Sorkin is referring to Trump’s first presidential campaign, which began when he descended on an escalator to say most Mexican immigrants are rapists. Throughout the following 18 months, the man who would become the 45th President of the United States campaigned with rhetoric that celebrated committing violence against protestors at his rallies. He even mused he’d “look into” paying the legal fees for a supporter who sucker-punched a protestor at a North Carolina rally in 2016. (He didn’t.)
All of which Sorkin sees echoes of in the pressure-cooker that was the summer of ‘68 and the carnival-like atmosphere created by the trial of seven protestors who were being blamed for the riots that broke out in Chicago during the DNC Convention.
“There’s a black and white photo of both Chicago Seven supporters and Chicago Seven haters,” Sorkin said, “and in this photo were three signs, and this was in 1969: ‘America Love It or Leave It,’ ‘What About White Civil Rights?’ and ‘Lock ‘Em Up.’ So we just thought this is relevant. This isn’t a history lesson; this is going on now. And as I said, the world just kept more and more mirroring the events of the movie.”
The actual events of the trial of the Chicago Seven are well-documented, even as their story has been obscured by time. Following a tumultuous year already rocked by riots and protests due to the Vietnam War—and then the assassination of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and anti-war Democratic contender Robert F. Kennedy—tensions were high in the summer. Hence a coalition of anti-war activists gathering in Chicago to stage protests during the convention for soon-to-be Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, who’d been President Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice president during the Gulf of Tonkin. Among the anti-Vietnam protestors were the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the Students for a Democratic Society.
Mayor Richard Daley denied protestors permits, thinking it would dissuade them from gathering—not to mention calling in 12,000 police officers and 5,000 Illinois National Guardsmen. Instead conflict broke out in Grant Park on the afternoon of Aug. 28. Soon tear gas was deployed, and clubs, and the police were quickly attacking innocent bystanders who were watching. The Walker Report, written by a National Commission created by President Johnson, ultimately attributed blame for the riots and violence to an aggressive police force instigating a “police riot,” yet still eight men were rounded up for the high-profile trial that Sorkin’s movie dramatizes.