||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2008)|
August 21, 1950 |
|Criminal charge||Attempted murder|
|Criminal penalty||53 years' imprisonment|
Arthur Herman Bremer (born August 21, 1950) is an American convicted for an assassination attempt on U.S. Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972 in Laurel, Maryland, leaving Wallace permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Bremer was found guilty and sentenced to 63 years (53 years after an appeal) in a Maryland prison for the shooting of Wallace and three bystanders.
After 35 years of incarceration, Bremer was released from prison on November 9, 2007.
Bremer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the third of four sons to William Bremer (1913–2002), who was a bread truck driver, and Sylvia Bremer (1915 – February 2007), a homemaker. His two elder siblings were illegitimate and their fathers were two different men. Bremer was raised by his working-class parents on the South Side of Milwaukee and lived in a dysfunctional household. He was alleged to have had a stormy relationship with both parents, though he was closer to his father. Bremer stated "I would escape my ugly reality by pretending that I was living with a television family and there was no yelling at home or no one to hit me."
At school, Bremer did well in English and history and displayed a talent for writing, although his grades were generally low. He scored 106 on an IQ test in high school, and 114 on a test he took after his failed assassination attempt, showing that he had at least "above average" intelligence.
School was an ordeal for Bremer because he did not make friends and was either bullied or simply ignored by other students. Bremer had written in his diary that "No English or history test was ever as hard, no math final exam ever as difficult as waiting in a school lunch line alone, waiting to eat alone ... while hundreds huddled & gossiped and roared, & laughed and stared at me ..." and "No one ever noticed me nor took interest in me as an individual with the need to receive or give love. In junior high school, I was an object of pure ridicule for my dress, withdrawal, and asocial manner. Dozens of times, I saw individuals laugh and smile more in ten to fifteen minutes than I did in all my life up to then."
His first grade teacher wrote that it was a pleasure to have Bremer in class, but when he was in the third grade another teacher wrote that "Arthur has adjusted well in class but hasn't made an effort as of yet to play with the other children at recess." He was remembered for awkward laughter and not being able to engage in small talk with others. Bremer attended South Division High School, where he briefly started on the school's football team.
During adolescence, Bremer was not rebellious and did not attract concern despite his emotional problems, which were overlooked because they did not involve transgressions on which authorities usually focus. Despite his problems, he graduated from high school on January 28, 1969.
After graduating from high school, from September 1970 Bremer briefly attended Milwaukee Area Technical College where he studied aerial photography, art, writing and psychology. He dropped out after just one semester in college, where he was recalled as a "strange, aloof and argumentative" student who "rarely talked to anybody."
Bremer was employed as a busboy at the Milwaukee Athletic Club in 1969. Although his employer said he was a "very hard and dependable worker who kept himself to himself", in 1971, Bremer was demoted to kitchen work after customers complained that he talked to himself, and that "he whistled and marched in tune with music played in the dining room". Angered by his demotion, he complained to the program planner for the Milwaukee Commission on Community Relations. The complaint was investigated and dismissed. The planner wrote on November 8, "Mr Bremer is a young man who is rather withdrawn. Appears to bottle up anger but will sometimes let it go. I assess him bordering on paranoid whilst at the same time, conscientious in doing his job at the Athletic club." After this, Bremer quit his job at the Athletic club.
Bremer got a part-time job working as a janitor at Story Elementary School from September 1, 1970. He lasted almost 18 months, quitting in February 1972.
On October 16, 1971, Bremer moved from his parents' house after an argument, and moved into a three-room apartment at 2433 West Michigan Street, near Marquette University, where he lived until a week before the assassination attempt. Those who lived in the same block said that Bremer was usually alone.
On November 18, 1971, Bremer was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and for parking in a no-parking zone. A court-appointed psychiatrist declared Bremer mentally ill but stable enough to continue to live in the community. Bremer underwent psychotherapy, and was released on a $38.50 fine on December 8, after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Despite this, on January 13, 1972, Bremer went into the Casanova Gun Shop at 1601 West Greenfield Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and for $90 bought a snub-nosed Charter Arms Undercover .38-calibre revolver.
A week after his arrest, at the end of November 1971, Bremer began a relationship with 16-year-old Joan Pemrich, a freshman at West Division High School. Bremer, who had never had a girlfriend before, asked Pemrich out and she accepted. Their first date went well. They went to a museum, walked around Lake Michigan beach area and then went to a restaurant. After this start, the relationship went downhill. Bremer displayed pornographic pictures to Pemrich and made graphic sex talk. He said he could help Pemrich with her "hang-ups", as he claimed to know a lot about psychology. When Bremer was introduced to Pemrich's cousin, he made remarks about the girl's "big ass and boobs".
Bremer's inappropriate behavior also showed itself at a Blood, Sweat & Tears concert. He kissed a woman not in his group while waiting to get into the concert. The woman promptly reported his action to a police officer, who let Bremer off with a warning. During the concert, Bremer attempted to impress Pemrich and her friends by dramatically dancing in his seat. He then applauded the group when no one else was doing so, and swayed back and forth during the concert. After the concert, Bremer excitedly whispered to Pemrich that he was so sexually aroused he could hardly walk.
Pemrich ended the relationship early in 1972, because Bremer acted "goofy" and "weird". Bremer could not overcome this rejection. He began stalking her, and on January 14, 1972, shaved his head, saying to her that "you make me feel as empty as my head." Pemrich's mother then threatened to call the police if Bremer continued to pester her.
After Bremer's arrest, Joan Pemrich expressed surprise at Bremer's actions, because she said he was not violent and never mentioned or talked about Wallace or politics during their time together.
On March 1, 1972, Bremer began his diary with the words, "It is my personal plan to assassinate by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace. I intend to shoot one or the other while he attends a campaign rally for the Wisconsin Primary." Bremer's purpose was "to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of my manhood for the world to see." The following evening, Bremer attended an organizational meeting for Wallace at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.
Although Bremer's main aim was to assassinate then-President Richard Nixon, on March 23, Bremer attended a Wallace dinner and rally at Milwaukee's Red Carpet Airport Inn. During the next two months, Bremer would trail Wallace across the US, travelling by car, plane, ferry and bus.
On April 4, Bremer attended a Wallace victory rally at a Holiday Inn in Milwaukee. Two days later, he flew to New York to visit a massage parlor in the hope of losing his virginity, and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. On April 8, while preparing for a trip to Ottawa, he put one of his guns, a Browning 9mm, under a mat in the trunk of his car, but it went down so deeply into the right wheel well that he could not retrieve it. It was removed a week after Bremer's arrest when the car was dismantled.
On April 11, Bremer traveled to Ottawa and stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel. Two days later, Bremer, dressed in a business suit, wearing sunglasses and with a revolver in his pocket, hoped to assassinate Nixon. He could not find an opportunity to do so. Security was tight because of the presence of anti-Vietnam War protesters and Quebec nationalists, and Ottawa police officers guarded the motorcade's path, making it impossible to get close to Nixon. Bremer was also unsure whether any bullets would go through the glass of Nixon's limousine. As a result, he did not open fire and the motorcade sped past unharmed. Bremer left Canada, staying at the Sheraton Motor Inn in New Carrollton, Maryland for three days. After this he returned to Milwaukee, where he spent the following two weeks. On April 24, he wrote in his diary, "I'm as important as the start of WWI. I just need the little opening and a second of time."
Plans to assassinate Wallace
Having realized it would be nearly impossible to assassinate Nixon, and having taken a ten day break from traveling and writing, on May 4, Bremer decided that it was Wallace's "fate" to be his victim, even though his diary entries never showed the same enthusiasm as they did with regard to assassinating Nixon. The following day, he checked out two books from the public library in Milwaukee, both detailing the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy by Sirhan Sirhan: Robert Blair Kaiser's RFK Must Die and Aziz Shihab's Sirhan.
On May 7, Bremer wrote, "They never heard of Wallace in Russia or anyplace. Editors will say: "Wallace dead? Who cares." If something big in Nam flares up, it'll end up at the bottom of the first page. He won't get more than three minutes on the network T.V. news."
Despite his lack of enthusiasm for assassinating Wallace, on May 8, 1972, Bremer left his Milwaukee apartment for the final time. He spent the following week mainly in Michigan. That evening, he was spotted at a Wallace rally in Lansing. Two nights later, he attended a Wallace rally in Cadillac.
Bremer was photographed at a Wallace rally on the evening of May 13, in Kalamazoo. He had a clear opportunity to shoot his target, but according to his diary, he didn't because he might have shattered some glass and blinded some "stupid 15-year-olds" who stood nearby. He made his final diary entry on May 14, 1972, when he travelled to Maryland with the words "My cry upon firing will be 'A penny for your thoughts'. Copyright 1972. All rights reserved. Arthur H. Bremer".
Bremer turned up in Wheaton, Maryland, for a noon appearance which Wallace made at Wheaton Plaza, during a shopping center rally on May 15, 1972. He was dressed in dark glasses; patriotic red, white, and blue; and was wearing his new campaign button which said "WALLACE in '72". He strongly applauded Wallace, in contrast with many others present, who heckled and taunted the speaker. Two tomatoes were thrown at Wallace during the rally, but missed. Based on this reception, Wallace refused to shake hands with anyone present, denying Bremer the opportunity to carry out his plan.
At a second rally, which took place at Laurel Shopping Center, 16 miles away in Laurel, Maryland, there was minor heckling but it did not last. About 1,000 people were present; they were mostly quiet and it was generally a calm and friendly crowd. After he had finished speaking, Wallace shook hands with some of those present, against the advice of his Secret Service guards. At approximately 4:00 p.m., Bremer pushed his way forward, aimed his .38 revolver at Wallace's abdomen and opened fire, emptying the weapon before he could be subdued. He hit Wallace four times. Wallace lost a pint of blood and was in a mild state of shock. One bullet lodged in his spinal cord. The other bullets hit Wallace in the abdomen and chest. Three other people present were wounded unintentionally: Alabama State Trooper Captain E C Dothard (Wallace's personal bodyguard), Dora Thompson (a campaign volunteer) and Nick Zarvos (a Secret Service agent). Zarvos was shot in the neck, and his speech was severely impaired following the shooting.
Bremer had a carefully chosen catchphrase, "A Penny For Your Thoughts!", which he had decided to yell as he shot Wallace. In the heat of the assassination attempt he forgot to do so.
After emptying his revolver, Bremer was wrestled to the ground by people at the rally and was punched and kicked by several people present, and was slightly injured before police seized him.
After Bremer's arrest, his apartment was searched. Found were Wallace campaign buttons, a Confederate flag, boxes of shells, high school-themed pornographic magazines, newspapers, Black Panther literature, a booklet entitled 101 Things To Do in Jail and various newspaper clippings, including one on the difficulty of providing security for campaigning politicians. In Bremer's diary were comments such as "My country tis of thee land of sweet bigotry," "Never say colored, say Negro, so here is a negro card," "My blood is black," "Cheer up Oswald," "White collar, conservative, middle class, Republican, suburbanite robot," "A Thundering of hooves and out of the western sky came the colored man," and "If I live tomorrow then it will be a long time."
Police described Bremer's car as a "hotel on wheels". In it they found blankets, pillows, a blue steel, 9mm, 14-shot Browning Automatic Pistol, binoculars, a woman's umbrella, a tape recorder, a portable radio with police band, an electric shaver, photographic equipment, and a 1972 copy of a Writer's Yearbook.
Trial and conviction
His subsequent trial in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was condensed to a five-day morning to twilight event to accommodate presiding Judge Ralph W. Powers' upcoming vacation plans, and held only two and a half months after Bremer shot Wallace. It began on July 31, 1972. The defense argued that Bremer was a schizophrenic and legally insane at the time of the shooting, and that he had "no emotional capacity to understand anything", but the jury rejected this argument after the prosecution countered that he was perfectly sane. Arthur Marshall, for the prosecution, told the court that Bremer, while disturbed and in need of psychiatric treatment, was sane, knew what he was doing, had been seeking glory and was still sorry that Wallace had not died. Marshall said that Bremer "knew he would be arrested.... He knew he would be on trial."
On August 4, 1972, the jury of six men and six women took 95 minutes to reach their verdict. Bremer was sentenced to 63 years in prison for shooting Wallace and three other people. After being convicted, when asked if he had anything to say, Bremer replied, "Well, Mr. Marshall mentioned that he would like society to be protected from someone like me. Looking back on my life I would have liked it if society had protected me from myself. That's all I have to say at this time." The sentence was reduced to 53 years on September 28 after an appeal.
One hundred and thirteen pages of Bremer's diary were published in 1973 as An Assassin's Diary, from April 4, 1972, to the day before he shot Wallace and his subsequent arrest. In it, he states that he was not particularly opposed to Wallace's political agenda, which was notable for its pro-segregationist stance, but that his primary motive was to become infamous and to gain notoriety.
The first half of Bremer's diary (pages 1–148) was found on August 26, 1980, where he had concealed it, heavily wrapped and concealed in a plastic suitcase, at the foot of Milwaukee's 27th Street viaduct. It was dated from March 1 to April 3, 1972. In it, Bremer discussed his hatred for Nixon (Wallace was clearly a secondary target); fantasized about killing unnamed individuals who angered him, or opening fire at random at the corner of 3rd Street and Wisconsin Avenue downtown; and also confessed his admiration for Vel Phillips, a pioneering black officeholder of Milwaukee (who was elected and serving as Secretary of State of Wisconsin when the diary was found). The diary was eventually sold to an official of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who donated it to UAB's Reynolds Historical Library.
Bremer's assassination attempt did not end Wallace's political career, let alone his life. Afterwards, Wallace was twice easily elected governor of Alabama, in 1974 and 1982. Neither did Wallace "die in a hail of bullets" as Bremer had hoped. While Bremer's actions in May 1972, and trial and conviction three months later, attracted media attention, he did not become as infamous as Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth, who both killed the presidents they shot. Bremer soon faded into comparative obscurity.
However, the result of the assassination attempt, combined with changing circumstances — both Wallace's, and on the political stage — ended Wallace's national political career. It also played a large part in destroying Wallace's second marriage to Cornelia Wallace. They separated in June 1977 and divorced in January 1978.
Despite the existence of many conspiracy theories, no one other than Bremer has ever been charged in connection with the shooting. One reason for talk of a conspiracy stemmed from the fact that Bremer's 1971 income tax return stated that he had earned only $1,611, bringing up the question of how Bremer paid for his travels while stalking Nixon and later Wallace. Another theory was based on the owner of Bremer's apartment building allowing reporters into the alleged assassin's apartment the night of the shooting. Some journalists were later seen leaving with items from Bremer's apartment. According to The Politics of Rage, a biography of Wallace by Dan T. Carter, Bremer had saved $1,500 when he lived with his parents. By the time he shot Wallace, all he had left was $1.73. It appears this was how he financed his travels between March and May 1972.
Wallace forgave Bremer in August 1995 and wrote to him expressing the hope that the two could get to know each other better. Part of Wallace's letter said "Dear Arthur, your shooting me in 1972 caused me a lot of discomfort and pain. I am a born-again Christian. I love you. I have asked our Heavenly Father to touch your heart, and I hope that you will ask him for forgiveness of your sin so you can go to heaven like I am going to heaven. I hope that we can get to know each other better. We have heard of each other a long time." He added, "Please let Jesus Christ be your savior". Bremer did not reply. Wallace died on September 13, 1998.
Sentence and release
Bremer served his sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institution (MCI-H) in Hagerstown, Maryland. Bremer was placed in solitary confinement for 30 days after a fight in late October 1972. He was reprimanded after another fight in December 1972, and then placed in solitary again for 30 days after a third fight in February 1973. He had received a death threat in January 1973 from inside the prison for his actions, and there was an incident in February 1980 when he destroyed some property and was twice disciplined for this.
According to 1997 parole records, psychological testing indicated releasing him would be risky. He argued in his June 1996 hearing that "Shooting segregationist dinosaurs wasn't as bad as harming mainstream politicians". Bremer was released from prison on November 9, 2007, at the age of 57, having served 35 years of his original sentence. His almost spotless prison record, apart from the February 1980 incident and three fights during the first six months of his sentence, qualified him for mandatory early release under Maryland law. His probation ends in 2025.
Conditions of his release include electronic monitoring and staying away from elected officials and candidates. He must undergo a mental health evaluation and receive treatment if the state deems it necessary, and may not leave the state without written permission from the state agency that will supervise him until the end of his probation.
In popular culture
- Peter Gabriel's song "Family Snapshot" was inspired by Bremer's diary, and describes an assassination attempt (with elements from the shooting of John F. Kennedy) from the assassin's perspective.
- Bremer is briefly mentioned in Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins as a placed member of the audience. The John Wilkes Booth character addresses the audience in the scene titled "November 22, 1963", he asks, "Is Artie Bremer here tonight? Where is Artie Bremer?" The audience-placed "Bremer" shouts out "It was a bum rap, my penis made me do it."
- Bremer is briefly mentioned in Stephen King's book 11/22/63, in which he is the successful assassin of George Wallace in the dystopian alternate future created by the main character's actions in the past, which saved President John F. Kennedy's life, resulting in the eventual election of Wallace as president.
- Bremer served as the primary inspiration for the character Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, in Taxi Driver (1976). That film was subsequently called a motivating factor in John Hinckley, Jr.'s decision to shoot President Ronald Reagan.
- Robert Zemeckis's film Forrest Gump (1994) contains a brief scene that shows the footage of Bremer's assassination attempt on Wallace.
- Nuckols, Ben (August 23, 2007). "Wallace shooter to be released". USA Today (Associated Press). Retrieved August 25, 2012.
- "Arthur Bremer's Notes from the Underground". time.com (Time). May 29, 1972. Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Clarke, James K. "American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics". 1982.
- An Assassin's Diary published 1973, entry March 14, 1972
- New York Times, May 21, 1972
- New York Times, May 17, 1972
- Milwaukee Sentinel, May 12, 1973
- Eugene Register Guard - May 16, 1972
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 17, 1972
- Palm Beach Post - May 21, 1972
- "Loner gunman shoots Democrat maverick". The Times (London). October 5, 2008.
- Life magazine - 26 May 1972
- An Assassin's Diary, published in 1973
- Kraut, Aaron (May 9, 2012). "George Wallace’s assassination attempt: FBI agent reflects, 40 years later". Washington Post. Retrieved Aug. 20, 2013.
- The crocodile man: a case of brain chemistry and criminal violence André Mayer & Michael Wheeler. p. 7
- Associated Press. "Finder can keep Bremer diary" Tuscaloosa News September 11, 1981, p. 2.
- AP. "Bremer diary traces nightmare journey." Tuscaloosa News June 16, 1985, p. 20A.
- "Pope-Wallace meeting remembered", The Decatur Daily, Decatur, Alabama. April 6, 2005. URL retrieved on December 23, 2006.
- Times Daily - September 21, 1998
- "Mourners praise George Wallace at vigil", Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN). September 16, 1998. URL retrieved on December 23, 2006.
- Garland, Greg (2007-11-09). "Wallace assailant released from Md. prison". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on Aug. 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- Smith, Maria. "Ministry Takes In Shooter" Cumberland Times-News, November 15, 2007
- "Portrait of an Assassin: Arthur Bremer". The American Experience. PBS. Archived from the original on 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- "Wallace Is Shot, Legs Paralyzed; Suspect Seized at Laurel Rally", William Greider, Washington Post, May 16, 1972
- "George Wallace's Appointment in Laurel", Time Magazine, May 29, 1972
- "Bremer case still a riddle because of Judge's haste" (abstract), Michael Olesker, Baltimore Sun, January 28, 1996
- "The Attempted Assassination of George Wallace", Denise Noe, Crime Magazine, Sept. 14, 2003
- Video of Shooting of Wallace
- Laurel Shopping Center, George Wallace 40 Years Later