‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: Did Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin really wear funny robes to insult judge?
Old reports highlight how the two 'mocked courtroom decorum' and turned the spotlight of the widely publicized trial towards new-age protests
Spoilers for ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’
It's peculiar how art mirrors life and vice versa. Aaron Sorkin beautifully illustrates that in his movie ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ which revolves around anti-war leaders who were charged with plotting to stir up violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
As the movie begins, eight activists — Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) of the Students for a Democratic Society; counterculture Yippies Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong); MOBE organizers David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins); and Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — are put on trial for conspiring to incite a riot. With fascinating snippets from the notorious trial, the film not only reflects upon war and politics but also makes you chuckle at the irony and hypocrisy through all the drama.
One such unforgettable moment from the film is when Abbie and Jerry poke fun at the judge in a judicial costume. On a particular day of trial, Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) cuts off defense lawyer William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) mid-sentence and points to the members of the Youth International Party (Yippie). “Mr Rubin, Mr Hoffman,” he says. “What are you wearing?” The two immediately stand up to flaunt their wearing black judicial robes and Abbie exclaims: “It's an homage to you, Your Honor.”
The judge then asks: “Do you have clothes underneath there?” Abbie quips, “Yes. Hold on.” He quickly steals a glance at his innerwear and confirms he does. In a stern tone, judge Julius says, “Take off the robes, please.” The two immediately dramatically peel off their robes — only to reveal Chicago police uniforms underneath. As the debacle draws a barrel of laughs from the spectators, the judge orders the bailiff to charge both of them with one count of contempt.
If you were surprised by that scene in the movie, you'll be astonished to find out that such incidents were actually a part of real-life too. An account titled “The Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial” by Douglas O Linder reads: “Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman saw the trial as an opportunity to appeal to young people around the country. They wanted to turn the trial into an entertaining theater that would receive maximum attention in the press. To that end, the Yippies would spice up the days of the trial by, for example, wearing judicial robes, bringing into the courtroom a birthday cake, blowing kisses to the jury, baring their chests, or placing the flag of the National Liberation Front on the defense table.”
An archived New York Times article also sketched out how the two “mocked courtroom decorum” and turned the spotlight of the widely publicized trial towards new-age protests. The story read:
“Let the record show that Mr. Rubin and Mr. Hoffman arrived late and are attired in collegiate robes,” Judge Hoffman said.
“Judge's robes,” Mr. Rubin said.
“What some might call judicial robes.” the judge conceded.
Many reports also said Abbie blew kisses at the jury. Moreover, Judge Hoffman was a frequent target of the defendants, who insulted him to his face. Once, Abbie Hoffman told Judge Hoffman: “You are a shande fur de Goyim [Yiddish for “a 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 bulls**t.”
Abbie expressed his idea of bringing his personal style of courtroom drama in an interview once. “We attempt to make the trial very personal. We try to relate to the jury on a very personal level, we try to relate to the spectators on a personal level. We try to bring our personal style of politics into the courtroom and we try to bring that around the country ... because our slogan stop the trial you see, perhaps we can’t stop this one but if enough of outrage is created, the government would think twice about nailing the people who are involved in organizing demonstrations in Washington because they’re using the exact same techniques as we used in Chicago, television interviews, press conferences, uh they haven’t got a permit as of yet so if one person down there out of three or four hundred thousand people you know spits on the ground, throws rock or something, calls a cop a pig, that constitutes a riot.”
Once, Hoffman even hinted at how it would make a good movie. “That system is archaic, it’s immoral and it’s brutal and it has to be overthrown. It’s that simple. Besides it would make a good movie,” he said. But, he might have never thought his story could be depicted on the big screen. “I don't think Hollywood could ever deal with my real story,” he said with a touch of bitterness in a New York Times interview. He went on: “It's hard, lonely work. You're talking to a Jewish road warrior here. If I wanted to convince people that I could faith-heal them, I'd have me a jet plane by now. But I want to convince them that they have the power as people to come together and fight city hall. And this is very hard.”
‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ will start streaming on Netflix on October 16, 2020.