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The Trial of the Chicago 7: The Wildest Things the Movie Left Out

From Bobby Seale’s true ordeal to a presidential candidate named Pigasus—he was a pig—Aaron Sorkin’s script includes only a fraction of what happened before and during that far-out trial.

One can imagine a tortured Aaron Sorkin writing The Trial of the Chicago 7. While crafting the movie, he must have come across fascinating tidbit after fascinating tidbit—only for the page-counting side of his brain to cry “objection!” Out of necessity, the call back would need to be “sustained!”

Sorkin’s film, premiering Friday on Netflix, centers on characters including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale—larger-than-life figures who generated no shortage of juicy material. The biggest “wait, did this happen?” moment in the film—Seale being bound and gagged in the courtroom—is certainly true. In real life, though, that incident was even more dramatic than it appears in the film. Seale didn’t receive that cruel and unusual punishment for a few minutes; he was subjected to it for three days. Meanwhile, the film’s gratifying ending—in which Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden reads the names of fallen soldiers as the music swells—never happened. 

You’d be forgiven for falling for thinking that it did, though, considering the absurdity of the Chicago 7’s trial. For proof, look no further than these astounding true things Sorkin’s film couldn’t find time to depict.

Seale v. Hoffman

As Sorkin’s film shows, Seale—who wrote in his book Seize the Time that he was suffering from tonsillitis and a testicular infection during the trial (as well as an infuriating case of the crabs he caught in a filthy Missouri prison during his transfer from the east coast)—was unable to get Judge Julius Hoffman to accept that he did not have his legal counsel present. But their clashes went far beyond what we see onscreen.

At one point during the trial, Seale remarked about images of slaveholders present in the courtroom. Hoffman threatened him with censure, and Seale responded, “what can happen to me more than what George Washington and Benjamin Franklin did to their slaves?” Hoffman ordered court marshals to quiet him, at which point they shoved Seale around on his wheeled chair, which tilted backward nearly to the ground. His leg slammed up on the table. Defendant Dave Dellinger, covering his head, ran over to try and place himself between the the parties.

That’s when Seale was taken out of the courtroom and came back in chains. As Seale clanged the metal in humiliation and defiance, some members of the jury had tears in their eyes.

The next day, Seale was strapped in as well—with such force that he quickly lost circulation in his hands. As tension rose (and as Jerry Rubin shouted about him losing circulation), a scuffle broke out. Seale was elbowed in the chest by one guard, and elbowed in his groin by another.

“I got hit in the testes by one of your marshals,” Seale said when his gag was loosened. Rubin was even more direct: “don’t hit me in my balls, motherfucker!"

On the third day, Seale was gagged with athletic bandages wrapped all over his head. In Seize the Time, Seale writes that he was soon unable to breathe, and legitimately feared he would suffocate. With all his might, he was able to wiggle one finger loose to pull his gag down enough to breathe—and to unleash a torrent of anger in Judge Hoffman’s direction. He was carried out of the courtroom. Seale returned a few days later, to a horrified jury. He was slapped with slew of contempt charges (later overturned), then given a mistrial.

Yippie Ki Yay

Sorkin’s film rightly refers to Hoffman and Rubin as leaders of the “Yippie” movement—but one could easily come away from the film thinking that this simply means is they were dope-smoking anti-war protestors with a flare for stand-up comedy. In actuality, the word Yippie wasn’t just a play on the word “hippie;” it stood for the Youth International Party. And while the group didn’t exactly have a rigid hierarchy, it did organize and raise awareness at a time when all of mainstream society would rather they would just cut their hair and be quiet.

Prior to Chicago, the pair was already known for turning their political activism into street theater. In August 1967, Hoffman and Rubin (and others) went to the New York Stock Exchange and hurled dollar bills onto the floor. Naturally, the capitalists there began to scurry around to pick them up, not realizing the joke was on them.

In 1968, when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hoffman was arrested for wearing a shirt made from an American flag. Rubin appeared in 18th century garb, claiming to be a descendent of Jefferson and Paine. (This is a nice foreshadowing of some of the kooky costumes seen in Chicago 7.)

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