Yippies at HUAC Hearings (85 images)


Yippies at HUAC Hearings (85 images)


New Left/Counterculture


In 1968, in the wake of the police riot outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) subpoenaed Yippie leaders, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, as well as other members of the Chicago 7, including Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, and early anti-Vietnam war activist Robert Greenblatt. A statement by the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee (NECLC) called the HUAC hearings an “attempt by the Johnson administration to use every mechanism at its disposal to legitimize the action of Mayor Daley and the Chicago police.” Lawyers for the subpoenaed activists included Michael Kennedy and Henry di Suvero of the NECLC, William Kunstler of the Law Center for Constitutional Rights, and Gerald Lefcourt of the National Lawyers Guild.

In classic Yippie fashion, Rubin and Hoffman sought to create a satirical theatrical media spectacle out of their appearances. According to a Harvard Crimson article in February of 1969, “In the fifties, the most effective sanction was terror. Almost any publicity from HUAC meant the ‘blacklist'. Without a chance to clear his name, a witness would suddenly find himself without friends and without a job. But it is not easy to see how in 1969, a HUAC blacklist could terrorize an SDS activist. Witnesses like Jerry Rubin have openly boasted of their contempt for American institutions. A subpoena from HUAC would be unlikely to scandalize Abbie Hoffman or his friends.” Rubin told the Liberation News Service that he “plans to use the hearings as a stage for a theatrical assault on HUAC and as a platform to call for disruptive actions on election day.” During an earlier appearance before HUAC in 1966, Rubin dressed as an American revolutionary and passed out copies of the Declaration of Independence, claiming to be a descendent of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and declaring "Nothing is more American than revolution." He also blew bubble gum bubbles as committee members questioned him about his communist affiliations, while others offered the committee Nazi salutes. During his responses to committee questions, he highlighted the segregationist pasts of prominent HUAC members, as well as their ties to Pentagon contractors.

Not to be outdone, Hoffman kiddingly told the LNS, “I plan to turn state’s evidence. I plan to squeal on everybody… I am going to indict my friend Peter Rabbit.” He went on to explain that his strategy was to “get crazy. Craziest motherfuckers they ever seen in this country. ‘Cause that’s the only way we’re gonna beat them. So fucking crazy that they can’t understand it at ALL.” As Hoffman’s biographer, Jonah Raskin related, “Abbie printed and distributed his own subpoenas, which were addressed to “Yippies, Motherfuckers, Commies, Narcos, Saboteurs, Conspirators, Sons of Liberty, Freaks, Guerrillas.” His subpoenas urged everyone to come to the hearings with “pot, incense, yo-yos, molotov cocktails, flowers, energy, black widow spiders, balloons, flags, gold balls, PIGS, music, banners, LSD, flaming crosses, hats, fruit, battleships, life, rice, licorice, slogans, flesh, rocks, lights, noise makers, buttons, cameras, gorillas.”

On the opening day of the hearings - October 1 – the activists and their lawyers engaged in a “stand-in” to protest the proceedings. Attorney Michael Kennedy shouted, “The Constitution is being raped, and we as lawyers are being emasculated in an armed camp.” Hoffman wore a tie-dyed t-shirt with feathers in his bushy hair, while Rubin wore a bandolier of live cartridges and carried a toy M-16 rifle. Members of the newly-formed women’s liberation group, Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.), including Roz Payne, wore black hats and dresses and carried broomsticks. As Raskin described, “Forming a circle around Jerry, they burned incense, danced, and chanted.”

Jerry Rubin described the the events this way:

“I come to the HUAC hearings wearing a bandolero of real bullets and carrying a toy M-16 rifle on my shoulder. The rifle was a model of the rifles the Viet Cong steal and then use to kill American soldiers in Vietnam.

The pigs stop me at the door of the hearings. They grab the bullets and the gun. It is a dramatic moment. Press and yippies pack us in tightly. The pigs drag me down three flights of stairs and remove the bullets, leaving the gun, Viet Cong pajamas, Eldridge Cleaver buttons, Black Panther beret, war paint, earrings, bandolero, and the bells which ring every time I move my body. My costume carried a nonverbal message: ‘We must all become stoned guerrillas.’

The secret to the costume was the painted tits. Guerrilla war in America is going to come in psychedelic colors. We are hippie-guerrillas.

In HUAC’s chambers Abbie Hoffman jumps up and yells out, ‘May I go to the bathroom?’ Young kids reading that in their hometown papers giggle because they have to ask permission every time they want to go to the bathroom in school.

The message of my costume flipped across the country in one day: an example of our use of the enemy’s institutions – her mass media – to turn on and communicate with one another.”

Over the next few days, Hoffman and Rubin continued to create a spectacle from the hearings. Rubin returned with his bandolier, toy gun, Native American headband, body paint and North Vietnamese flag cape. But it was Hoffman who stole the show. Again, Jonah Raskin explains,

“Gerald Lefcourt later remembered that Abbie did not want to let HUAC steal the media spotlight. ‘He wanted what he was about to be on the evening news, and not what they were about,’ Lefcourt said. He explained that Abbie ‘had the idea of wearing a flag shirt and saying “I’m more American that you.” He was certain that he would be arrested, and that the arrest would make the news and steal the show from the committee. Moreover, he had a hunch that the police would rip off the American flag shirt from his back. Then, they’d be guilty of desecration.’

On the morning of October 4, everything went more or less as Abbie had planned. Anita painted the flag of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) on his back. Then Abbie put on a commercially made American flag shirt and pinned on two of his favorite buttons: one that read ‘Wallace for President: Stand Up for America” and another that said ‘Vote Pig in Sixty-Eight, Yippie.’ He also wore dark glasses that made him look mysterious and a bit menacing as well. Sure enough, on the sidewalk outside the Cannon Office Building, law enforcement officials stopped him, tore up his shirt, and arrested him for desecration of the flag. Abbie spent the night in jail. It was a dreadful experience that only added to his sense of outrage about the whole affair. ‘The law I was arrested under would make everyone who dresses in an Uncle Sam costume and most drum majorettes criminals,’ he wrote in the Epilogue to Revolution for the Hell of It. And he added that he had recently watched Phyllis Diller on TV wearing ‘a miniskirt that looked more like an American flag than the shirt I wore,’ but no one had arrested her.

He was the first person to be prosecuted under the new federal statute that made it a crime to deface or defile the flag. U.S. Attorney Benton Becker argued that the flag was ‘symbolically the United States of America,’ and that the government had ‘a legitimate interest in maintaining the sanctity of its symbols.’ Gerald Lefcourt defended Abbie on First Amendment grounds: wearing the flag was a form of symbolic speech, Lefcourt argued. His client had never intended to dishonor the flag. Morover, there was no physical violence, no personal injury, and no provocation to the public. ‘The communication of ideas is what the country is all about,’ Lefcourt told the court. ‘If we don’t protect the communication of ideas, then we’re leading ourselves down the path of serious trouble to a repressive society.’

On the witness stand, Abbie explained that he wore the American flag shirt because ‘I was going before the Un-American Activities Committee of the House of Representatives and I don’t particularly consider that committee American, and I don’t consider that House of Representatives particularly representative; and I wore the shirt to show that we were in the tradition of the founding fathers of this country.’ He was found guilty of desecrating the flag and was sentenced to a thirty-day prison term, although an appeals court would subsequently reverse the lower court’s decision. 'Your honor, I regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country,' he said after he was sentenced.”

As Hoffman was arrested outside the HUAC hearings, Jerry Rubin comically shouted at police, “Communists,” for not arresting him, as well. Two months later, at another round of HUAC hearings in December, Rubin wore a Santa Claus costume “in a direct attempt to reach the head of every child in the country.” Hoffman refused to testify in front of HUAC.

The photos in this set were taken by Roz Payne on October 3 and 4, 1968, and include images of Abbie Hoffman and Anita Hoffman’s arrest, Jerry Rubin in costume, Hoffman talking to Paul Krassner, a dinner with lawyers and other miscellaneous shots from the courthouse scene.


Roz Payne


Roz Payne


Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Original Format




Roz Payne, “Yippies at HUAC Hearings (85 images),” Roz Payne Sixties Archive, accessed May 24, 2024, https://rozsixties.unl.edu/items/show/777.

Output Formats