What Aaron Sorkin Left Out of His Newest Film

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” omitted a spectacularly chaotic episode of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

By Alex Remnick
An image from RetroReport

From “The West Wing” to “The Social Network,” snappy dialogue has always been at the center of any project Aaron Sorkin works on. His most recent film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a historical drama taking place largely in a courtroom , is no exception. So it's no surprise that the Oscar-nominated picture left one real event on the cutting room floor. It's tough to write witty dialogue for a farm animal.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago took place against a backdrop of large, often violent daily protests against the Vietnam War, with demonstrators clashing with the police. Among the most prominent and vocal protesters were members of the Youth International Party, better known as Yippies. (Among the party's founders was the activist Abbie Hoffman, played in the movie by Sacha Baron Cohen.)

During a demonstration at Civic Center Plaza, the Yippies brought a “squealing and reluctant” pig to the microphone and introduced him as Pigasus the Immortal, candidate for president. As another YIP founder, Jerry Rubin attempted to give an acceptance speech on behalf of the porcine politician, police officers confiscated Pigasus and arrested his handlers, charging them with disorderly conduct.

An image from RetroReport

After Pigasus was seized by the police, Yippies attempted to nominate another pig in Grant Park, a rallying point for antiwar demonstrators. (Photo by Lee Balterman/The LIFE Picture Collection)

Over the course of the demonstrations, two more pigs were taken into custody, including a sow dubbed Mrs. Pigasus.

The three little pigs were transferred to the Anti-Cruelty Society, where they received frequent visits from concerned Yippies. Eventually, the Pigasus family — by then a political dynasty in its own right — ended up on a farm west of the city.

The Chicago Seven

As for the Yippies, their troubles didn’t end when the convention was over. Richard Nixon won the 1968 election, and after he took office in 1969, eight YIP members were charged with federal crimes, including crossing state lines to incite a riot.

The trial of the Chicago Seven, as they came to be known, was followed closely by TV news and activists alike. (An eighth defendant, Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, was severed from the trial, and sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court for disrupting the proceedings.)

A circus-like atmosphere pervaded the courthouse during the trial. At one point the judge ordered Seale bound to a chair and gagged.

During testimony, a Yippie defendant — the folk singer Phil Ochs — was asked by his lawyer, William Kuntsler: “Were you informed by an officer that the pig had squealed on you?”

Five of the seven YIP defendants were convicted of various crimes, including contempt of court. But in 1972, the Justice Department reversed all charges, and the Chicago Seven walked free. (Seale remained in prison.) In 1976, outside of the Republican National Convention, Yippies unveiled a new presidential campaign: “Nobody for President.”

The tale of Pigasus lives on as an enduring piece of political theater.

He helped pave the way for other joke candidates, including Vermin Supreme, who wears a boot on his head and whose platform promises everyone a free pony, and Lord Buckethead, a British politician who ran against Theresa May in 2017.

Retro Report spoke to witnesses who saw Pigasus first hand for our story, “Lessons from the 1968 Democratic Convention: Under the Shadow of Protests,” above. You can find our series on the history of American political conventions here.

Learn something new from history: Subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.