The Trial of the Chicago 7

Nathaniel Winans
6 min readFeb 14, 2021
Photo credit: Max Bender

Originally called the Chicago Eight, the Chicago Seven consisted of seven political activists who took part in the riots of Chicago in 1968. The Chicago protests were in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and to protest the Vietnam War.

Several political activist leaders were in attendance, were arrested, and charged with criminal conspiracy, the incitement to riot, and crossing state lines to incite riots.

The trials were a large conspiracy theory by the government to prove that the riots were incited by protestors, not the police, which is still a heavily contested issue. Netflix recently released, the Trial of the Chicago Seven, which provides an in-depth look at the protests, the individuals charged, and the outcome of the trials.

Those charged were:

David Dellinger

By far the oldest of the group, David Dellinger was also the most experienced activist of the seven as well. Dellinger focused on practicing nonviolent protests and demonstrating at antiwar movements.

His involvement in the Chicago riots was centered around his intention to cross state lines to riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in the wake of the Reverand Martin Luther King Jr.s assassination. Dellinger, along with Rennie Davis and Tom Hayden, were members of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE). MOBE’s intentions in Chicago were to march at Soldier Field and to protest at the International Amphitheater to show their disapproval of the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

In his 50th reunion yearbook, Dellinger wrote “Lest my way of life sounds puritanical or austere, I always emphasize that in the long run, one can’t satisfactorily say no to war, violence, and injustice unless one is simultaneously saying yes to life, love, and laughter.”

Tom Hayden

A founder of the Students for Democratic Society (SDS), a Freedom Rider, and part of MOBE, Tom Hayden was, at the time, an up and coming political activist who wanted to end the Vietnam War. Hayden traveled to Vietnam in 1965 to gain an in-depth analysis of the situation and when he returned home, he shared his findings in a book called The Other Side. Shortly after his return, he became involved in the 1968 protests in Chicago.

Hayden’s intentions for Chicago were to protest as a leader of the SDS and MOBE to demonstrate their disapproval of the Vietnam War and to get more students and youth involved in political elements. The assassination of Robert Kennedy was also a key factor for Hayden and Davis as they were heavily involved with the Democratic party.

Among other instances, it was a speech given in Grant Park that put Hayden in troubled waters. At a peaceful protest, he saw a young boy who climbed a statue be torn down by police officers and called for the spilling of blood through the streets of Chicago. The action was used against him in court to convict him of his crimes, but his intentions could not ultimately be proven to be the cause of the riots getting out of hand.

Rennie Davis

Essentially the sidekick to Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis was also heavily involved in the SDS and MOBE. Davis was named National Director of SDS and was a catalyst in organizing events for the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP).

Davis suffered a concussion in Grant Park which was caused by police hitting him in the head with a baton. He was also beaten the night before in Grant Park which lead to Tom Hayden’s call for blood to be spilled.

Davis and Hayden were instrumental in getting young adults involved in the Democratic party and in America’s anti-war campaigns. Davis recently passed away at the age of 80.

John Froines

Originally, Froines was not charged with inciting a riot like his other Chicago Seven counterparts, but he and Lee Weiner did end up being charged with making stink bombs, which was true.

In 1964, four years before the Chicago riots, Froines joined the SDS and later founded the Radical Science Information Service- a left-wing socialist organization advocating for science to be publicly available and not controlled by the government.

Froines didn’t give up his activist lifestyle, but after the Chicago riots, he did curtail his public protests to focus on scientific research and more behind the scenes activism.

Lee Weiner

Like Froines, Weiner taught people how to make incendiary devices that could be used in civil unrest. Essentially, they taught people how to make mildly destructive bombs and how to use them in public settings.

Weiner and Froines were not as heavily involved in the trial as their counterparts but their names will forever be synonymous with the Chicago riots. As part of MOBE, undercover police found Weiner to be conspiring about the protests to utilize stink bombs.

Jerry Rubin

Originally, Jerry Rubin attended college to study history at the University of California, Berkeley. However, after a change of heart and a newfound love of political activism, he dropped out to focus his efforts on social activism.

After a trip to Cuba, he learned about the Cuban revolution, what they stood for and why they were fighting. Upon his return, he put his new knowledge towards different causes such as the opposition of the Vietnam War, the support of black power, and the legalization of marijuana, which helped lead to the foundation of the Youth International Party, otherwise known as Yippies.

Rubin, and his counterpart, Abbie Hoffman, believed that if they could be more outlandish at protests and other events, it would bring more media coverage to their cause which would increase support.

Rubin and Hoffman were the most entertaining of the seven at the Chicago trials resulting in them being held in contempt numerous times. The Yippies grew in popularity during and after the trials.

Abbie Hoffman

As the co-founder of the Yippies, Hoffman was also heavily involved with the Flower Power movement to promote passive resistance and nonviolence. In his youth, Hoffman was a bit of a trouble maker and prankster who often found himself in trouble.

It wasn’t a matter of trouble finding Hoffman, it was him finding it. He sought to disrupt political issues that were troubling and in doing so, he was often on the receiving end of corporal punishment and arrests.

Hoffman and Rubin were said to have made a mockery of the Chicago trials but were ultimately just being themselves. Brash, honest, activists who wanted to see a change for the greater good; and if it happened to be funny, it happened to be funny.

Bobby Seale

The reason the Chicago trials were dubbed the Chicago Seven and not Chicago Eight was because of Bobby Seale. Seale was initially lumped into the protest trials but was eventually severed into his own.

Seale was one of the co-founders of the Black Panther Party which highlighted police brutality amongst black citizens. Seale’s involvement with the Chicago protests was that he was there and happened to be caught by the police. He believed the main reason he was included in the trials was because the court needed a black man to be included with the group to show its intentions were violent.

Seale continued to speak out in the trial and was eventually bound and gagged before being removed from the trial in its entirety. He was eventually released and all charges were dropped against him after an appeal.

The Outcome

The trials resulted in a circus of antics. Judge Julius Hoffman was found to be biased against the defendants and had a 78% disapproval rating. It was later found that Judge Hoffman no longer be assigned new cases due to his age and erratic behavior.

The trial was politically motivated by the United States’ Attorney General, John Mitchell, who took it personally that former United States Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, didn’t resign appropriately when the Nixon administration took over.

To look at the trial and series of events objectively, one will see that as American citizens, the first amendment protects our right to assemble and express views through protest. The key is to peacefully protest, but after looking at the Chicago riots, the police were the instigators and were the ones who initially incited violence upon protesters.

At the end of the day, everyone has the right to voice their opinion in a safe and peaceful manner. However, when personal biases are formed, one side does not get to protest louder or more efficiently than another because it favors that of the government. All in all, if you are in need of something new to watch, The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix is something that should skyrocket to the top of your list.



Nathaniel Winans

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