You might have thought that an American wearing a shirt with the stars and stripes on it would be considered patriotic. Right?
Wrong! In 1968, Abbie Hoffman, co-founder of the Youth International Party was arrested in Washington for wearing a shirt that resembled the design of an American flag.
The prison authorities treated him badly for his “desecration” of the oh-so-blessed flag:
Authorities at the maximum security penitentiary did their worst to harass and humiliate him. They gave him a preventive de-lousing. They took a blood sample against his will, without affording him the sterile courtesy of a disposable syringe.
Two months later, Abbie was hospitalized in New York City for serum hepatitis. The recuperative process didn’t prevent him from helping doctors to organize themselves against some of the oppressive tactics of the medical profession.
In court, Hoffman’s lawyer asked how wearing a flag-shirt could be dishonouring the flag. “Does Uncle Sam, when he marches in the parade on July 4th, dishonor?”
The prosecutor shot down that line of reasoning. “Uncle Sam himself is a national symbol, just as the the flag is a national symbol, and one national symbol, recognized as such, cannot deface and defile and cast contempt upon another national symbol.”
Of course it was a load of crap, a prosecution out to get him because of who he was, a prominent Yippie advocating squatting and use of drugs. Plenty of clothing features flags in their design, but Hoffman is the first and only person to be arrested for wearing a flag shirt and charged with desecration of a flag.
Abbie Hoffman courted controversy and was fine with breaking the law. He wrote a book on how to survive with no money – he titled it Steal this Book. Plenty of would-be readers followed his sage advice and stole copies, leading to a number of book shops refusing to stock it.
In 1973 he was arrested and charged for possession and supply of cocaine when he made a drug deal with undercover police. So in 1974 he went on the run and the police failed to track him down – even though he was hardly keeping a low profile, helping coordinate an environmental movement seeking to protect the Saint Lawrence River, and writing as the “travel” columnist for Crawdaddy magazine under name pseudonym Barry Freed US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, before whom Hoffman testified at a hearing about winter navigation, said he had no idea the environmental posing as Freed was Hoffman — “and no one else did either.”
He turned himself in eventually, in 1980, and ended up serving four months.
According to ABC News, “the Yippies were known for street theater pranks, and were once referred to as the ‘Groucho Marxists’.” Hoffman himself described his views like this:
You are talking to a leftist. I believe in the redistribution of wealth and power in the world. I believe in universal hospital care for everyone. I believe that we should not have a single homeless person in the richest country in the world. And I believe that we should not have a CIA that goes around overwhelming governments and assassinating political leaders, working for tight oligarchies around the world to protect the tight oligarchy here at home.
In 1989 Hoffman killed himself by taking 150 phenobarbital tablets and liquor. I’m sure he had his reasons – as he did for everything else he ever did.
“Free speech means the right to shout ‘Theater’ in a crowded fire.”
“The first duty of a revolutionist is to get away with it. The second duty is to eat breakfast.”