TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The film starts with archive footage of President Johnson raising the monthly draft count for the Vietnam War. Critics such as Martin Luther King, Jr make their opinions well known. Across the country, several groups are gathering to protest the war.
At a meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), leaders Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) speak to their group on their plans to go to Chicago to protest at the Democratic National Convention. At the same time, Youth International Party (Yippies) leaders Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) also make plans to lead their group for the same cause. David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), leader of the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (The Mobe), prepares to go off on his own to protest, despite the concerns of his wife (Meghan Rafferty) and son Daniel (Brady Jenness). Black Panther National Chairman Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is going out to make a speech, and he does not plan to do things peacefully since he knows what happened to figures like King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evars, and even Jesus. Tom and Rennie relay info to Abbie and Jerry as to their intentions for the protest. The government is aware of the protest and sends thousands of troops and officers into Chicago, and other critics in favor of the war paint the men out as revolutionaries hellbent on the destruction of the American government.
Five months after the Convention, Federal Prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his superior Tom Foran (J.C. Mackenzie) arrive in Washington to meet the Attorney General, John Mitchell (John Doman). He tells the prosecutors about the trial involving the protests at the Convention. The men leading the protests, plus Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), are put on trial as the “Chicago 7” with the charges of conspiracy to incite violence. Bobby is also placed among them, not because he was involved with either of the men, but because, as he feels, he is lumped in with the others to make them seem dangerous to due being a black man associated with the Black Panthers, and even Schultz knows that Bobby was not involved with them. Regardless, Mitchell orders them to get to work.
Outside the courthouse where the trial is set to begin, hundreds of citizens are protesting the charges against the men. The men, minus Bobby, are represented by William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman). Bobby receives help from Fred Hampton (Kelvin Harrison, Jr), the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers. The trial is presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), who wants to make it clear to the court that he has no relation to Abbie. Throughout the trial, Hoffman repeatedly mispronounces names (“Derringer”, “Fineglass”, etc.) and has a clear bias toward some of the men. Not helping things is Abbie frequently speaking out of turn to be a wise guy. Bobby tries to tell Hoffman that he is not supposed to be there and is supposed to be represented by Charles Garry, but Hoffman doesn’t care to hear from him, especially knowing that Bobby is also standing trial for the alleged murder of a cop in Connecticut.
Bill brings the defendants into a room to discuss their strategy and approach. They just want to prove that they never meant to incite violence. Tom tries to maintain focus on themselves while Jerry and David think the point is to draw attention to the protests themselves. They also agree that Hoffman is crazy. Fred comes in to chastise Bill for speaking for Bobby and affirms his innocence in the cop murder case. Bill just reminds the guys, especially Jerry and Abbie, to maintain a professional demeanor.
On Day 3 of the trial, Schultz calls to the stand David Stahl (Steve Routman), the mayor’s administrative officer, since he had met with Jerry and Abbie over the Yippies planning a public event. They went to Stahl for a permit, but he denied their request. Abbie also opted for Stahl to just give him 100 grand to call the whole thing off. The next day, Weinglass talks to Stahl since he had meetings with Tom, Rennie, and David. They also requested permits for peaceful protests at Grant Park, but Stahl denied their requests as well. Bill then brings up Stahl never reporting that Abbie was extorting him. Hoffman then chooses to strike Stahl’s whole cross-examination.
On Day 23, Hoffman brings Bill, Weinglass, Schultz, and Foran into his office to present them with a threatening note that was allegedly signed by the Black Panthers that was sent to the parents of one of the jurors. Bill feels that this is just a scare tactic being used against the jurors to cast a menacing light on Bobby, but he cannot say anything to the stubborn Hoffman. He does threaten Foran after accusing his office of making the notes, as Bill knows the Panthers are smarter than that. Weinglass later shows Bill and the defendants that Hoffman is planning to sequester the jury.
Schultz later calls Detective Paul DeLuca (Wayne Duvall), who was at an event planned by the Yippies. He caught Tom letting the air out of a cop car’s tires. Onlookers shouted at his harassment, but DeLuca says that Tom was egging them on. When Bobby goes to speak for himself, Hoffman continues to make things difficult for everyone. When Bill argues against Hoffman, he orders him to be charged with contempt.
Next on the stand are three undercover agents – Officer Stan Wojohowski (Max Adler), Sergeant Scott Scibelli (C.J. Wilson), and Agent Daphne O’Connor (Caitlin FitzGerald) – all of whom befriended Abbie, Tom, and Jerry to gather information on them. Jerry in particular is dismayed because he fell for O’Connor and was heartbroken to learn it was all a ruse. It culminated in a protest for Tom’s freedom from custody following the tire incident, wherein cops came out and violently beat the protesters, despite David having tried to get the guys to turn the crowd around before it inevitably turned ugly. Jerry caught a few frat guys attempting to rape a female protester until he fought them off, only for him to get arrested. While the other two officers try to paint the men out as criminals, O’Connor is more honest and empathetic. When it gets to Bobby again, Fred stands up and argues that Bobby was in Chicago for four hours, leading the rest of the court to applause.
The next night, the SDS office gets a call, which secretary Bernadine Dohrn (Alice Kremelberg) answers. She tells Tom that something happened. Bill meets Bobby where he is being held to inform him that Fred was killed in a police raid. Bobby knows it was an execution since he was methodically shot in the shoulder to prevent him from lifting a gun, and then shot in the head. Bobby tells Tom that he and the other defendants are alike in that they all probably had the same white aggressive patriotic father, and their lifestyles are a “fuck you” to them.
Day 89 – Bobby finally has enough of testimonies against him without a proper defense, and he effectively tells Hoffman off. The judge then orders the guards to beat, bind, and gag Bobby into submission. In that time, Rennie writes a note to the other defendants to not stand for Hoffman. When he returns, he is still defiant toward Hoffman. Schultz, disgusted by everything, moves to declare Bobby’s case a mistrial. Bill and Weinglass back him up due to the way that Hoffman has been clearly discriminating him. Hoffman officially declares the case a mistrial, leading to the court’s applause, but he reminds Bobby that he has many contempt charges against him, as well as the pending murder charge. Tom also happens to be the only one to stand, and the others criticize him for having too much respect for the law.
Back at the office, the guys discuss the current situation and impending convictions. Abbie tells John and Lee that they are basically only there to appear more innocent so it would be easier to convict the other five men. Rennie then brings up that Mitchell may be doing everything to spite former Attorney General Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton), since he may be able to provide a key testimony. Tom, Bill, and Weinglass go to Clark’s house to meet with him. Bill asks Clark if there was any talk in the White House during his tenure as AG as to making charges against his clients, but two other agents sitting in say that it’s against the law for him to answer. Clark, to spite Mitchell, agrees to testify.
Clark goes to the courthouse on the next day of trial to state that the riots were the fault of the Chicago Police Department, and there was no evidence to convict the defendants for conspiracy to incite violence. The court applauds again. However, Schultz argues that this conclusion was made by the current Justice Department and not the one at the time of the events. Even as Clark tries to state his case, Hoffman forces him to step down, and his testimony basically counts for nothing. David then stands up to argue, leading two guards to try and detain him, leading him to punch one in the face. He is taken away and feels mortified at his actions when he sees his wife and son in the court.
As the defendants start to feel more hopeless, Bill comes in with something worse – an audio recording of Tom essentially calling out for the riot to happen. A flashback shows the event at the Convention where Rennie tried to intervene when cops were grabbing a young man for climbing a pole. Rennie physically pulled a cop off while another clubbed him in the back of the head so hard that he was bleeding. Tom witnessed this and called attention to the crowd, stating “If blood is gonna flow, then let it flow all over the city!” Bill says this is enough for Schultz and Foran to convict him. What followed was the riot that led the cops to box the protesters in against the window of a restaurant. Several cops removed their badges and name tags before forcing the protesters through the window into a crowd of horrified patrons. Abbie tries to defend Tom’s words since he is known for using vague/non-indicative vocabulary, so when he said what he said, he meant to say “if OUR blood is gonna flow”. Tom tells Bill that Abbie should take the stand instead of him.
Abbie takes the stand and defends Tom and his actions. He also states his feelings on the government, being that while the country has many democratic developments, they are run by terrible people.
On Day 151 of the trial, Hoffman allows Tom to speak for the group since he commends him for his professionalism and respect throughout the trial compared to his co-defendants. He allows Tom to give a brief, non-political statement. In response, Tom reads off the entire 4,500+ names of every victim of the Vietnam War. Despite Hoffman’s angry demands for order, the crowd cheers him on as he continues to read. Even Schultz shows respect to the fallen against Foran’s wishes. All Hoffman can do is bang the gavel in futility.
The final text states that Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and David Dellinger were all found guilty of incitement to riot and each sentenced to five years in prison. The verdict was reversed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and a new trial was ordered, but the U.S. Attorney General declined to retry the case. William Kunstler was charged with 24 counts of contempt in court. A later survey found that 78% of Chicago trial lawyers deemed Judge Julius Hoffman to be unqualified. Bobby Seale was found falsely accused of murdering a police officer. Jerry became a stockbroker but was killed in 1994 when he was struck by a car. Abbie wrote a best-selling book called “Steal This Book” and committed suicide in 1989. Tom was elected to the California State Legislature in 1982 and was re-elected six more times.
In 1968, eight men - Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Lee Weiner, John Froines, and Bobby Seale - are put on trial following a riot at the Democratic National Convention. They are dubbed the Chicago 7, although Bobby argues that he is not with them and was only lumped in with them to make them look dangerous due to him being the leader of the Black Panther Party. The men, minus Bobby, are represented by William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass, and the trial is presided over by the incredibly difficult Judge Julius Hoffman.
Bobby's case is later declared a mistrial after the prosecutor Richard Schultz becomes appalled at Hoffman's treatment of Bobby, basically not letting him speak for himself since his lawyer is not there to defend him and then having guards beat and gag Bobby after he talks back to Hoffman. Despite them trying to get former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to testify, Schultz and Hoffman have Clark step down. Things also take a bad turn when Tom is overheard inciting the riot by stating "If blood is gonna flow, then let it flow all over the city".
Tom, Rennie, David, Jerry, and Abbie are all found guilty of incitement to riot and are sentenced to five years in prison. In real life, Tom Hayden was elected to the California State Legislature, Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker and was killed by a car, Abbie Hoffman wrote a best-selling book and committed suicide, Bobby Seale was found not guilty of killing a cop in Connecticut, and Julius Hoffman was deemed as being an unqualified judge.