a Republican. In high school David was an outstanding athlete, long distance runner, and tournament-level golfer. He was also a superb student and already a confirmed pacifist. He graduated from Yale University as a Phi Beta Kappa economics major in 1936 and was awarded a scholarship for an additional year of study at Oxford University in England.
On his way to Europe he went to Spain, then in the middle of its civil war. Dellinger was so moved by the spirit of brotherhood among the Loyalist communist troops that he nearly joined them. Instead, he spent his year at Oxford, then returned to America for graduate work at Yale and religious training at the Union Theological Seminary.
In 1940 the U.S. government instituted the military draft in preparation for entering World War II, and David Dellinger became one of its first conscientious objectors. He refused to serve in the army. War, he said, was evil and useless. His alternative to war was brotherhood and the abolishment of capitalism. He served a one-year prison term, again refused to enlist, and was jailed for another two years. Upon leaving prison he married Elizabeth Peterson and embarked upon a career as a printer, a writer, a peace organizer, and, above all, a radical pacifist. Far from being the austere, serious prototype of a pacifist, Dellinger was a husky, happy man whom friends often described as a "cheery elf." He was a genial person of boundless energy and uncommon good sense.
Dellinger, A. J. Muste, and Sidney Lens became the editors of Liberation in 1956. It was a radical pacifist monthly magazine which stood for economic justice, democracy, and nonviolence, and it continued publication for 19 years. Its subscription lists grew as young Americans started to protest the nation's treatment of Black people and the U.S. military incursion into Southeast Asia. Now, as one of the spokespersons for the American radical left, Dellinger made two journeys to Cuba in the early 1960s, reporting enthusiastically on what the Castro revolution had done for the Cuban people.
In April 1963, Dellinger participated in a "peace walk" in New York City during which those who favored peace clashed with other marchers over the Vietnam War, and Dellinger was cast into the forefront of anti-Vietnam politics. He worked in 1964 with Muste and two radical Catholic priests, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, to produce a "declaration of conscience" to encourage resistance to the military draft. A year later (August 1965), with Yale professor Staughton Lynd and Student Nonviolent Organizing Committee organizer Bob Parris, Dellinger was arrested in front of the U.S. Capitol leading a march for peace and was jailed for 45 days. Two months later Dellinger became one of the organizers of the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam—the group which staged the huge anti-war marches in Washington D.C. in 1970.
Dellinger made two trips to China and North Vietnam in the fall of 1966 and the spring of 1967. In America he helped in the production of the famed March on the Pentagon of October 1967, which would later be memorialized by author Norman Mailer in his prize-winning Armies of the Night. Dellinger spent much of 1968 travelling to Cuba and preparing for demonstrations at the Democratic party national convention in August. When the Chicago police attacked the demonstrators, the federal government indicted all demonstration leaders (Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Lee Weiner) for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot.
In July 1969 North Vietnam decided, as it had twice before, to release a few U.S. prisoners of war, and Vietnamese leaders requested that Dellinger come to Hanoi to receive them. He and three others, including Rennie Davis, his co-defendant in the aftermath of the Chicago riots, flew to Hanoi in August and escorted the Americans back to freedom.
The 1969 trial of the Chicago Seven (known officially as U.S. vs. David Dellinger et al. ) was one of the most celebrated court cases of the 1960s. In order to disrupt the proceedings in Judge Julius Hoffman's courtroom and to attempt to place the Vietnam War itself on trial, the defendants wore outrageous clothing, carried anti-war signs, and replied bluntly to the court's capricious rulings. They were all found guilty by Judge Hoffman and, in addition, given innumerable contempt citations. But the entire trial was, on appeal, found to have been irrevocably tainted, and all "guilty" judgments were nullified.
By 1971 President Richard Nixon's planned withdrawal "with honor" of U.S. troops from Vietnam was lowering dissent on the home front. Dellinger was skeptical that there could be peace with honor because, as he saw it, the entire war had been without honor. He helped to plan the giant "Mayday" march on Washington, D.C. in spring 1971. But the next year American attention turned to the Watergate break-in, and Dellinger returned to his writing. Liberationceased publication in 1975, and for the following five years he was the editor of Seven Days magazine. In the 1980s he moved to Peacham, Vermont, to teach at Vermont College and to write his memoirs, cheerfully referring to himself as a "failed poet, a flawed feminist, and a convinced pantheist."
Despite remaining an active protester and frequent public speaker, Dellinger found time to finish his memoirs and From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of A Moral Dissenter was published in 1993. In 1996, Dellinger and other activists who demonstrated at the 1968 Democratic National Convention had an opportunity of sorts to reprise the event. The 1996 Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago and attracted about 500 demonstrators protesting a host of causes. Dellinger was among them. He remarked to a reporter, "The numbers of people who came and the energy they had made it very successful. We made it clear there would be no violence."
The Chicago 8: Where Are They Now?
Rennie Davis: Now 80, Davis founded the Foundation for a New Humanity, a Colorado-based project to develop a comprehensive plan for a new way of living. Married, he lives in Boerthoud, Colorado and also does personal growth coaching.
David Dellinger: Dellinger died in 2004 at 88. The oldest of the Chicago defendants by 20 years, he was a leading antiwar organizer in the 1960s. Dellinger wrote From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter.
John Froines: At 81, Froines is professor emeritus at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health with a specialty in chemistry, including exposure assessment, industrial hygiene and toxicology. He also served as director of a division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration .
Tom Hayden: Hayden died in 2016 at 76. A leader in America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, he moved into mainstream politics and served in the California State Assembly for a decade and the California State Senate for eight years. He taught at Occidental College and Harvard's Institute of Politics. The author of 17 books, he was also director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Los Angeles County. Hayden married three times, but his most high-profile union was to actress and fellow activist Jane Fonda for 17 years.
Abbie Hoffman: After spending years underground, Hoffman resurfaced in 1980, lectured at colleges and worked as a comedian and community organizer, He died in 1989 at 52 from a self-inflicted overdose of barbituates due to manic depression.
Jerry Rubin: Rubin went on to work on Wall Street and hosted networking events for young professionals in Manhattan. He died in 1994 at 56 after he was hit by a car near his Brentwood, California, home.
Bobby Seale: At 83, Seale resides in Liberty, Texas. In 1973, Seale ran for mayor of Oakland, California, and came in second out of nine candidates. He soon grew tired of politics and turned to writing, producing A Lonely Rage in 1978 and a cookbook titled Barbeque'n with Bobby in 1987.
Lee Weiner: Now 81, Weiner recently wrote Conspiracy to Riot: The Life and Times of One of the Chicago 7, a memoir about the1968 Democratic National Convention. In the years after the trial, Weiner worked for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in New York and participated in protests for Russian Jews and more funding for AIDS research He also worked as a vice president for direct response at the AmeriCares Foundation. He resides in Connecticut.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Originally the Chicago Eight, the activists were on trial for crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, which took place from August 26&ndash29. The were allegedly in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Trial of the Chicago 7 true story reveals that they had gone to Chicago mainly to protest American involvement in the Vietnam War and the fact that the Democratic presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, did not staunchly oppose the war. Other charges against the eight defendants included committing acts to impede law enforcement officers and instructing others on how to make incendiary devices.
The Chicago Eight included Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis, John Froines and Bobby Seale. However, the last man, Seale, was eventually removed from the proceedings, which dropped the total number of defendants to seven. 16 co-conspirators were also named but never prosecuted.
How long did the Chicago Seven trial last?
Did the protesters who came to Chicago break the law?
Technically, yes. The protesters, mainly made up of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe), were only given a permit to assemble at the bandshell at Grant Park. They were denied permits to march toward the site of the Democratic National Convention, as well as hold rallies in various lakefront parks and close to the convention site. To this end, Mayor Richard Daley was largely trying to keep them out of sight and out of mind. His public response was that he was trying to ensure the safety of the convention attendees. Over the span of five days and nights, several thousand protesters defied the restrictions. They tried to march to the International Amphitheater where the convention was being held, among other locations, including police headquarters.
The protesters also defied the park's 11:00 pm curfew. Initially, police confronted the protesters in an effort to enforce the curfew and clear the park. One problem was that there were thousands of protesters and many didn't have money for a hotel, which were mostly booked due to the convention. Clearing the park meant forcing people into the streets, many with no place to go.
Did the protesters "take the hill" and charge the police?
No. The movie makes it seem like a swarm of police were surrounding the statue of General John Logan at the top of the hill before the demonstrators charged. However, it actually happened the other way around. The police were not on the scene when the demonstrators charged the hill in Grant Park and began climbing up onto the statue and waving flags. It was only then that the police arrived to clear the protesters from the statue and the hill. This is depicted in the Chicago 10 documentary.
Was Jerry Rubin arrested after trying to prevent an attempted rape?
No. In the movie, several fraternity brothers become angry that a female protester is waving an American flag. They approach her and attempt to sexually assault her. This prompts Jerry Rubin to step in and escort her out of the park, at which point a police officer puts a gun to his head and arrests him. This isn't how Rubin's real arrest went down, and there's no mention of him saving a woman who was being attacked.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 real story reveals that Rubin was arrested later when he was picked by police on a Chicago street and put into an unmarked car.
Was Jerry Rubin seduced by a female undercover agent?
No. The female undercover agent in The Trial of the Chicago 7 movie, Agent Daphne Fitzgerald (Caitlin Fitzgerald), is an almost entirely fictional character. The real Jerry Rubin was never seduced by a female undercover agent. Daphne seems to have been introduced in the movie to bring levity to the story after Jerry Ruben (Jeremy Strong) discovers the truth about her. In real life, there were three undercover agents who infiltrated the demonstrators. An agent by the name of Robert Pierson became a bodyguard for Jerry Rubin. He posed as a member of a motorcycle gang.
Did the protesters, including Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, march on police headquarters to get Tom Hayden out of jail?
Yes. The true story behind The Trial of the Chicago 7 confirms that the standoff indeed happened in real life. The protesters were met by an armed battalion of police officers outside the station. Like in the film, activist Tom Hayden was released on bail.
Who was to blame for the violence, the protesters or the police?
In reality, they were both at fault to varying degrees. The movie almost entirely depicts the police as the aggressors and the protesters the victims. As a result, we're shown a mostly one-sided account of what actually happened. Like in the film, the August 28, 1968 clash was dubbed by a commission as a "police riot." During the violent confrontations, there were indeed press and eyewitness accounts of police overreacting and indiscriminately attacking nearly everyone in sight, including reporters, as some officers seemed to enter into a state of panic. It didn't help that many of the officers had little training in riot control. In an attempt to control the defiant and at times aggressive crowds, police used verbal and physical means, including tear gas, mace, and hitting unruly protesters with batons. Footage of bloodied protesters was featured prominently in the media.
While the movie doesn't seem to show a single injured police officer, the reality is that the violence was coming from both sides. Approximately 192 police officers were injured. Over the years, the media and Hollywood have increasingly put the focus on the demonstrators and have almost entirely subdued the police officers' side of the story. This is evident by watching Chicago 7 documentaries and movies over the past three decades, which go from presenting both sides to barely acknowledging the violence directed at the police.
The movie shows demonstrators throwing a few bottles that break near the feet of the police. In reality, individuals who were part of the 10,000+ demonstrators threw bottles, bricks, rocks, bags of urine and feces, and numerous other objects, including spiked golf balls (a golf ball with nails sticking out of it). Officers who were there described the scene as "chaos." They also tell of glass ashtrays that were dropped on them from hotel windows high above. Bricks were thrown at police cars and the windows of patrol cars were smashed. Nail-spiked rubber balls were left under their car tires. Though we don't really see it in the movie, the demonstrators punched and physically fought with the police as well. They also inflicted damage to private businesses. -The San Diego Union-Tribune
Even in calmer moments, demonstrators repeatedly called them "pigs" and some got in officers' faces and tried to provoke officers to shoot them. They touched and pushed officers. The violence on both sides is also discussed in our episode The Trial of the Chicago 7: History vs. Hollywood.
Was Bobby Seale tried with the others because the prosecutors thought a black man would scare the jury?
Not likely. We found no evidence that Bobby Seale was picked in order to incite a racist reaction from the jury. Unlike the other defendants, it's true that he had not been involved in the planning of the protests and had only been in Chicago for two days of the convention as a short-notice replacement for Eldridge Cleaver. In researching The Trial of the Chicago 7 true story, we discovered that Seale, the Black Panther Party Chairman, was charged with inciting a riot because of a speech he gave in Lincoln Park during which he called for violence against police.
Bobby Seale told the crowd of 2,000 angry protesters, "If a pig comes up to us and starts swingin' a billy club and you check around and see you got your piece, you gotta down that pig in defense of yourself. . Because if you pull it out and shoot it well, all I'm gonna do is pat you on the back and say, 'Keep shooting.'" The fact that Seale was the chairman of the Black Panther Party may have also been another likely reason that the government went after him.
Did Black Panther Co-Founder Fred Hampton give advice to Bobby Seale during the trial?
No. There's no record of Fred Hampton being there and giving advice to Bobby Seale. While some Black Panthers were probably at the trial, the movie introduces Hampton in order to later tie in his death at the hands of the police. In the film, Hampton's death provides the motivation for Seale to become more defiant at the trial.
Did Judge Hoffman have Bobby Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom?
Yes. Defendant Bobby Seale, the National Chairman of the Black Panther Party, was upset that the trial could not be delayed so that his attorney, Charles Garry, could represent him (Garry was recovering from gallbladder surgery). Judge Julius Hoffman told seal that he was already being represented by attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance in the movie), who had represented Seale at the pre-trial hearings. However, Seale claimed that he fired Kunstler and didn't want a white lawyer.
When Judge Hoffman denied the postponement and told Seale he could not represent himself, Seale vehemently protested via a number of outbursts and constantly disrupted the trial. He called the judge a "bigot," a "racist," a "fascist" and a "pig." One month into the trial, the judge ordered the bailiffs to do something to stop the disruptions. They chained Seale to a chair, as well as bound and gagged him. To justify the action, Judge Hoffman referred to a precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court case Illinois v. Allen., which ruled that a defendant has the absolute right to be present at his own trial, even if it means binding and gagging the defendant to make the trial possible. -FindLaw.com
While the movie only shows Seale bound and gagged for a short time, he actually appeared in court that way for three days, making muffled sounds and trying to get free, which prompted defense attorney William Kunstler to refer to the courtroom as a "medieval torture chamber." Many called Judge Hoffman's actions abuse, while there were others who wondered what else he could have done to contain Seale's outbursts. Observers argued that Judge Hoffman should have severed Seale from the trial instead of taking such extreme action.
Judge Hoffman eventually allowed Seale into the courtroom without his restraints, at which time Seale once again disrupted the proceedings. In Seale's case, Judge Hoffman was forced to declare a mistrial, calling Seale's actions "a deliberate and wilful attack upon the administration of justice in an attempt to sabotage the functioning of the federal judiciary system." Hoffman found Seale guilty of 16 acts of contempt of court, resulting in a sentence of four years in prison. He had to be carried out of the courtroom. Onlookers declared, "Free Bobby!" Seale was severed from the case.
With Seale no longer part of the trial, the Chicago Eight became known as the Chicago Seven. As a result of the judge's unconstitutional actions in denying Seale his chosen attorney, in addition to the ability to represent himself, the contempt charges against Seale were eventually overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. While it was intended that he would be tried separately, the trial never happened.
Was the prosecutor Richard Schultz, portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sympathetic to the defendants?
Did Judge Hoffman make the defendants and their attorneys cut their long hair?
While it's not shown in the film, this was another one of the judge's actions that served to exacerbate the fiasco unfolding in his courtroom. He ordered that the barbers at the Cook County Jail cut the lengthy locks of the defendants and their lawyers. It's not surprising that the film omits this, given that it might be harder to keep track of the characters.
Did Tom Hayden tell the crowd, "If blood is gonna flow, let it flow all over the city"?
According to real-life accounts, this happened on Wednesday, August 28, 1968, the day the Convention week violence was at its peak. Tom Hayden reportedly told the audience of 10,000 to 15,000 who had gathered at the bandshell at Grant Park, "This city and the military machine it had aimed at us won't permit us to protest. . Therefore, we must move out of this park in groups throughout the city and turn this excited, overheated military machine against itself. Let us make sure that if blood is going to flow, let it flow all over this city. If gas is going to be used, let that gas come down all over Chicago. . If we are going to be disrupted and violated, let this whole stinking city be disrupted and violated." The movie implies that Hayden was referring only to the protesters' blood flowing in the streets and forgot to use the pronoun "our" when referring to the blood. However, the real Hayden wasn't as nonviolent as the movie makes him out to be. He had made other incendiary comments in the build-up to the convention.
We then see a small group of protesters, including Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), make their way across an unguarded bridge toward the convention. In real life, a much larger group of protesters crossed the bridge and confronted the police, which ignited what became known as the "police riot."
In the film, Abbie Hoffman attempts to clarify in court what Tom Hayden meant to say. However, we found no record that the "If blood is going to flow" quote was ever uttered in court, nor did Hoffman ever quote from the Book of Matthew. We also found no evidence that a tape of Hayden saying this actually existed in real life or was introduced in court.
The incident around the flagpole seems to have been fictionalized somewhat in the film. In real life, the flagpole incident happened around 3 p.m. Demonstrators had tried to replace an American flag in the park and raise a red or blood-splattered shirt in its place. As police officers moved in to retrieve the American flag, Jerry Rubin shouted, "Kill the pigs! Kill the cops!" At some point, Rennie Davis was indeed clubbed unconscious, but this appears to have happened after some of the demonstrators formed a line between the police and the crowd. Officers then charged the line to get to the flagpole. It's true that Rennie Davis getting clubbed is what led Hayden to make his remarks.
Were activists Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden really at odds with each other during the trial?
While Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne's characters are at odds with one another in the movie, the real-life Hoffman and Hayden weren't as different as the film portrays them to be. It's true that Tom Hayden was more restrained and civil than Abbie Hoffman, but like Hoffman, Hayden had a tendency to say explosive things at times. He also wasn't as clean-cut as Eddie Redmayne's character.
Did two of the Chicago Seven wear judicial robes into the courtroom?
Did Dave Dellinger punch out a bailiff?
No. As stated in the movie, Dave Dellinger was a Boy Scout Leader and a pacifist. Unlike what's seen in the film, he didn't betray his penchant for nonviolence by punching a bailiff. In fact, the beginning of this scene with Michael Keaton's character, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, appears to be mostly fictional as well. The court transcripts reveal that while Clark did appear in a voir dire proceeding (an examination without the jury to assess a witness's qualification to give testimony), Clark never discussed a call with President Lyndon Johnson. He only answered questions about his discussions with city officials and federal planning in preparation for the convention. His bombshell testimony alluded to in the movie that could contradict the entire proceedings and prove that the case was largely a witch hunt is a fabrication.
While it's true that Judge Hoffman did not allow Ramsey Clark to participate in the trial, the decision never led Dave Dellinger, a pacifist, to punch out a bailiff. Dellinger never punched anybody during the trial.
Did Tom Hayden read the names of fallen Vietnam soldiers in court?
No. In the movie's climactic moment at the end of the trial, Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) stands and defies the judge's instruction and begins reading the 4,752 names of soldiers killed in Vietnam. It's a defining moment in the film, but according to court transcripts, Hayden didn't do this in real life. In reality, it was fellow defendant Dave Dellinger who read the names. It happened earlier in the trial on Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969, a day when nationwide demonstrations called for a moratorium to end the war in Vietnam. Dellinger stood and began reading the names before Judge Hoffman arrived in the courtroom. When the judge walked in he made Dellinger stop, and their back and forth remarks resulted in Dellinger getting a contempt charge.
Were the Chicago Seven punished?
The jury found all seven defendants not guilty of conspiracy. Five of the seven men (Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin) were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for inciting riots. All seven men, as well as their lawyers, were given hefty contempt of court sentences by Judge Julius Hoffman. He had issued a total of 175 contempt of court citations during the trial. However, aside from their attorney, William Kunstler, none of the men spent more than 3 years in prison. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the convictions in 1972, citing that Judge Hoffman exhibited bias when he wouldn't let defense attorneys screen potential jurors for racial and cultural prejudices. The appeals court also cited the FBI's surveillance of the defense lawyers' offices as a violation of their rights.
As for the eighth man, Bobby Seale, who had been severed from the case, Judge Hoffman had sentenced him to four years for contempt. After two years, his sentence was overturned and the charges against him were dropped. In the years that followed, Seale was implicated in two murders, one of a fellow Black Panther who had an affair with his wife. He was never convicted.
Were any police officers punished?
In researching the fact vs. fiction in the movie, we discovered that eight police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury. They were then charged with violating the civil rights of the demonstrators due to their use of excessive force.
Did Americans take the side of the Chicago Seven or the police?
80% of Americans at the time disapproved of the demonstrators tactics and blamed the demonstrators over the police.
Overall, how accurate is The Trial of the Chicago 7?
What unfolds at the trial in the movie was largely taken verbatim from the original courtroom transcripts. The film also intercuts actual black and white news footage with its dramatized protests. However, there is still plenty of embellishment since cameras had not been allowed in the courtroom, in addition to the fact that much of the trial is not shown in the film. Director and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is clearly sympathetic to the protesters, portraying them as the victims and the police as the aggressors. However, the actual events that led to the Chicago Seven Trial weren't so black and white. Violence ensued from both sides, instigated in part by the police.
During the trial, the defendants continually disrupted the courtroom and made a mockery of the court and the law. At the same time, the judge exhibited bias rather than remaining impartial. As a result, all of the convictions were eventually reversed. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character alludes to the obvious question, that as activists, was being arrested and charged really an unwanted occurrence? Their trial gave them a national stage and their attention-getting antics helped turn the Chicago Seven into celebrities for their causes. Their voices were never heard more loudly. The movie chants its 1960s protest mantra, "The whole world is watching!" In the film, one of the seven even refers to the trial as being the "Academy Awards of protests," stating that it's an honor just to be nominated.
After the trial ended, several of the men went on to write books about their experience. Abbie Hoffman embraced his newfound status and remained a well-known activist until his death. Tom Hayden embarked on a career in politics and married celebrity Jane Fonda. In addition to the Aaron Sorkin film, other movies and documentaries have been made about the men, including the 2007 Sundance favorite Chicago 10.
Expand your knowledge of The Trial of the Chicago 7 true story by watching the documentary and related videos featured below.
Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
Political intellectualist Thomas Hayden was co-founder of SDS and drafted the organization&aposs famous 1962 manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, which expressed the central goals of the New Left. Among his civil rights and anti-war activities, Hayden traveled to the South and worked with the Newark Community Union Project to fight for racial injustice. He also made a number of trips to North Vietnam and Cambodia in an effort to help end the war in Vietnam.
Hayden later married actress Jane Fonda and had a longstanding political career, serving in the California Assembly and California Senate. He also became director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Los Angeles.
What Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ gets right and wrongThe seven defendants in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial hold a press conference in Chicago Saturday, Feb. 28, 1970 after the 7th Crcuit U.S. Court of Appeals grant their request for bail. Left to right, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden, (behind Hoddman)Jerry Rubin and John Froiners. Dellinger holds his granddaughter, Michelle Burd. (AP Photo/JLP)
What happens when one of Hollywood’s most famous writer-directors undertakes retelling one of the most infamous trials in modern U.S. history? In Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which debuted on Netflix in October 2020, the answer is a mixture of accuracy and narrative embellishment. It tells the story of a group of activists who were on trial after they traveled to Chicago to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Four days of riots and violence broke out Aug. 25-28 as Chicago police, armed with tear gas and billy clubs, tried to enforce an 11 p.m. curfew in the city’s parks, where many of the protesters were camped.
Originally the Chicago Eight, the activists featured in the film faced federal charges of conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intent to start a riot. The defendants included Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale, who was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Seale was eventually removed from the proceedings due to a mistrial, dropping the number of defendants to seven.
The trial drew widespread media attention and lasted nearly five months, from September 1969 to February 1970. On Feb. 18, 1970, all were acquitted of conspiracy charges, with Froines and Weiner being acquitted of all charges. Five — Davis, Dellinger, Hayden, Hoffman and Rubin — were fined $5,000 each and convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to riot, which carried a five-year prison sentence.
In 1972, all charges were overturned. Among other reasons, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit cited Judge Julius Hoffman’s “antagonistic” courtroom conduct. In the ruling, the three-judge panel concluded that “the demeanor of the judge and the prosecutors would require reversal, if other errors did not.”
The seven defendants and their attorneys were also sentenced for the more than 170 contempt citations handed out by Judge Hoffman. Most of the contempt citations had a separate appeal with many being thrown out, but not all.
The movie has received critical acclaim since its release, racking up five Oscar nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
But how does its portrayal measure up to history? Let’s look.
In the movie: Judge Hoffman behaves erratically and shows disdain for the defendants, holding them and their lawyers in contempt of court repeatedly.
In reality: The defendants were known to disrupt and mock the judge throughout the trial. But the film’s portrayal of Hoffman being combative and biased is on the money.
Did Judge Hoffman, who was 74 at the time of the trial, actually treat the defendants and their lawyers as poorly as the film portrays?
Several accounts throughout history say he did. The judge, played by Frank Langella in the film, was known for enforcing strict courtroom decorum and had a reputation for being a bit of a crank. He was described in Joseph Goulden’s 1974 book about federal judges, “The Benchwarmers,” as “impetuous and rude.”
Multiple scenes in the film show the defendants disrupting proceedings, but the film actually understates their antics. For example, Seale was noted for calling the judge a “fascist dog,” a “pig,” and a “racist,” among other things.
Still, even at the time of the trial, Judge Hoffman’s behavior was widely denounced, and the disdain he exhibited for the defense played a pivotal role in the sentencing appeal.
Douglas Linder is an author, historian and law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, as well as the creator of “Famous Trials,” a website that covers and chronicles over 50 famous trials throughout history.
Linder, who has written extensively about the Chicago 7 trial, told PolitiFact that the judge was quite close to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was furious over the U.S. Justice Department’s initial lack of interest in prosecuting protest leaders.
“I was shocked by Judge Hoffman’s treatment of the defense lawyers, Kunstler and Weinglass,” said Charles Henry, professor emeritus of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who attended the trial while in college. “On several occasions they rose to make objections and were either told to sit down or overruled before they had completed their first sentence. Of course they were threatened and then fined for contempt of court.”
Judge Hoffman issued a total of 175 contempt of court citations during the trial, for everything from argumentation to laughing, blowing kisses and correcting him when he mispronounced names.
Attorney Charles Garry, left, greets his client, Bobby Seale, Black Panther leader, who is under 4 years sentence for contempt of court in Chicago, upon his return to San Francisco, Nov. 10, 1969. He was lodged in jail to await extradition hearing on a Connecticut murder conspiracy. Because Garry could not be in Chicago to represent him Seale created several disturbances in the court which resulted in the contempt sentencing. (AP Photo/Sal Veder)
In the movie: Bobby Seale has no legal representation in court because his attorney was undergoing surgery. The judge denies Seale’s requests to delay the trial or to let him represent himself.
In reality: Seale’s lawyer, Charles Garry, had gallbladder surgery and was unable to represent him because the court wouldn’t grant a continuance.
During the pretrial, Seale was represented by a group of lawyers that included Charles Garry, a civil rights attorney who was chief counsel to the Black Panther Party. Seale believed that Garry alone would represent and fired his other lawyers.
That was before Garry unexpectedly needed gallbladder surgery and moved for the trial to be postponed six months, a motion that Judge Hoffman denied.
According to Tucker Carrington’s “The Role of Judging 50 Years After the ‘Chicago Seven’ Trial: A Remembrance of Charles R. Garry,” Garry promised the court that he would try the case immediately after his operation and recovery. By Garry’s account, Judge Hoffman turned the request down cold, despite having granted several other continuances that morning.
That left Seale without counsel, which he disruptively noted throughout the proceedings.
One thing the film gets wrong is that it exaggerates Fred Hampton’s role in the trial. In the movie, Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, is seen in the courtroom speaking to Seale, giving him advice while Seale is seated at the defense table. But, while some Black Panthers were likely at the trial — including Hampton— there is no evidence that Hampton provided advice to Seale in the open courtroom. Rather, the marshals prevented the two from talking to each other.
In Hayden’s memoir “Reunion,” he says that Hampton did work on Seale’s behalf, but in a way that was not so visible during courtroom proceedings. Hampton “brought messages to Bobby faithfully every morning in court and made calls in his behalf during the day,” Hayden wrote. “In addition, a black law student named Mickie Leaner kept the Panther lawyer supplied with legal citations … which Bobby carefully wrote into his yellow pads.”
In the movie: A female undercover FBI agent seduces Jerry Rubin and shows sympathy for him during the trial.
In reality: Agent Daphne O’Connor is a fictional character, but there were multiple undercover intelligence agents who infiltrated the activists.
In the film, FBI agent Daphne O’Connor played by actress Caitlin Fitzgerald, is shown seducing Rubin, portrayed by Jeremy Strong, and later in the trial appears to show sympathy for him. But the character was entirely Sorkin’s creation. Rubin was married to Nancy Kurshan at the time.
There were three undercover agents — all male — who infiltrated the protesters and testified during the trial. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover only allowed men to be special agents — a rule that changed only after his death in 1972. The closest equivalent to O’Connor was Robert Pierson, an investigator for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, who became Rubin’s bodyguard. In his testimony, Pierson said he grew his hair and beard out and dressed up as a biker to blend in with a motorcycle gang.
Thanks to his undercover work, Pierson was able to overhear and later repeat many of the conversations among the Yippies, the activist group that Rubin and Abbie Hoffman led.
“Basically, the prosecution’s case was made through these undercover agents coupled with the activists’ public speeches,” Linder told PolitiFact. “These agents tried to link things and suggested tactical moves and the specific things they (the Yippies) did that were not public knowledge.”
In the movie: Tom Hayden tells the crowd, “If blood is gonna flow, let it flow all over the city,” but intended to say “our blood,” meaning only the protesters’.
In reality: There’s no indication Hayden was referring only to the blood of protesters, and not police.
Experts and witnesses say that Hayden, portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, did not accidentally forget to use the pronoun “our” in the speech, as the film implies.
The speech in question took place in the late afternoon of Aug. 28, 1968, at the peak of the week’s violence. Dellinger, Seale, Davis and Hayden addressed 10,000 to 15,000 demonstrators at the bandshell in Grant Park, opposite the Democratic Convention headquarters hotel.
But Hayden didn’t want a march to the convention, according to Dean Blobaum, the owner of Chicago68.com, a website devoted to examining myths and facts about the events during the 1968 convention.
As the rally came to an end, Hayden and Dellinger did have a disagreement (as the movie shows) but it was about tactics. Dellinger wanted the crowd to march to the International Amphitheatre while Hayden wanted people to break into small groups and disperse around the Loop.
They presented the crowd with alternatives, with Dellinger speaking first and laying out instructions to assemble for the march. Hayden spoke next and ended with: “If blood is going to flow, let it flow all over the city. If gas is going to be used, let it come down all over Chicago. If police are going to run wild, let them run wild all over the city.… Don’t get trapped in some kind of large, organized march which can be surrounded. Begin to find your way out of here. I’ll see you in the streets.”
Hayden’s entire speech was entered into evidence by the prosecution, but we could find no instance in the edited transcripts that Abbie Hoffman was asked any questions about Hayden’s words at the bandshell, as the movie shows.
In the movie: Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman show up in judges robes. The judge orders them to take the costumes off, at which point the pair throw the garments to the floor to reveal that they are wearing police uniforms underneath.
In reality: Rubin and Hoffman did show up toward the end of the trial in judges robes, but some reports say it was only Hoffman wearing a police uniform.
Rubin and Abbie Hoffman did show up to court one day in judges robes, but this happened toward the end of the trial, on Feb. 6, 1970, a few days before closing arguments. But there are contradictory reports about whether both men were wearing police uniforms underneath the robes. Some reports say only Hoffman, who is played by Sacha Baron Cohen in the movie, donned both costumes.
It wasn’t the only stunt the defendants pulled. They also brought a birthday cake into the courtroom, bared their chests and placed the flag of the National Liberation Front on the defense table.
In the movie: Judge Hoffman orders Bobby Seale to be bound and gagged over his disruptions. Richard Schultz, a junior prosecutor on the case played by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, decries the action and pushes for the judge to declare a mistrial, which he eventually does.
In reality: Seale was bound and gagged for multiple days before his case was declared a mistrial. There’s no evidence that the prosecution pushed for the mistrial.
In the film, Seale, portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, repeatedly interrupts the proceedings, noting that he has no attorney present. Due to his disruptions — at one point, Seale stands and decries the slaying of Hampton the previous night — Judge Hoffman orders that Seale be taken away. In Seale’s absence, the courtroom is still as the horrific sounds of Seale being beaten off-camera overtake the room. Seale soon returns, bound and gagged.
Seale was indeed seated on trial in an American courtroom, bound and gagged — but the scene was, by some measures, more brutal than the one-time incident depicted in the film. In reality, he was gagged, tied up and chained to his chair at the defense table for at least three days. And a full week elapsed between the first time Seale was forcibly restrained and when the judge declared a mistrial.
Blobaum says there isn’t a clear record that those in the courtroom could hear marshals struggling with Seale in another room as is depicted in the movie. But he said there was one day, Oct. 30, when those present in the courtroom watched the marshals struggle with Seale, Rubin and Hoffman as Seale’s arm came unbound, his chair tipped over and he cried out, saying he was being hit in the scrotum.
“Seale talks a lot about those three days in his memoir ‘Seize the Time,’” Blobaum said. “He put up a lot of resistance to being gagged, and he was physically restrained by the marshals. Other than what happened in the courtroom on the 30th, he doesn’t talk in terms of being punched or abused by them, beyond the abuse of binding and gagging.”
Judge Hoffman’s treatment of Seale drew wide condemnation. After a week, the judge allowed Seale’s restraints to be removed on the condition that the defendant stop disrupting. Seale continued to interrupt, and the judge declared a mistrial in his case. It wasn’t because the prosecution or defense attorneys requested it in open court, as the movie portrays. Kunstler made a motion on Nov. 3 for a mistrial of all defendants, which was denied. Seale’s case was severed on Nov. 5.
Sorkin’s screenplay also rearranged time. In real life, Seale was chained to his chair on Oct. 29, 1969. But Hampton wasn’t killed until Dec. 4.
In the movie: Hayden reads the names of fallen Vietnam soldiers in court at the close of the trial.
In reality: Defendant David Dellinger, not Hayden, attempted to read the names of the war dead earlier in the trial before the judge shut him down.
The film’s climactic finale, which shows Hayden reading the names of the Americans who died in the Vietnam War during the trial, never happened.
A reading of some of the war dead took place earlier in the trial on Oct. 15, 1969, when Vietnam Moratorium Day, a massive, national anti-war demonstration and teach-in, was being observed by millions of Americans.
It was also read by Dellinger, not Hayden. Dellinger read names of both U.S. and Vietnamese casualties but didn’t get far before the judge cut it off.
This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.
What were the Chicago 7 indicted for?
The seven activists, including Bobby Seale, were charged with conspiring to incite a riot, to teach the making of an incendiary device, and to commit acts to impede officers in their duties.
All seven defendants were acquitted of conspiracy. Froines and Weiner were acquitted completely while the other five were convicted of crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot.
They were sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000 each.
The judge ordered officers to cut the hair of the defendants and their lawyers.
The convictions were overturned in 1972 due to the judge's bias. Judge Hoffman refused to allow the defence lawyers to screen jurors for potential cultural and racial bias.
There was a retrial which found Hoffman, Dellinger and Rubin guilty of some of the contempt charges but they were not sentenced or fined.
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What Happened To The Rest Of The Defendants?
David Fenton/Getty Images The Chicago Seven and their lawyers outside the courthouse.
“You’re the laughing stock of the world,” Rubin told the judge. “Every kid in the world hates you because they know what you represent. You are synonymous with Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler equals Julius Hitler.”
Defense attorney William Kunstler often spoke up about the mistreatment of the defendants throughout the trial, and called the proceedings a “legal lynching,” for which the judge was “wholly responsible.”
Ultimately, the case went to the jury on Feb. 14, 1970 — with the judge convicting all seven of their charges. Kunstler and another defense attorney, Leonard Weinglass, were also convicted of contempt for their remarks.
However, the jury’s returned verdicts on Feb. 18, 1970 saw Froines and Weiner acquitted of all charges. But Dellinger, Davis, Hayden, Hoffman, and Ruben weren’t quite as lucky.
Though acquitted of conspiracy, the remaining defendants were found guilty of intent to riot. They were sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5,000.
However, none of the seven served time since a Court of Appeal overturned the criminal convictions in 1972. Most of the contempt charges were eventually dropped as well.
David Dellinger -- one of the 'Chicago Seven'
** FILE ** David Dellinger is seen in his home in Peacham, Vt., in this April 1985 file photo. Dellinger, a protester for liberal causes for more than 60 years, has died at the age of 88. Dellinger, whose first arrest came in the 1930s during a union-organizing protest at Yale, was best known as one of the Chicago Seven who were arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File) AN APRIL 1985 FILE PHOTO TOBY TALBOT
David Dellinger, a lifelong and pre-eminent peace activist who was one of the "Chicago Seven" defendants after the riots at the 1968 Democratic Party convention, has died. He was 88.
Mr. Dellinger died Tuesday at a nursing home in Montpelier, Vt. According to friends, he had suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
"Dave was a true hero," said John Froines, a co-defendant in the Chicago Seven case. "He was a man who devoted his life to positive change, and he never once hesitated or stepped back."
"Mainly I think he'll be remembered as a pacifist who meant business," said Tom Hayden, a fellow '60s radical and member of the Chicago Seven who went on to become a California legislator. "His pacifism was very forceful. He didn't mind interjecting himself between armed federal marshals and someone they were pushing around."
Mr. Dellinger lost track of the number of times he was arrested or jailed over the years for various protests, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Through the decades, he was a stalwart in nonviolent protest beside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Ellsberg and other leaders on the left. But he probably is best known for being one of those on trial in Chicago after the 1968 Democratic Convention.
Mr. Dellinger was in his mid-50s at the time -- the "old man" of the group of radicals who faced prison after the anti-war protests they had planned during the convention turned into riots when Chicago police attacked demonstrators. Although he was the tweedy gentleman of the defendants, Mr. Dellinger was outspoken when the occasion warranted.
"He was a very modest man whose modesty many people took to reflect a lack of strength or will, much to their later surprise," said Leonard Weinglass, one of the Chicago Seven's lawyers. "When things reached a crisis in the courtroom, David was always strongly present."
Originally, there were eight defendants, but the case against Bobby Seale, chairman of the Black Panther Party, was severed from the rest. Others of the Chicago Seven were Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Rennie Davis, Lee Weiner, Hayden and Froines.
Mr. Dellinger and four co-defendants -- Rubin, Hoffman, Davis and Hayden -- were found guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot, but a federal appeals court later voided the convictions, saying U.S. District Judge Julius J. Hoffman had engaged in prejudicial conduct.
Contempt citations issued by Hoffman as the result of fiery interchanges during the trial were voided for everyone but Mr. Dellinger, who once told Hoffman "to do the courtesy not to interrupt me while I'm talking." Mr. Dellinger had been earlier jailed for several weeks in connection with the contempt charges, but he never received an actual sentence.
The Chicago Seven trial gained Mr. Dellinger the most notoriety, but it was just one event in a long life of fighting for what he thought was right. There were sit-ins at weapons plants and demonstrations against everything from the bombing of Libya to Operation Desert Storm.
As recently as three years ago, at the age of 85, he left his home in the middle of the night to take part in demonstrations in Quebec City protesting talks aimed at establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
All the convictions were reversed on 21 November 1972 by the Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit, mainly because Judge Hoffman was found to be biased when he refused to let the defence attorneys screen jurors for racial and cultural bias, and because the FBI had bugged their offices.
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