Abbie Hoffman and Amy Carter Protest CIA, 1986

Update: As of October 21, 2013 there is video related to this post on our website.

In 1986, 15 people were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct for protesting CIA recruitment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Among these protesters were 50 year old Abbie Hoffman and 19 year old Amy Carter.

[caption id="attachment1713" align="alignright" width="199"]<a href=""><img class="size-medium wp-image-1713" alt="Abbie Hoffman" src="" width="199" height="300" /> Abbie Hoffman, 1969. Image by Richard O. Barry, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

Abbie Hoffman was a social activist, who had already been arrest 41 times.  He was known for his theatrical protests, once attempting, and claiming to have, levitated the Pentagon. In 1968 he was prosecuted as one the the Chicago 7 on charges of conspiracy to incite a riot. All charges were overturned in appeals. By the mid '80s, Hoffman had already gone into hiding and resurfaced, returning to his social activism, although finding the cultural climate very different from the '60s.

Amy Carter, daughter of former President Jimmy Carter, grew up in the White House, and was attending Brown University at the time she participated in the CIA recruitment protest. This was her fourth time being arrested, the other three times had been for protesting Apartheid.

[caption id="attachment1712" align="alignleft" width="202"]<a href=""><img class="size-medium wp-image-1712" alt="Amy Carter Climbing a Tree" src="" width="202" height="300" /> Amy Carter on the White House Grounds. Courtesy of the U.S. Government[/caption]

In early April 1987 their case came to trial in Northampton, MA in front of a jury of 6, including two senior citizens. The prosecution was confident, especially because they felt that the jury represented Middle America, who they assumed would not be sympathetic to these radicals.

The defense, led by Leonard Weinglass, who had previously defended the Chicago 7, sought to convince the jury that the misdemeanors committed by the protester were done to prevent a larger crime being committed by the CIA. This is known as a necessity defense, which considers an offense undertaken to prevent a worse crime, one that poses a clear and immediate danger, is not considered illegal. Witnesses called by the defense included Ralph McGehee, formerly of the CIA; Edgar Chamorro, former Contra leader; Daniel Ellsberg, formerly of the Pentagon; and Howard Zinn, professor of history at Boston University. Their testimony exposed many questionable or outright illegal CIA activities, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians, Nicaraguans, and Vietnamese. (For a detailed description of the testimony check out this article.)

Amy's testimony was moving, arguing for the necessity of protest to achieve productive change. She said, "Every time a person sacrifices himself for a larger injustice, it aids in the cycle of change."

On April 15 1987 the jury acquitted the protesters of all charges. By building such a strong case against the CIA, the defendants did not only convince the jury that they should not be charged, but also brought many of the CIA's wrongdoings to the public's attention and demonstrated that Middle America was not going to give the CIA a free pass. One of the jurors, a 64 year old lady, said "A lot of us were not aware of what the CIA was into. It was shocking and alarming, the things we heard from witnesses... These are high, high caliber men, and I think their integrity struck the entire jury."

The Carter family supported Amy through the trial and applauded her testimony and the verdict. Former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview after the trial that he was very proud of her and that "Amy is a very shy girl... but she believes very strongly in what she's doing."

Less than a month after the trial, the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Faculty Senate voted to support a calls for open forums on campus with agencies and employers, which prevented a ban on CIA recruiters on campus. The school's policy did not change, but the public's knowledge about CIA practices certainly did.


Bernstein, Fred. “Amy Carter and Abbie Hoffman Win Acquittal, but They Want to Keep the C.I.A. on Trial.” People,  May 4, 1987.,,20096192,00.html

Lumsden, Carolyn. “Amy Carter, Abbie Hoffman, 13 Others Acquitted in CIA Protest.” Associated Press, April 16, 1987.

“The Case Against the CIA.” The Boston Phoenix, April 24, 1987. Accessed at

“UMass Does Not Bar Recruiting by CIA.” Harvard Crimson, May 2, 1987.

Wald, Matthew L. “Amy Carter Is Acquitted Over Protest.” New York Times, April 16, 1987.

Waldman, Benjamin. “51 Activists Arrested at UMass.” Harvard Crimson, November 26, 1986.