Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman

Infobox Person
name = Abbie Hoffman

image_size =
caption =
birth_date = birth date|1936|11|30|mf=y
birth_place = Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
death_date = death date and age|1989|04|12|1936|11|30
death_place = New Hope, Pennsylvania, U.S.
occupation = Social and political activist, writer
other_names = Free, Barry Freed

Abbot Howard "Abbie" Hoffman (November 30, 1936 – April 12, 1989) was a radical social and political activist in the United States who co-founded the Youth International Party ("Yippies"). Later he became a fugitive from the law, who lived under an alias following a conviction for dealing cocaine.cite news | url=| title= Abbie Hoffman, 60's Icon, Dies; Yippie Movement Founder Was 52 | author=JOHN T. MCQUISTON| date=1989-04-14 | accessdate=2008-10-08]

Hoffman was arrested and tried for conspiracy and inciting to riot as a result of his role in protests that led to violent confrontations with police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, along with Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Bobby Seale. The group was known collectively as the "Chicago Eight"; when Seale's prosecution was separated from the others, they became known as the Chicago Seven.

Hoffman came to prominence in the 1960s, and continued practicing his activism in the 1970s, and has remained a symbol of the youth rebellion and radical activism of that era. [ [ Abbie Hoffman Dies] New York Times ]


Early life and education

Hoffman was born in Worcester, Massachusetts to John Hoffman and Florence Schanberg, who were both of Russian Jewish descent. On June 3, 1954, the seventeen year old Hoffman landed his first arrest, being charged with driving without a license. This arrest resulted in his being expelled from his public high school, after which he attended Worcester Academy, graduating in 1955. He then enrolled in Brandeis University, completing his B.A. in American Studies in 1959. At Brandeis, he studied under Herbert Marcuse,Fact|date=October 2008 a leading Marxist Critical Theorist associated with the Frankfurt School. He later earned a master's degree in psychology from UC Berkeley.

Early protests

Prior to his days as a leading member of the Yippie movement, Hoffman was involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and organized "Liberty House", which sold items to support the Civil Rights Movement in the southern United States. During the Vietnam War, Hoffman was an anti-war activist, who used deliberately comical and theatrical tactics, such as organizing a mass demonstration in which over 50,000 people would attempt to use psychic energy to levitate The Pentagon until it would turn orange and begin to vibrate, at which time the war in Vietnam would end.cite web | year=1997 | url= | title=Abbie Hoffman | | accessdate=2006-04-01] Hoffman's symbolic theatrics were successful at convincing many young people to become more active in the politics of the time.

Another of Hoffman's well-known protests was on August 24, 1967, when he led members of the movement to the gallery of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The protesters threw fistfuls of dollars down to the traders below, some of whom booed, while others began to scramble frantically to grab the money as fast as they could. Hoffman claimed to be pointing out that, metaphorically, that's what NYSE traders "were already doing." "We didn't call the press," wrote Hoffman, "at that time we really had no notion of anything called a media event." The press was quick to respond and by evening the event was reported around the world. Since that incident, the stock exchange has spent $20,000 to enclose the gallery with bulletproof glass. [cite web | first=Cynthia | last=Blair | url=,0,5863032.htmlstory | title=1967: Hippies Toss Dollar Bills onto NYSE Floor | work=It Happened In New York | publisher=Newsday | accessdate=2006-04-01 For Hoffman's account of the events of the day, see his 1968 book "Revolution for the Hell of It: The Book That Earned Abbie Hoffman a 5 Year Prison Term at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial" (reprint edition New York, Thunder's Mouth Press:2005) ISBN 1-56025-690-7]

Chicago 7 conspiracy trial

Hoffman was arrested and tried for conspiracy and inciting to riot as a result of his role in anti-Vietnam war protests, which were met by a violent police response during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. [Excerpts from his testimony at the trial can be found [ here.] ] He was among the group that came to be known as the Chicago Seven (originally known as the Chicago Eight), which included fellow Yippie Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner, future California state senator Tom Hayden and Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale (before his trial was severed from the others).

Presided over by Judge Julius Hoffman (no relation to Abbie, which Abbie joked about throughout the trial), Abbie Hoffman's courtroom antics frequently grabbed the headlines; one day, defendants Hoffman and Rubin appeared in court dressed in judicial robes, while on another day, Hoffman was sworn in as a witness with his hand giving the finger. Judge Hoffman became the favorite courtroom target of the Chicago Seven defendants, who frequently would insult the judge to his face.cite news|title=Judge Hoffman Is Taunted at Trial of the Chicago 7 After Silencing Defense Counsel | author=J. ANTHONY LUKAS | date=1970-02-06|publisher="The New York Times" (paid access) |url= | accessdate=2008-10-07] Abbie Hoffman told Judge Hoffman "you are a 'shande fur de Goyim' [disgrace in front of the gentiles] . You would have served Hitler better." He later added that "your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room." Both Davis and Rubin told the Judge "this court is bullshit."

Hoffman and four of the others (Rubin, Dellinger, Davis, and Hayden) were found guilty of intent to incite a riot while crossing state lines. At sentencing, Hoffman suggested the judge try LSD and offered to set him up with "a dealer he knew in Florida" (the judge was known to be headed to Florida for a post-trial vacation). Each of the five was sentenced to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. [Douglas O. Linder "The Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial" (found at gives a detailed description of the trial, the events leading up to it, the reversal on appeal and the aftermath.]

However, all convictions were subsequently overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Controversy at Woodstock

At Woodstock in 1969, Hoffman interrupted The Who's performance to attempt a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. He grabbed a microphone and yelled, "I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair rots in prison. . ." The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend, unhappy with the interruption, cut Hoffman off mid-sentence, shouting, "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending the interloper tumbling offstage, to the approving roar of the crowd. Townshend later said that while he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, he would have knocked him offstage regardless of the content of his message, given that Hoffman had violated the "sanctity of the stage," i.e., the right of the band to perform uninterrupted by distractions not relevant to the actual show. The incident happened during a camera change and was not captured on film. However, the audio of this event can be heard on the The Who's box set, "Thirty Years of Maximum R&B" (Disc 2, Track 20, "Abbie Hoffman Incident").

According to Hoffman, in his autobiography, the incident played out like this:Quote
If you ever heard about me in connection with the festival it was not for playing Florence Nightingale to the flower children. What you heard was the following: "Oh, him, yeah, didn't he grab the microphone, try to make a speech when Peter Townshend cracked him over the head with his guitar?" I've seen countless references to the incident, even a mammoth mural of the scene. What I've failed to find was a single photo of the incident. Why? Because it didn't really happen.

I grabbed the microphone all right and made a little speech about John Sinclair, who had just been sentenced to ten years in the Michigan State Penitentiary for giving two joints of grass to two undercover cops, and how we should take the strength we had at Woodstock home to free our brothers and sisters in jail. Something like that. Townshend, who had been tuning up, turned around and bumped into me. A nonincident really. Hundreds of photos and miles of film exist depicting the events on that stage, but none of this much-talked about scene.

In "Woodstock Nation", Hoffman mentions the incident, and says he was on a bad LSD trip at the time.


In 1971, Hoffman published "Steal This Book", which advised readers on how to live basically for free. Many of his readers followed Hoffman's advice and stole the book, leading many bookstores to refuse to carry it. He was also the author of several other books, including "Vote!", co-written with Rubin and Ed Sanders. [Brate, Adam. Technomanifestos, chapter 8. Texere, June 2002.] Hoffman was arrested in 1973 on drug charges for intent to sell and distribute cocaine. He always proclaimed that undercover police agents had entrapped him into a drug deal and planted suitcases of cocaine in his office. Hoffman subsequently skipped bail and hid from authorities for several years.

Despite being "in hiding" during part of this period, living in Thousand Island Park, a private resort on Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River, on under the name "Barry Freed," he helped coordinate an environmental campaign to preserve the St. Lawrence River (Save the River organization). [] In 1980, he surrendered to authorities and received a one-year sentence. On September 4, 1980, he appeared on 20/20 in an interview with Barbara Walters. During his time on the run, he was also the "travel" columnist for Crawdaddy! magazine.

In 1987, Hoffman and Jonathan Silvers wrote "Steal this Urine Test," which exposed the internal contradictions of the War on Drugs and suggested ways to circumvent its most intrusive measures. He stated, for instance, that Federal Express, which receives high praise from management guru Tom Peters for "empowering" workers, in fact subjected most employees to random drug tests, firing any that got a positive result, with no retest or appeal procedure — despite the fact that FedEx had chosen a drug lab (the lowest bidder) with a proven record of frequent false positive results.

Back to visibility

In November 1986 Hoffman was arrested along with fourteen others, including Amy Carter, the daughter of former President Jimmy Carter, for trespassing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The charges stemmed from a protest against the Central Intelligence Agency's recruitment on the UMass campus. Since the university's policy limited campus recruitment to law-abiding organizations, Hoffman asserted in his defense the CIA's lawbreaking activities. The federal district court judge permitted expert witnesses, including a former Attorney General and a former CIA agent who testified about the CIA's illegal Contra war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua in violation of the Boland Amendment. []

In three days of testimony, more than a dozen defense witnesses, including Daniel Ellsberg, Ramsey Clark, and former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro, described the CIA's role in more than two decades of covert, illegal and often violent activities. In his closing argument, Hoffman, acting as his own attorney, placed his actions within the best tradition of American civil disobedience. He quoted from Thomas Paine, "the most outspoken and farsighted of the leaders of the American Revolution": "Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it. Man has no property in man, neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow."

As Hoffman concluded: "Thomas Paine was talking about this spring day in this courtroom. A verdict of not guilty will say, 'When our country is right, keep it right; but when it is wrong, right those wrongs.'" On April 15, 1987, the jury found Hoffman and the other defendants not guilty.

After being found not guilty, Hoffman prepared for a cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's anti-Vietnam War movie, "Born on the Fourth of July." He essentially played himself in the movie, waving a flag on the ramparts of an administration building during a campus protest that was being teargassed and crushed by state troopers.

The movie was released on December 20, 1989, more than eight months after Hoffman's suicide on April 12, 1989. At the time of his death, Hoffman was at the height of a renewed public visibility, one of the few '60s radicals who still commanded the attention of all kinds of mass media. He regularly lectured audiences about the CIA's covert activities, including assassinations disguised as suicides. His "Playboy" article (October, 1988) outlining the connections that constitute the "October Surprise" brought that alleged conspiracy to the attention of a wide-ranging American readership for the first time.

Personal life

In 1960, Hoffman married Sheila Karklin, and they had two children: Andrew (b. 1960) and Amy (1962-2007), who would later go by the name Ilya. They divorced in 1966.

In 1967, Hoffman married Anita Kushner. They had one child, america Hoffman, deliberately named using a lowercase "a" to indicate both patriotism and non-jingoistic intent [ [,3605,423191,00.html Children of the revolution] The Guardian ] (america later took the name Alan). Although Abbie and Anita were effectively separated after Abbie became a fugitive starting in 1973 and he subsequently fell in love with Johanna Lawrenson in 1974 while a fugitive, they were not formally divorced until 1980.


Hoffman was 52 at the time of his death on April 12, 1989, which was caused by swallowing 150 Phenobarbital tablets. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1980 [cite book |title = "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel" |first = Marty |last = Jezer |publisher = Rutgers University Press |year = 1993 |id = ISBN 0-8135-2017-7 p. xvii: "Abbie was diagnosed in 1980 as having bipolar disorder, more commonly known as manic depression." ISBN 0-8135-2017-7"] ; while he had recently changed treatment medications, he had claimed in public to have been upset about his elderly mother, Florence's, cancer diagnosis (Jezer, 1993). Hoffman's body had been found in his apartment in a converted turkey coop on Sugan Road in Solebury Township, Pennsylvania, near New Hope, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by about 200 pages of his own handwritten notes, many about his own moods.

His death was officially ruled a suicide, but many who knew him believed that the overdose had been accidental. [ [ Abbie Hoffman Committed Suicide Using Barbiturates, Autopsy Shows] New York Times ] As reported by "The New York Times," "Among the more vocal doubters at the service today was Mr. Dellinger, who said, 'I don't believe for one moment the suicide thing.' He said he had been in fairly frequent touch with Mr. Hoffman, who had 'numerous plans for the future.'"

A week after Hoffman's death, one thousand friends and relatives gathered for a memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts at Temple Emanuel, the synagogue he had attended as a child. Senior Rabbi Norman Mendel officiated. Two of his colleagues from the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial were there: David Dellinger and Jerry Rubin, Hoffman's co-founder of the Yippies, by then a businessman.

As "The New York Times" reported: "Indeed, most of the mourners who attended the formal memorial at Temple Emanuel here were more yuppie than yippie and there were more rep ties than ripped jeans among the crowd…."

The "Times" report continued:

Bill Walton, the radical Celtic of basketball renown, told of a puckish Abbie, then underground evading a cocaine charge in the '70s, leaping from the shadows on a New York street to give him an impromptu basketball lesson after a loss to the Knicks. 'Abbie was not a fugitive from justice,' said Mr. Walton. 'Justice was a fugitive from him.' On a more traditional note, Rabbi Norman Mendell said in his eulogy that Mr. Hoffman's long history of protest, antic though much of it had been, was 'in the Jewish prophetic tradition, which is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.'

He was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience award September 26, 1992. [ [ The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List ] ]


Hoffman's life was dramatized in the 2000 film "Steal This Movie," in which he was portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio.

He was portrayed by Richard D'Alessandro in the 1994 movie "Forrest Gump" speaking against "the war in Viet-fucking-nam" at a protest rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

Hank Azaria's voice is heard as the animated Hoffman in the film "Chicago 10".

Sacha Baron Cohen has been cast as Hoffman in Steven Spielberg's film "The Trial of the Chicago Seven". [ [ No more jokes as Borat turns war protester - Times Online ] ]



* "Fuck the System" (pamphlet, 1967) printed under the pseudonym George Metesky
** [ Available online]
* "Revolution For the Hell of It" (1968, Dial Press) published under the pseudonym "Free"
** "Revolution for the Hell of It: The Book That Earned Abbie Hoffman a 5 Year Prison Term at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial" (2005 reprint, ISBN 1560256907)
* "" (1969, Random House)
* "Steal This Book" (1971, Pirate Editions)
** "Steal This Book" (1996 reprint, ISBN 156858217X)
*** [ Available online]
* "Vote! A Record, A Dialogue, A Manifesto – Miami Beach, 1972 And Beyond" (1972, Warner Books) by Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Ed Sanders
* "To America With Love: Letters From the Underground" (1976, Stonehill Publishing) by Hoffman and Anita Hoffman
** "To America With Love: Letters From the Underground" (2000 second edition, ISBN 1888996285)
* "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture" (1980, Perigee, ISBN 0399505032)
** "The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman" (2000 second edition, ISBN 1568581971)
* "Square Dancing in the Ice Age: Underground Writings" (1982, Putnam, ISBN 0399127011)
* "Steal This Urine Test: Fighting Drug Hysteria in America" (1987, Penguin, ISBN 0140104003) by Hoffman and Jonathan Silvers
* "The Best of Abbie Hoffman" (1990, Four Walls Eight Windows, ISBN 0941423425)
* "Preserving Disorder: The Faking of the President 1988" (1999, Viking, ISBN 067082349X) by Hoffman and Jonathan Silvers


* "Wake Up, America!" Big Toe Records (1970)
** [ Available online]
** [ Available online]

Theatre Festival

The Mary-Archie Theatre Company in Chicago started the "Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins" Theatre Festival in 1988. This festival runs every year for 3 consecutive days as a celebration of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969. [ Festival website]



*Viking Youth Power Hour [ interview Abbie] during the Chicago 7 trials in Chicago 1969
*Ken Jordan interview from January 1989, published in [ Reality Sandwich] , May 2007


* Featured appearance in the satirical documentary "Lord of the Universe", which won a DuPont-Columbia Award (1974). [ Video preview] .
*"My Name Is Abbie", Documentary, Mystic Fire Video, (1998), ISBN 1-56176-381-0
*"Growing Up in America", Documentary on 1960s radicals in the USA, First Run Features, ISBN 6-30456-477-5


Further reading

*Raskin, Jonah (1996). "For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman". University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20575-8

External links

* [ List of Abbie Hoffman items in "The Realist"]
* [ The Yippies are Going to Chicago!] , "The Realist" No. 82, August 1968
* [ The Trial of Abbie Hoffman's Shirt] , "The Realist" No. 84, November 1968
* [ Advertisement for "Steal This Book"] ,"The Realist" No. 89, March 1971
* [ Love It or Diaper It] , birth Announcement for America Hoffman, "The Realist" No. 90, May 1971

NAME=Hoffman, Abbott Howard
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American activist
DATE OF BIRTH=November 30, 1936
PLACE OF BIRTH=Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
DATE OF DEATH=April 12, 1989
PLACE OF DEATH=New Hope, Pennsylvania, U.S.

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