If there was any repentance lurking in the souls of Bobby Seale and Tom Hayden, it wasn't showing when they came here today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the trial of the "Chicago 8," one of the most bizarre courtroom spectacles in U.S. history.
Nor was there any sign of regret on the part of Jerry Lefcourt and Dennis Roberts, two of the radical lawyers who defended the Chicago 8 against charges of conspiring to incite a riot for their roles in turning the 1968 Democratic National Convention into one of the country's most embarrassing political farces.
"We were right," said Lefcourt, 57. "I regret nothing."
No regrets for bringing street theater into a federal courtroom, for unfurling a Viet Cong flag at the defense table, for Seale calling the 74-year-old judge a "bald-headed fascist dog," or for other defendants parading in the courtroom in judicial robes and then stomping on them.
Lefcourt is a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which brought anti-war and civil rights activists Seale and Hayden to Chicago to commemorate the trial that turned U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman's courtroom into a circus of outrageous antics, shouted obscenities, and praise of sex, drugs and rock music.
"This trial brought passion to zealous advocacy, and a lot of people were turned on to law because of it," Lefcourt said.
Roberts, who practices law in Oakland, Calif., said, "You know, there was a conspiracy, but it was a conspiracy by the government to destroy the anti-war and civil rights movements, and we fell right into it."
And the two famous defendants? When offered an opportunity in an interview to admit that they had been guilty of crossing state lines to incite a riot, they said they didn't care whether the statute of limitations had long since passed. They weren't going to bite.
"Me? No, but I certainly told people to hold their ground," said California state Sen. Tom Hayden (D) with a smile. It was Hayden who told anti-Vietnam War protesters in Grant Park on the eve of the convention, "If we're going to be disrupted and violated, let the whole stinking city be disrupted. I'll see you in the streets!"
"Not me," said Seale, 63, former chairman of the Black Panther Party who now runs the Philadelphia-based community organizing group REACH.
Seale recalled that he was a last-minute stand-in speaker for black militant Eldridge Cleaver at a rally in Lincoln Park, was in Chicago for only 30 hours and never really got a chance to incite anybody.
But, Seale recalled with more than a trace of bitterness in his voice, it was 30 years ago today that Hoffman, now dead, ordered his case severed from those of the other seven defendants and had him--still manacled and gagged because of his courtroom outbursts--dragged from the court. Seale never was tried, and the defendants then became the Chicago 7.
A jury acquitted John Froines and Lee Weiner but returned guilty verdicts against Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis and Hayden, all of whose convictions and five-year sentences were overturned on appeal.
Abbie Hoffman died in 1990, and Rubin was fatally injured when a car struck him in 1994 while he was jaywalking in Los Angeles. Dellinger, at the time of the trial a 54-year-old evangelical Christian socialist, lives quietly in Vermont. And Davis, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, lives in Colorado.
Seale and Hayden said that while it becomes harder with the passing of time to encounter people who are old enough to remember the tumultuous summer of 1968 and the Chicago 8 trial, the spirit of zealous advocacy they helped promote lives on.
"Looking back, it's amazing to me how many people who opposed it then now embrace it," said Hayden, 59, a co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society. "But now you have discrimination occurring among people who don't think of themselves as racist."
Hayden, an unreconstructed liberal who is running for reelection in California, referred to "new wars" to be fought, over such policies as spending "$5 million a year on a military war in Colombia to combat drug use in Los Angeles" and spending more on building prisons than on higher education.
"We need to find a way to build a peace movement against this war on young people," Hayden said. But he said it is "hard to mobilize people on behalf of kids in baggy pants who have been labeled incorrigible and a threat to society."
About 150 criminal defense lawyers gave several standing ovations to the Chicago 8 defendants and their attorneys at a luncheon held by the association and then watched scenes from an upcoming documentary film by director Robert Greenwald about the life and times of Abbie Hoffman. It is called "Steal This Movie," a play on Hoffman's best-selling manual for radicals, "Steal This Book."
"We are here to remember where we came from," Lefcourt told them. "The roots and genesis of zealous advocacy was best represented by the team of lawyers of the Chicago 8."
But not necessarily in the view of one of the zany trial's other key figures, then-U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran, who was not invited to the luncheon.
"Those were goofy times in our country's history," Foran, 75, said when told about the gathering. "To be a hero you had to be a druggie, against authority and against family.
"They were a bunch of creeps, but I think they spotted Judge Hoffman's weakness and took advantage of it," he added. "What did they accomplish? They gave us Richard Nixon, they gave us five more years of war and a lot more young men killed. Eighty-five percent of the people thought their conduct was outrageous."