Transcript from the Viking Youth radio show.
An interview with Abbie Hoffman done during November of 1969, four days after Bobby Seale had been severed from the case.
23-minute interview done by a guest to the show, Mr. Tom LaPorte. Tom was 16 years old at the time of the Chicago Seven trials in Chicago.
Thanks to Robert Brescia for transcribing this interview.
HOFFMAN: What? I don’t have an opinion. …win all the minor battles… and on the last day we were gonna be found guilty and sent to prison. So uh I’ll be sad, you know – I don’t wanna go to prison… you know… I might get to hear Johnny Cash for nothing but aside from that, I don’t think it’s too good a trip.
LAPORTE: Well what do you think the effects of this trial are gonna be?
HOFFMAN: Well, I think that the government is kind of trapped in the courtroom uh, and that the government loses, whether we go to prison or not. If we win, of course, it’s a tremendous victory. I mean, it means we were able to convince twelve jurors who are not anywhere near a jury of our peers and are hand-picked by the judge and the federal system which is fairly well rigged against us in that our lawyers can’t even question the jury. It means we won before people who were really picked by Mitchell and Daley… and uh that would be a tremendous victory. Um, we feel that an even greater victory could come if people all around the country decided that they too were part of this conspiracy and uh began to lend a hand and decided that uh it was in the best interests of their own freedom that this trial be stopped… and that they express that outrage in the streets and on the campuses in this country, especially on November 15th.
HOFFMAN: So he was asking for a lawyer of his choice and if he couldn’t get him, finally was asking for the right to defend himself… and the press kept referring to these as violent outbursts, you know, I guess when a black man demands his constitutional rights in this country, it’s considered a violent act. But, uh, Bobby ended up being gagged and chained, and of course, uh, that was symbolic of what was happening to black people for four hundred years, and then finally when they realized that they just couldn’t shut him up because he was so determined to say what was on his mind and to be free and to not recognize the illegitimate authority of the judge that they just decided that they had to cut him loose and send him off to prison for four years, which is twice as much for any case of contempt, ever. It’s again another chilling aspect of our trial and I think it points a direction in the future which is that the government embarked on a course of fascism. They’re already talking, the government, high official, the American Bar Association, things like that, groups like that are talking about similar trials as ours in the future might have to be conducted with the defendants not in the courtroom… which would be very heavy, I mean you get a note… you’re sitting in your cell and you get a note saying report to firing squad back in Soldiers Field Stadium, you know… oh by the way, you came in second… nice try, you know. And yeah, you don’t even have a chance to confront your accuser.
LAPORTE: Well I take it from all this that you are not exactly impressed with our judicial system… what do you think about it?
HOFFMAN: No, I think that uh Lenny Bruce, a famous comedian, had a lot of trouble with the courts, because he once said before that in America in the halls of justice that the justice is in the hall… and uh, I kind of reflect that. I think that the judicial is just the refinement… what’s going on in our trial is a refinement of what happened in the streets of Chicago during the convention week. They employ massive overkill strategy, uh there are 30, 20 to 30 marshals daily inside the courtroom, uh, it has the atmosphere of an arms camp, uh, the law against us is rigged and uh Bobby’s claims to his constitutional rights and uh, our claims that this law violates our constitutional rights and it’s the same way that we claim that Mayor Daley didn’t have the right to deny us a permit to march or to assemble in the park. So I think we’re seeing the same type of dinosaur thinking in the courtroom that Mayor Daley employed in the streets of Chicago.
LAPORTE: Well what reforms do you support in American government?
HOFFMAN: In the judicial system?
LAPORTE: In the whole government…
HOFFMAN: I don’t support any reforms… reforms seem to imply that the system itself is basically intact and basically sound uh I don’t believe in reform, I don’t believe in dissent, I believe in revolution. I believe that the system has gone too far, it’s abridged the constitutional rights that the people have to amend it through voting. I think that was destroyed in the Democratic convention and in all the conventions recently held and then to quote Abraham Lincoln, I think that the people have a revolutionary duty to dismember and overthrow that government. And that’s what I believe has to be done. That system is archaic, it’s immoral and it’s brutal and it has to be overthrown. It’s that simple. Besides it would make a good movie.
LAPORTE: Well what did you do in Chicago in August of 1968?
HOFFMAN: Actually, I think that the system is… our trial is a symptom of it, their inability to gag Seale, uh their inability to exert power over us in the courtroom even though they have authority, uh, their inability to make us get on our knees and submit, uh, to recognize the judge as some symbol of some high, prestigious position. And that’s only symbolic of what our generation has been going through around the country, their resistance to illegitimate authority, you see, it’s a sign that those people in authority are dying of tired blood, and that that system is sinking into the mud of history like some senile dinosaur. So actually in our revolution I see the government as somewhat getting lost in the shuffle, it’s gonna kind of welter away.
LAPORTE: If and when the guilty verdict is brought in, will that be a victory for you?
HOFFMAN: No, I don’t uh… that depends on what you do, you know and how you relate to it and how you feel, uh we try to make a strategy in the courtroom you see. Is to counteract their strategy which is an attempt to dehumanize us, make us numbers, make us defendants, Rubin, defendant Davis, put us in this kind of decorum orderly fashion which is totally dehumanizing. We attempt to make the trial very personal. We try to relate to the jury on a very personal level, we try to relate to the spectators on a personal level. We try to bring our personal style of politics into the courtroom and we try to bring that around the country, and it’s to that extent, to the extent that you can relate to this trial in a personal way and feel that you are involved in this trial, to that extent we’ll be successful, because our slogan stop the trial you see, perhaps we can’t stop this one but if enough of an outrage is created, the government would think twice about nailing the people who are involved in organizing demonstrations in Washington because they’re using the exact same techniques as we used in Chicago, television interviews, press conferences, uh they haven’t got a permit as of yet so if one person down there out of three or four hundred thousand people you know spits on the ground, throws a rock or something, calls a cop a pig, that constitutes a riot. And uh you know uh what’s going on in the courtroom is a test of power, just as what’s going on in the war between the generations, between the different nations in this country. And we’ll see who wins – we think we will – we think we have the future. I think that was exemplified in Nixon’s talk last week when all of a sudden he appeals to the silent majority, you know, uh, the silent majority is dead. They’re silent, they’re shut up because they’re dead. And I think you basically have an empty strategy and an empty government when you when you appeal to people who are silent. It’s not the silent people who are going to belong to the future.
LAPORTE: Well do you think there is going to be violence this coming Saturday?
HOFFMAN: Uh, there’s always violence, this is the United States of America and Washington DC is the capitol of the most violent country in the world. Sure, I expect violence, sitting in the coffeehouse, I mean uh, don’t you expect violence when you go to high school?
HOFFMAN: Well are there cops in that high school?
LAPORTE: No, we’re in the suburbs.
HOFFMAN: Oh you’re in the suburbs, oh you’re white, I forgot, right. Well, if there’s some of them in your high school you see, they’re cops. And also in the city there’s curfew, you know you see it on TV when you watch a movie “It’s now 10:30 PM curfew is in effect, if you’re under 17 be off the streets”. That’s called fascism when you have curfews and ID checks and uh federal government passing laws like the one against us which says you can’t cross the state line if you have a certain state of mind, you know never mind carrying guns, little girls or little boys or something…
LAPORTE: Well we know you think that law is unjust but are you guilty of violating that law as it stands?
HOFFMAN: Well, not even that, the law as it stands says that we’re guilty of crossing state lines with intentions to incite riots. It’s a question of intent and uh I’m not about to say what my intentions are, that’s up to Nixon and his psychoanalysts to figure out and I mean uh why should I? It’s my right to have my own state of mind.
LAPORTE: Well what is your strategy in the courtroom? A lot of defendants are jumping up and shouting… what are your plans?
HOFFMAN: No , that’s not true, it’s going by what you read in the press which is highly distorted.. uh.. uh first of all as I said before, Bobby Seale was demanding his rights to counsel. He was only doing this when the other two layers had finished, when it was a proper point in the case for him to do this. The other times the other defendants had committed violent outbursts is when they refuse to rise for the judge. They remain seated, that’s considered a violent act by the judge that’s uh… he’s made it clear that we have over two years of contempt ourselves, uh, those outbursts have not occurred. I mean, sure, when the marshals started yanking Bobby out of the chair and belting him around, everybody got started to yell. Yeah, we protest that and protest it vigorously. When they arrested two of our lawyers and dragged them out of the courtroom and threw into the jail. Right off, you know we protested that in the first week of the trial. We don’t aim to shut up, we don’t aim to keep quiet. You know, the courtroom’s a lot like a high school, like grammar school, you know, fourth grade, where it’s “Good morning, your honor, good morning ladies and gentlemen” you know, you bring them a teacher, you bring him an apple, you do better, if you smile, if you be nice, if you dress nice, if you go clean you know, keep your nose clean, and shut up and be nice, little kiddies you know, uh, maybe you’ll get a B in the course. You know? Well, we’re just like ours back in the fourth grade, you know we sit there and pray for recess you know so we can go out and fool around. It’s just like school… it’s a drag.
LAPORTE: Well, do you think that the press is involved in this conspiracy?
HOFFMAN: I think the press is on trial. First of all, half the people testifying against us are newsmen. A lot against their own will, there are recordings that are dragged in as evidence, the film that they shot is dragged in and they’re caught in a bind because they’re only allowed to answer the questions that the prosecutors ask them and secondly, three of them have been undercover FBI informers. One guy who edits the TV news in San Diego, code name “Tyro” I think his name was, and uh, he gets paid five thousand dollars a year from the FBI to inform on subversive groups. He decides what news goes in San Diego on the TV station. Another guy, a photographer, Louis Pfalzberg, infiltrated peace groups in New York – a photographer for a news magazine. I know him well – he got five thousand dollars free a year from the FBI to inform. So in a very real sense, the FBI, er, I mean the news media is put on trial. See that’s it, when you get into a situation like we got in the courts, there’s only two sides to choose, you know, you’re like the jury, you either vote guilty or not guilty. There’s no such concept as fairness. You know, that’s why they think that our demands for a fair trial are absurd and demands for fair coverage of the press and reporting. Reporting is just a bourgeois concept, people think that they can relate to it objectively, which is an illusion. I mean especially in a trial like this, the people get involved. If they don’t they’re inhuman, they’re machines. And Bobby Seale, when he was tied and shackled and the marshalls were pushing him around, he fell off the chair and he fell into the press section. So what do they do, they get down and they sketch the shackles and everything and try to record every sound he says uh, the most mechanical thing you ever saw in your life. You know, and I think it’s that attitude of non-involvement of the press, that’s on trial here.
LAPORTE: Well, do you think that the shackling and gagging of Bobby Seale in any way helped your cause… as far as the general public goes… in sympathy?
HOFFMAN: Our uh, well, as I said before, it graphically shows the situation of the black man in the political defense in this country, but, uh, that was the judge that did that, and that was the system that shackled and chained Bobby. It wasn’t all of us, it wasn’t the defendants’ idea, and besides, the defendants have got the defendants and the lawyers going to jail for contempt because we objected to the treatment of Bobby. So uh we’re all going to prison at the end of this trial, I don’t think people understand that.
LAPORTE: Well in the news media do you think that just one point of view is being expressed about the trial?
HOFFMAN: Oh I think that there are slits, I think that there are some uh, Life Magazine for example called it less a trial than an act of vengeance. Uh, and I think that’s what’s going on, and there is a lot of that kind of reporting but uh, we have no faith in overground media. I mean its role is to sell products and support the people in power. I mean there are two presses – there is the underground press and the overground. The underground press makes propaganda for our side and the overground press makes propaganda for the government. And they throw us a bone or two now and again and say that they’re getting a raw deal, you know it’s because they realize that to really clamp down too hard, you know, would result in a huge upheaval.
LAPORTE: So you’re not getting any fair treatment at all?
HOFFMAN: I don’t want fair treatment – we want propaganda. We want newspaper guys dedicated to the overthrow of the system. I mean the concept of fair reporting is as ridiculous as the concept of a fair trial. You see, it doesn’t go directly to the root of why we’re on trial, you know, why this law was passed, the role of the courts in this country and asking for fair reporting you see, doesn’t go to the root of why newspapers exist in this country, what their role is in a capitalist society, you know, what their relationship is to the ruling class who makes the decisions around the newspapers. Is it the people who buy the newpapers, or is it the advertisers, is it the board of trustees, what are their backgrounds, you know? It doesn’t go to the root of those kinds of questions, so we don’t want fair reporting, no. No, we want the press to lie, how’s that? Lie, tell the truth, what’s the difference? We want them to relate to it like they’re on trial.
LAPORTE: well that’s the only way people know anything about this trial, is what they hear from the news media, which has really given you kind of a raw deal, because they don’t really know what’s going on and they don’t really know the whole story.
HOFFMAN: I don’t think that’s a… see, there are some images. First of all, it’s in terms of images and there are some images that come out of this trial that can’t be hid, like Bobby Seale being gagged and chained, a black man in a white man’s American federal court. You see, people all over the world see that and understand it quite clearly. You see it doesn’t matter uh, like the judge, the judge when he did it he explained to Bobby Seale, he said, “You must remember Mr. Seale that I’m only doing this for your own good to ensure a fair trial for you and the other seven defendants.” You see, that’s a “fair trial”, you see they chained him and gagged him so that they we can have a fair trial, you see. So you’re talking about that, you’re talking about fair reporting, fair trials, fuck it.
LAPORTE: If your revolution succeeds, what kind of government do you plan to have? Or do you plan to have any government?
HOFFMAN: (looking in an address book) Wait a second, I’ll look… it’s under “G”… no government.
LAPORTE: well, let’s talk a little about you. Where are you from and…
HOFFMAN: What’s the difference as to what kind I want anyway? I mean I’m just one of the people just like you, I mean what kind do you want? Did you ever think about it?
LAPORTE: I’m a reporter, I can’t have opinions.
HOFFMAN: Yeah… you sound like a tape recorder, you know? They don’t have opinions either, you know? Why do you want to be somebody without opinions? Is that like a long spent desire of yours?
LAPORTE: Well, I have opinions and most of them are closer to yours than to the other side.
HOFFMAN: Oh, I doubt it, they’re not closer to mine.
LAPORTE: I think so.
HOFFMAN: God, mine are ridiculous, why do you want them closer to mine?
LAPORTE: I agree with you… on some things.
HOFFMAN: Hmm, well how do you examine your role then, you say that my role as a reporter is not to have opinions.
LAPORTE: As a reporter.
HOFFMAN: Why? What do you mean, as a reporter?
LAPORTE: I have personal opinions but I’m here to get a story from you and see what you think.
HOFFMAN: Well, there’s a, uh, I don’t understand that view you see I think that’s what’s happening in American life, that’s one of the evils of the system, that people go around with that kind of dehumanized attitude that uh, quite frankly many Germans had while they were salting away six million Jews in the ovens… all legal and all according to the law. Well, there were a lot of good Germans that sat around and said, “Well, it doesn’t seem right and we’re certainly for fair treatment of the Jews, you know… maybe they ought to let them keep their teeth before they throw them in the oven, that would be fair.” You know, stuff like that. You got to become a guerilla fighter, you can’t keep sitting on the middle of the fence.
LAPORTE: Well, what do you propose..
HOFFMAN: You got to recognize that there are other high schools in Chicago in which there are already detention camps. There are already cops patrolling the whole schools and, it’s not about education, you know it’s about keeping people off the streets, they call it, keep the kids off the streets... so you can send them to school. You got to think about those things because, uh, with your kind of attitude, you’re going to go far. You’re going to become very fair. You’re gonna become a fair reporter and a fair judge. Someday you might be a judge and you might be putting me on trial see.
LAPORTE: My grandfather was a judge.
HOFFMAN: You might be using this tape recording against me. If you did that, I’d have to kill ya. That wouldn’t be fair but it would be done.
LAPORTE: Well, there is a new youth movement going on in this country. What do you think of such things as Woodstock?
HOFFMAN: I wrote a book about it called “The Woodstock Nation”, so it’s about my trip to Woodstock. I had mixed feelings about it but mostly good. I had a good time. Um, you ought to read the book, Woodstock nation. It’s good, it’s in Technicolor, I did it in five days. I don’t have a lot of time to write books but I do it real quick, so it’s good, it’s real clear. We shouldn’t waste time, writing books and reading books anyway, we should watch television. It’s more or less all there, the whole secret of how to do it, you know, how to communicate.
LAPORTE: Do you think that Woodstock was of any significance?
HOFFMAN: Um, I don’t particularly care. If your concept is one of cultural revolution as mine is, the significance one has to examine, one’s more interested in the aesthetics of it. You know, did it feel good, did it look good, did you have a good time… I’m interested in revolution as a way of life because I think it’s an authentic way to live and the only authentic way to live in this country and it’s fun. I wrote a book called, “Revolution for the hell of it” that’s where my head is at, for the hell of it, because it’s fun, because there is no real reason for doing it. There is no significance. You know? All there is… is considering the alternatives and when I look around the alternatives stink.
LAPORTE: Do you have any kind of following, a big following that will help with your revolution?
HOFFMAN: I have about seven million. They’re all armed to the teeth and ready to the moment’s notice and uh in the summer of 1970 we’re gonna be at Cape Cod minding the beachheads because the Chinese Communists are going to attack. Right up the Cape Cod Canal, that’s their first beachhead. Oh, it’ll be a good day, you ought to come out.