Tales of Hoffman 

What really happened.
Aug. 21 2000 9:30 PM

Tales of Hoffman 

Steal This Movie! turns Abbie Hoffman into the civil liberties hero he never was. 

(Continued from Page 1)

According to Steal This Movie!, Hoffman broke his five-year silence underground to single-handedly expose COINTEL, the FBI's secret campaign to disrupt the American left, with the aid of investigative reporter David Glenn (Alan Van Sprang). As the cinematic Hoffman prepares to leave the underground and take his chances with the law, he spies a newsmagazine with "COINTEL" splashed across the cover and says, "Glenn came through after all. COINTEL is going to die."


This scene, set in 1979 or thereabouts, is preposterous. David Glenn is a purely fictional creation, and Hoffman played no role in exposing COINTEL, which came to light in 1974 and was the subject of congressional hearings in 1975. Clearly, the FBI was still monitoring Hoffman and his friends while he was underground, though there is some debate as to how heavily. But by 1979, there was little to nothing to uncover about COINTEL. By adding a COINTEL "exposé" to Hoffman's résumé, the movie gives counterfeit political purpose to his underground years.

After surrendering to authorities in 1980, Hoffman spent a few months in prison and a little less than a year in work-release. He remained politically active until his suicide—protesting U.S. involvement in Central America, speaking on college campuses, and campaigning for the environment. The movie doesn't dwell on the '80s, but ends with Hoffman successfully defending himself in court after he and some Amherst students are arrested for protesting the CIA's actions in Nicaragua. (The suicide is mentioned in a postscript.)

Steal This Movie!'s most egregious distortion is one of omission: It largely fails to capture Hoffman's comic anarchism. In real life, he was always engaging in put-ons: He once made a speech saying he'd "fucked" Spiro Agnew's daughter (a claim the FBI actually bothered investigating), and during the 1968 convention he threatened to spike Chicago's drinking water with LSD. (Skeptical police were forced to guard the reservoirs.) While underground, Hoffman would send taunting letters to the FBI on stationery from various hotels. Hoffman also loved to tell the story of how, as a fugitive, he'd pretended to be a tourist and gone on a guided visit of the FBI headquarters. We'll probably never know whether or not that story is true.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.