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Abbie is arrested for his American-flag shirt outside HUAC in 1966

By Eric Seligson

My favorite of all time smart-ass answers-to-a-stupid-question was made by Abbie Hoffman, author of "Steal This Book" and one of the Chicago Seven. Actually the Chicago Eight, including Bobby Seale, the only black man of the group, but he was separated from the whites, and was tried separately, bound and gagged to a chair in another courtroom. I kid you not.


The battle of Chicago in 1968.

Back to Hoffman and the Seven—they were all part of the exploding hippie culture, that, just as importantly as the politics of the day, was the motivating method by which the youth of America were bringing the old, tottering white cracker system to its knees. It was the culture of rebellion that made hippies out of squares, not the politics—that came later as the hippies were politicized by oppression. The hip culture helped hippies withstand the massive backlash from the disgusting reactionary white and male supremacy and its violent instruments of governance and power.


Jerry Rubin carried a plastic gun outside HUAC.
He and Hoffman used costumes to ridicule the proceedings in the hearing room.

During the late 50s and early 60s, the most feared US House committee was HUAC (House UnAmerican Activities Committee—I kid you not) and many leftists, socialists, union leaders and communist sympathizers were thrown in jail, deported (like my father), or their careers were destroyed. Abbie Hoffman and his crew, which included Gemini merry prankster Jerry Rubin, were called before the committee in 1966, and again in 1968. While the poor liberals and communists of an earlier era were cowed and terrified of the committee, Hoffman and his fellow conspirators marched into the committee in costume—the famous American Revolutionary War fife and drum corps, with Hoffman wearing a shirt made from an American flag—illegal at the time. The hearing room was in pandemonium. The outraged senators demanded to know if Hoffman and the others were unhinged, insane. Hoffman and the others sprawled on their chairs with complete disdain for the proceedings. The congressmen, though, had this one question they knew would scare the shit out of these kids. They knew there was no way out, once they asked THE question. This question had already destroyed thousands of families, careers, organizations, lives, and the HUAC assholes couldn't wait to pull it out of their trick bag on Hoffman and the others. All they simply had to ASK was—if you were a red, a pinko, a commie, a simpcom, bolshie, anarchist, bohemian, or any other of a hundred other derivatives on the forbidden list. And you HAD to answer! And—you were FUCKED no matter what you replied.


HUAC in the 50s, during the height of the "witch-hunt" of communists and communist sympathizers.
The terrified witness can be seen at left.

Once you got this question, under oath, you had to acknowledge your guilt—your unamerican activities—or you incriminated yourself by implication, even if you didn't. It was a conundrum, a riddle—a catch 22. The cornered commies who DID appear before HUAC were either forced to ADMIT that they were communists—and then off to jail, or economic ruin and social stigma, or all three. Or, the accused could invoke his constitutional privileges, and reply: "I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me". The same defense as the Mafia used. It was a dead giveaway and the miserable sinners were made to say it over and over again, a litany of their traitorous behavior.

Those who DID use this constitutional guarantee were openly attacked in the media and their lives forever ruined. Many of those who were forced through this humiliating ritual committed suicide, fled the country, or were tarred with unamericanism and ostracized by a society whose political ideas were inspired by troglodytes.


Two disgusting douchebags (I won't even dignify them with names) who typified the type of people in government. They and others used HUAC to terrorize liberals, unionists, civil rights workers, communists and anyone else they— and top FBI pedophile J. Edgar Hoover—wanted to eliminate from public life.

What made you a traitor? It could be as incidental as participating a civil-rights march, or buying the Communist newspaper, "Daily World" or even attending a Mozart Appreciation Society concert—one of the over 2,000 organizations on a list of "subversive" organizations provided by—HUAC. Even if you didn't do ANY of these things, the committee had stooges and former "friends" who would testify that they had seen you at such-and-such meeting, and you were through, skewered, convicted.

"Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party…" This was their fearsome, awesome question. This was the big moment. Their jowls were trembling. Flaccid fatty eyelids popped open. The pale, moronic white men in suits savored their coup de grace—the death blow.

Abbie leaned waaay back in his chair until it creaked. Then he leaned forward, conspiratorially, to the microphone, and said:  "I refuse to answer the question on the grounds that it would tend to make me vomit." 

And, that, my friends, was the beginning of the end of HUAC and the beginning of the love affair between the youth of America (including me) and Abbie Hoffman, male witch and mischief-maker. I kid you not.


Beautiful, strong, radical women: the backbone of the movement.
They wanted us to burn our draft cards. I did.


Hoffman's kids: we grew up together in the struggle.


The voice of youth: we won't go! (to Vietnam, that is.) The draft made everything—class, race, war—a very real threat. We had no choice but to be politicized.


The all-night street fighting. Look familiar?


Truckin' with Abbie, 1971, when he was organizing the Yippie Party. He died of apparent suicide in 1989. Farewell.


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