Conspiracy 8: R.G. Davis
Interviews the Chicago Seven
Trial Interview (1970); Dellinger Update (1989)
Contents this page:
- Videos of the Interviews
- Half an Antidote to the Netflix Docu-Fiction (by R.G. Davis)
- Links to Review Articles at Counterpunch.org
- Comment (by Digger Archivist)
- Gallery of Photographs
R.G. (Ronnie) Davis offered to resurrect two interviews he conducted
defendants in the trial of the Chicago 8 in response to the 2020 Netflix
release of The Trial of the Chicago Seven written and directed by
Aaron Sorkin. The first interview took place during the trial in 1970
and involves all the defendants except Bobby Seale (whose case was
severed from the rest by the judge when Seale demanded that he be
allowed to defend
himself). The second interview was
one-on-one with David Dellinger in 1989. In his article "Antidote"
(below), Davis puts the trial into context to resurrect its radical
intent which the Sorkin film has muted. The 1970 interview was broadcast internationally at the time.
Now, Ronnie has brought it to light again to correct the historical
Conspiracy 8: The Video Interviews
NOTE: chapter marks in the video timeline above correspond to the four
questions that Davis posed for the defendants (see "Antidote"
below for explanation).
Half an Antidote to the Netflix
By R.G. Davis
23 January 2021
The trial of the Chicago 8 and the events that led to it need to be
placed in a historical context to understand what happened; remind us
why they took place; for whom; and what effect they had on the movement
to hinder, harass and stop the US war in Vietnam.
Various anti-war groups intended to present a counter alternative
convention to influence the Democratic delegates who met in Chicago in
August 1968 to nominate an anti-war candidate for president. Two
Democratic candidates for the presidency had campaigned to reduce the US
war in Vietnam—Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. Two months
before the national convention, Kennedy was assassinated, just as his
brother John had been five years earlier.
With the increasing disaster of the war, and the potential for a unified
civil rights and anti-war movement the government, in a bi-partisan
effort, enacted measures to counter the growing opposition. Lyndon
Johnson had included in his 1968 Civil Rights Act language which made it
a felony to “travel in interstate commerce...with the intent to incite,
promote, encourage, participate in and carry on a riot....” This would
be the statute used by Nixon’s Attorney General Mitchell to charge the
Chicago 8 in a conspiracy of “three or more crossing state lines with
the intent to incite a riot” even if they didn’t execute what they
“intended.” In short, a mind control law.
The third-party Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago—the on-ground manager of
the Democratic National Convention—refused to provide permits for a
Yippie Festival of Life in the parks, for teach-ins, as well as for
marches/demonstrations by the non-violent National Mobilization
Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE). Numerous efforts to obtain
permits for activities all were denied. When the demonstrations did
happen the party boss enforcer Daley directed the police to attack the
demonstrators outside the convention hall, rough up the Eugene McCarthy
delegates in the Conrad Hilton Hotel, and sent undercover agents into
the convention hall to muscle & muzzle anti-war delegates.
In order to completely stop the protest demonstrations the Chicago
police used three-foot night sticks to beat the protestors (= the actual
riot). Nixon’s undercover agents and local ones had infiltrated the
demonstrations early on as both agent provocateurs and spies. These
arrangements were revealed in the first days of the trial when forty or
more undercover agents testified for the Federal government. “Yes they
did ....do it. They intended to disrupt the Democratic Convention.”
To complete the effective repression of the movement for this Federal
trial, the US Attorney General appointed a judge who was considered a
‘Hanging judge’—Julius Hoffman. All of his previous twenty-four trials
ended in convictions. An early example of the judge’s application of
justice is illustrated in dealing with Black Panther Party Chairman
Bobby Seale who demanded the right to defend himself. His lawyer was in
the hospital ... “denied” ... then he arose again to claim his rights.
The judge had him chained and gagged to a chair in the courtroom. The
seat of Justice and Democracy. Nevertheless, Seale struggled to speak.
Eventually, the judge sentenced him to four years in jail for contempt
of court and Seale was removed from the case.
With two federal prosecutors an FBI agent and anywhere from six to
eighteen U.S. Marshalls in the courtroom, Judge Hoffman in a matter of
five months proceeded to accuse the defendants of the charges; when they
spoke up, to charge them with contempt of court; rejected lawyers’
questions on cross examination; allowed the Marshalls to pummel people
and remove them from the courtroom—all in front of the jury who had been
selected by him with the objective of railroading the defendants to
jail. In the short run, the Kangaroo court succeeded. However, on
appeal, his convictions from four months to four years for the
defendants, including a four-year prison term for one of the lawyers,
were all overturned.
In the 1970 interview I asked but four questions for all to respond.
Neither antagonistic to their project nor trying to show how smart I
was—rather, coaxing them to correct my views by arguing their case.
“How long have you been in Chicago, and what are you doing here? What is
the meaning of Conspiracy to intend to incite a riot? The lawyers
Kunstler and Weinglass said the government’s case was bogus, and they
couldn’t prove it. What is an aggressive defense? Why did you-all decide
to put the Government on trial by providing thirty-nine witnesses to
testify as to the breadth of the movement from political radicals to
poets and peaceniks with a few militant operatives who had been part of
the 60s all rejecting the bourgeois state and many gathered around
opposition to the militarization of US foreign policy?” The defendants
were able to put up 39-104 witnesses defending the Movement matching the
testimony of the Governments 54 undercover agents.
During the trial, across the country the debate in the Left questioned
the strategy of working the courts. Some saw it as a distraction, not an
opportunity to expose the government. Nevertheless all the defendants
participated in confronting the government by being ready to speak out
—in Dave Dillinger’s words: “not behaving like Good Germans.” However,
some variation of tactics arose in fooling with the trial. One essential
supposition was that by making a spectacle of the trial – mostly at the
press conferences the corporate media would deliver a liberating message
to the youth movement. Trouble in this promotional theory is that the
corporate media revised, distorted or ignored any essential radical left
critique of the government and the imperialist war.
The Federal governments charges was a bi-partisan project constructed by
the Demos & the Repos to crush in any way possible the movement against
the US invasion & war in Vietnam. US foreign policy a war policy was a
subject to be avoided, ‘off the table.’ Both in electoral campaigns or
fake debates there is no discussion of US foreign policy because it is
unpatriotic, a sin, a crime to inspect, expose and oppose the US
military-industrial-congressional complex. The Empire shall be
preserved. Wrap the flag around that one. Look at the vimeo again
because the accused did have a complex agreed upon plan.
If you have seen the Netflix film first ... then that’s real and the
Interview done in 1970 is fiction.
RGD Feb 2021
Links to Reviews of the Netflix Film
Jonah Raskin, “Tragedy
or Farce? Reflections on Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Trial of the Chicago 7’”
(16 Oct 2020)
Nancy Kurshan, “I
Was in the Room Where It Happened: One Woman’s Perspective on ‘The Trial
of the Chicago 7’” (22 Oct 2020)
R.G. Davis, “The
Ideological Function of Netflix: the Trial of Chicago 7” (29 Jan
Comment (by Digger Archivist)
Ronnie Davis was a catalytic force in the 1960s (and beyond)—not only
for the members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe who would eventually
leave the troupe and form the core of the Digger movement. Davis brought
a fine-tuned sense of dialectic to his politics and his craft. Read his
essay "Guerrilla Theatre" which was
a clarion call that would define the cultural approach not just of the
New Left but the Counterculture in general. The Mime Troupe's
performances radicalized thousands during their cross-country (and
international) tours. Much like the commedia dell'arte bands of actors
in the Renaissance, these modern troubadours were happiest when they
left town with their audiences thrilled by the improvisational
theatrical messages that scandalized the corrupt and lauded revolts
against conformity. No wonder then that Davis was drawn toward the trial
of the Chicago 8 (later 7) that President Richard Nixon's Department of
Justice undertook to smash the resistance to the Vietnam War. In his
essay, Davis explains the motivation for resurrecting these two
interviews with members of the Chicago 7. The new 2020 film written
and directed by Aaron Sorkin and distributed by Netflix is a travesty in
Davis' opinion. He offers this interview from 1970 (and a follow-up
one-on-one with David Dellinger from 1989) as evidence that
Hollywood has muted the full message behind the trial and the radicalism
they exhibited in that courtroom a half century ago.
There is another connection to the Chicago 8 and the Diggers which gives
these interviews an interesting tie-in to the Digger Archives. That is
the whole interconnected history of the San Francisco Diggers and the
New York Yippies. This is a topic that needs a longer explanation than
at the moment. But definitely a topic for further discussion.