Jackson, The unruly defendant I revered and Trump

The late great Abbie Hoffman, painting from a photo of the period when he was disrespectfully on trial before Julius Hoffman, by Thomas Altfather Good.

One, two, Screw Magoo!…

by Eric Jackson

I look at Donald Trump’s insolence at and about his hush money trial in New York. He may beat the rap. Innocent unless and until proven guilty as always, and even in the event of a conviction on those charges there’s no telling what the Federalist Society goons with whom the Republicans have packed the nation’s highest court might do.

The other legal jeopardy, at nine counts, more demanded by the prosecutor and a summation after the trial, is on contempt charges that will likely be resolved after the jury has left the room to deliberate. More of a slam-dunk there, and probably a greater chance of The Donald going to jail before the election.

Hey, I know those sorts of disrespect and trial disruption politics, from when I was a teenager. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin were heroes of my youth. I only spoke to Abbie in the flesh once, and saw him in the flesh mostly at events where he appeared. Jerry I knew a bit better, as at the Yippie House in Ypsilanti and at a Yippie gathering in Madison the former reporter for the Cincinnati Star sat down with me and gave me, a high school dropout working in the underground press at the time, pointers about my writing.

Abbie was totally outrageous, a manic depressive like me, a guy who when on the up pole could be legendarily creative and pretty obnoxious as well. The down pole took Abbie from us, by suicide at a time he was hurt from a car crash, alone in his love life, in a financial low spot and severely depressed. It was a horrible example that, along with other events, led me to take stock, quit a lawyer job I had come to hate and move back to Panama where Seasonal Affective Disorder hardly applies.

A veteran political organizer from the days of the Freedom Riders, Abbie was the main brain behind the disruption of the interstate conspiracy to riot trial arising from the protests and police brutality at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. THOSE charges were a set-up, but then the campaign about the trial and The Day After were the real thing.

Judge Julius Hoffman, who bore a useful resemblance to the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, played right into it. And when he asked the defendants to state their names, one Abbott Howard Hoffman said that his name is Abbie, that he lost his last name. When asked to name his state of residence in court, Abbie said the “state of mind of my brothers and sisters.”

It’s the beginning of the difference. Donald Trump nods out in court, or fakes it. Abbie and Jerry read comic books in court while the judge or prosecutors were speaking.

Back in those times, Abbie was walking down a New York street with a copy of a Yippie film in his possession and was arrested just because of who he was. At the station the cops wanted to know what the film was, and he told them it was about a woman and an ostrich – then wrote about the mad scramble around the police station to find a projector. (Some of the Yippie feminists of the time took exception to the sexist joke, but I would imagine that the survivors of that crowd are much more offended by Trump’s misogyny.)

Trump’s contemptuous out-of-court social media comments are angry, mean-spirited, often libelous, ad hominen and shrill. Bits of anger sometimes came from Abbie Hoffman, but he was far more likely to affect the style of a Borscht Belt stand-up comedian.

It was a time of rising resistance to genocidal wars – more than a million Vietnamese were killed – and a government based on lies. That gave the Chicago conspiracy defendants a huge following to address and those charged had their individual politics, temperaments and followings to give the overall defense strong support in several sectors of the movement. At the trial Abbie was the ringmaster, organizer and provocateur.

After the trial by a judge who wore his partiality on his robes came to its inevitable guilty verdict but before the inevitable reversal on appeal, college campuses and cities around the country exploded on The Day After. For an adolescent male, the rioting was a testosterone rush. Those disturbances wrought another set of riot conspiracy charges, which gave prominence to defendant activist, later rabbi, Michael Lerner and many others. Those cases ended when prosecutors, police and Nixon administration official preferred not to give defense lawyers the records of their own misconduct.

“One, two Screw Magoo! Three, four Stop the War….” Popular anger, off of which Nixon image-handlers spun a 1972 re-election with the help of Democratic divisions. The Nixon Democrats begat the Reagan Democrats begat the MAGAs. By which time Abbie and Jerry, the latter hit by a car while crossing a busy Los Angeles street, were no longer with us.

Well, Trump has shown us that he can disrespect a judge too – but never so well as when Abbie told Julius that the latter was a “shande fur de goyim” (Hebrew for disgrace before the Gentiles.) Abbie got a contempt citation for that, too, but never were his insults to crude as Trump’s tweets.

And Trump can gin up a riot, too. But I’m expecting a few violent fanatics to act out when he goes to jail, but never anything like TDA. More like Joe McCarthy pleading “point of order, point of order!” when his gig with the Senate committee was up.

Donald Trump, you’re no Abbie Hoffman.


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