The Chicago 7 Trial on LSD
The Chicago 7
Trial (on LSD)

Paul Krassner
FBI files indicated that the government wanted to indict twenty individuals for conspiracy to cross state lines for the purpose of inciting a riot at the Chicago convention, but the grand jury wouldn't go along with such a wholesale indictment, so the list had to be narrowed down. They removed Kathy Boudin of SDS. Although they were hesitant to indict Bobby Seale for lack of evidence, he was a prize, and they were willing to trade two white Yippies for him, so Wolfe Lowenthal and Robin Palmer were both unindicted. Super-Joel's indictment was dropped when an attorney for his grandfather, Mafia godfather Sam Giancana, managed to persuade them that not only did Super-Joel come from "a socially prominent family" in Chicago but also that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Stew Albert and I were taken off the list because they were afraid that we might use a freedom-of-the-press defense --- if we had crossed state lines with merely the intent of getting a story, it wouldn't matter even if we incited people to riot once we were there.

The indictments were finally narrowed down to eight. Jerry Rubin said it was like winning "the Academy Award of protest." I felt like a disc jockey who hadn't been offered payola. At a fund-raising party on Abbie and Anita's rooftop, Ed Sanders, Bob Fass, and I linked arms and formed a chorus line doing the two-step and singing, in nyah-nyah  fashion, "We weren't indicted! We weren't indicted!" However, we would all be witnesses at the Great Conspiracy Trial. While the trial was in progress, I visited Chicago for Thanksgiving. I had never seen Abbie scared before. He didn't even finish his lunch in a restaurant because he was afraid of being late for court. Jerry said, "It's the duty of a revolutionist to finish lunch," and stayed. Dave Dellinger had already finished eating, but remained while Jerry ate, as an indication of a united front. I stayed too, but I wouldn't have been allowed in court anyway, because I was due to be a witness.

I was scheduled to testify at the Conspiracy Trial in January, 1970. On the evening before, Abbie coached me with a chronology of Yippie meetings, but trying to memorize all those dates and places made me nervous. It was like being unprepared for an important history exam. And Abbie gave me mixed messages. On one hand, he told me, "There's nothing you can do to help us, you can only harm us." On the other hand, he told me, "I want you to give the judge a heart attack." I assured him, "I'll do my best." I didn't sleep much that night.

I had brought a stash of LSD with me, but things were too tense for an acid party. Instead, I decided to take a tab of acid before I took the witness stand --- call me a sentimental fool --- but it wasn't merely to enhance the experience. I had a more functional reason. My purpose was twofold. I knew that if I ingested 300 micrograms of LSD after eating a big meal, I was very likely to throw up in court. That would be my theatrical statement on the injustice of the trial. Also, I wouldn't need to memorize so much information that way. I had to psych myself up, to imagine it actually happening. The prosecutor would ask, "Now where did this meeting take place?" And I would go "Waughhhhhppp!" They couldn't charge me with contempt of court because they wouldn't know I had done it on purpose. The judge would say, "Bailiff, get him out of here!" But just as he was dragging me away, I would get one more projectile off, onto the judge's podium --- "Waughhhhhppp!" And, although there would be no photographic record of this incident because cameras weren't allowed, courtroom artists would capture my vomit with green and gold charcoal crayons for the eleven o'clock news.

Next day at lunch, while the others were passing around a chunk of hash, I took out a tab of LSD. Abbie said, "What's that, acid? I don't think that's a good idea." Jerry said, "I think he should do it." I swallowed it despite what both  of them said. The acid really began to hit while I was waiting in the witness room. A few volunteers were watching film footage of Dave Dellinger pleading with a crowd at the convention: "Stay calm! Stay calm! " I said, "Boy, when the jury sees this, it'll really be clear that Dave was doing anything but trying to start a riot." The volunteers laughed. "Are you kidding?" said one. "They're never gonna allow that to be admitted as evidence." Then suddenly I was thrust into the middle of a Looney Toons cartoon. It happened at the precise moment that I was escorted into the court by Tom Hayden and Jerry Rubin --- or, as I perceived them, Tom and Jerry. The furniture started dancing merrily.

Judge Julius Hoffman looked exactly like Elmer Fudd. I expected him to proclaim, "Let's get them pesky wadicals!" The court clerk looked exactly like Goofy. It didn't matter that a Disney character was making a guest appearance in a Looney Toons cartoon --- one learns to accept such discrepancies in a dreamlike state. Now I was being instructed by Goofy to raise my right hand and place my left hand on a Bible that was positively vibrating. "Do you hereby swear," asked Goofy, "that the testimony you are about to give in the cause now on trial before this court and jury shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" The truth for me was that LSD --- or any other catalyst for getting in closer touch with your subconscious; whether it be meditation, Zen, yoga --- served as a reminder that choices are being made every moment. So naturally I assumed that Goofy was offering me a choice. "No," I replied.

Although I hadn't planned to say that, I realized it was a first in American jurisprudence. Ordinarily, the more heinous a crime the more eagerly will a defendant take the oath. However, my refusal to swear on the Bible was a leap of faith. Everything was swirling around in pastel colors, but there was still a core of reality I was able to grasp, and somehow I managed to flash back to a civics class in junior high school when we had studied the Bill of Rights in general and the First Amendment in particular. Now I found myself passing that lesson on to Goofy. "I believe in the constitutional provision for the separation of church and state, so I will choose to affirm to tell the truth."

"Let him affirm," said Elmer Fudd --- begrudgingly, it seemed to me, as if to say, Let 'im reasort to the goddamn Constitution! I had seen only artists' charcoal renditions of the missing defendant, Bobby Scale, on TV newscasts, and now I was hallucinating a generic courtroom sketch of Seale, tied to his chair with a gag over his mouth.

The defense attorney, William Kunstler, looked exactly like the Wise Old Owl. The prosecutor looked exactly like the Big Bad Wolf. I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland. The Wise Old Owl was questioning me about the original Yippie meeting.

    Q.And which one is Jerry Rubin at this table?
    A.The man trying to hide behind Mr. Dellinger.
    Q.Can you identify Abbie Hoffman at this table?
    A.(Pointing) He looks familiar. Yes, I would say that would be Abbie Hoffman.
    ELMER FUDD: Would it be or is it?
    A.It definitely is. It would be him too, but he is ...
    Q.Can you identify Anita Hoffman?
    A.Yes, the young lady who is standing.
    Q.What about Nancy Kurshan?
    A.The young lady who is now standing.
    THE BIG BAD WOLF: I object to this, Your Honor.
    ELMER FUDD: Yes, I think it is inappropriate that the spectators here be identified by witnesses.
    THE WISE OLD OWL: Your Honor, they were at the meeting. He has just stated they were at the meeting. I am asking him to identify them.
    ELMER FUDD: He hasn't been identifying them. They stood up when their names were mentioned. He hasn't gone down there and identified them.
    ALICE IN WONDERLAND: Do you want me to go down there and identify them?
    ELMER FUDD: No, I don't want you to do anything but to answer questions properly.
    THE WISE OLD OWL: Your Honor, I am going to object to his not being able to identify these two women. If they had been men, they would probably be indicted here as defendants because they have been in every one of the meetings. They have been stated by witness after witness as being present.
    The Big Bad Wolf objected.
    "If they had been men, they probably would have been indicted here," and anything else that followed these words, are stricken from the record and the jury is directed to disregard them. I will say that if there is anyone else that this witness identifies, I would ask them not to wave back at the witness.
    ALICE IN WONDERLAND: Now, look, I'm a man and I wasn't indicted.
    THE BIG BAD WOLF: May we have that comment stricken, Your Honor?

§     §     §

During recess, I started fiddling around with a gavel that was on the witness stand, and the bailiff took it away from me. I recalled when Jerry got busted in New York for marijuana, and Abbie and I got the giggles in court because someone had changed the motto on the wall behind the judge to read IN GOD WE RUST. And I recalled when Abbie got busted in New York for throwing a bag of blood at a demonstration, but I testified that I had flashed the V-sign to him and he was simply returning it. The judge asked me what the V-sign meant, and I explained that it had different meanings --- it could mean hello or it could mean victory." "Well," asked the judge, "what did it mean to you on this occasion?" "It meant, Hello, victory."

Recess was over and the trial resumed. Although I felt myself being sucked into some kind of psychic whirlpool, I was still able to speak with lucidity. But then, as the questions continued, I became increasingly nonlinear about the dates and locations of various meetings. I had really wanted to throw up, but now I didn't feel the slightest bit queasy.

    THE BIG BAD WOLF: One of the ways you test the credibility of a witness under the law, Your Honor, is with his memory.
    THE WISE OLD OWL: Now, I will call your attention to Sunday, August 25, at approximately 4 P.M. on that day. Do you know where you were?
    ALICE IN WONDERLAND: Sunday, August 25. May I respond to his comment about credibility and memory?
    ELMER FUDD. No. just answer this question, you may say, "I can't answer it."
    A. Well, I was upset by what he said, and that affects my answer, see. You are pretending this is not an emotional situation....

When my testimony was completed, in order to get centered, I asked myself, "All right, now why did you take LSD before you testified?" "Because," I answered myself, "I'm the reincarnation of Gurdjieff." This was slightly confusing, inasmuch as I didn't believe in reincarnation --- I thought it was the ultimate ego trip --- and besides, I had never even read anything by Gurdjieff. Then I flashed back to a conversation with Dick Alpert during my first visit to Millbrook. I had been curious about Tim Leary.

"Do you think Tim ever gets so involved he forgets he's playing a game?" I asked.

"Well, you know, he's an old Irish Catholic boozehound, and he tends to get can caught up in his own game sometimes, but Tim's a very skillful game player, and he knows what he's doing."

"Well, who would you say --- among all the seekers you've ever known of --- who would you say was always aware of playing a game, even the game of playing a game?"

Alpert thought for a moment and then said, "Gurdjieff."

So that's why I had taken the LSD, because the Chicago trail was just another game.


--- From Confessions of a
Raving, Unconfined Nut

©1993, Simon & Schuster

Go Home     Subscribe to RALPH     Go Up