Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Thirty Years' Wars: Dispatches and Diversions of a Radical Journalist, 1965-1994

by Andrew Kopkind

As the trial drew to a close, spirits seemed to pick up. The press, which had been treating the case perfunctorily for months, suddenly regained interest. In the long middle of the case, reporters were satisfied simply to fill the requirements of their editors for a daily story. They fixed on a set of conventional categories into which each session's events were placed: the "antics" of the defendants, the weirdness of the judge, the freak-outs of the spectators and the frustration of the defense lawyers. Bobby Seale's moments made the front page, and the silenced songs of Phil Ochs, Country Joe and Judy Collins were good for a few laughs, but most of the time the stories were buried. It was hard for the real importance of the trial to be broadcast.

Towards the end of January the jury realized that the end of the trial was upon them. Full-time spectators and participants say that an entirely different feeling was projected from the jury box (seeing those fourteen stone-cold faces, it is a bit strange to imagine any feeling at all). By then, everyone knew that both defendants and lawyers would be packed away for contempt whatever the actual verdict in the case; the judge had practically said as much himself. Still, no one could have been prepared for the final week.

MONDAY: Judge Hoffman accepts eight-six of eighty-eight instructions suggested by the government for his charge to the jury, and thirty-four of seventy-nine offered by the defense. Chuckles. The judge turns angrily to the defendants' table: "The conduct is continuing right down tot he last observation." He then turns down a defense motion to show films of the 1968 demonstrations--already entered and used in evidence--in its summation. (The films would probably show the unprovoked, brutal police attacks on demonstrators.)

TUESDAY: Assistant US Attorney Richard Schultz, the dogged and somewhat prissy prosecutor on the government's legal team, begins his summation. The August 1968 demonstrations, he says, were to signal "the start of the revolution" and establish "a National Liberation Front--the political arm of the Vietcong--in the United States." The government's police and informers and intelligence agents were "impartial observers"; the defense's big-name witnesses (Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory, Julian Bond, Judy Collins, Allen Ginsberg, Terry Southern, Norman Mailer, Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Richard Goodwin, etc.) were "duped." The defendants were like "Lenin and Mao Tse-tung."

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