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Arthur Herman Bremer
August 21, 1950
|Parent(s)||William and Sylvia Bremer|
|Criminal charge||Attempted murder|
|Penalty||53 years imprisonment (released after 35 years)|
Arthur Herman Bremer (//; born August 21, 1950) is an American who attempted to assassinate U.S. Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace on May 15, 1972, in Laurel, Maryland, which left 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 and Sylvia Bremer. 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. 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."
Bremer did not make friends in school. He was not bullied, but was mainly shunned by other students. Despite his problems, he graduated from high school in 1969.
After graduating from high school, Bremer briefly attended Milwaukee Area Technical College, but dropped out after just one semester.
Bremer was employed as a busboy at the Milwaukee Athletic Club from March 1969. 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, Bremer complained to the program planner for the Milwaukee Commission on Community Relations. The complaint was investigated and dismissed.
Timeline of Events
- On September 1, 1970 Bremer got a part-time job working as a janitor at Story Elementary School, which he quit after almost 18 months, on January 31, 1972.
- On May 22, 1971, his one known friend, Thomas Neuman, committed suicide playing Russian Roulette.
- On October 16, 1971, Bremer moved from his parents' house after an argument, and moved into a three-room, one bedroom apartment near Marquette University, where he lived until May 9, 1972.
- Late on the night of 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, yet stable enough to continue to live in the community. Bremer underwent psychotherapy, and was released on a $38.50 fine.
- December 8, 1971, after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Despite this, on January 13, 1972, Bremer went into the Casanova Gun Shop in Milwaukee, and bought a snub-nosed Charter Arms Undercover .38-calibre revolver for $90.
- On February 16, 1972, Bremer quit his job at the Athletic club.
Plans to assassinate Richard Nixon
After a short relationship ended and he quit both of his jobs, on March 1, 1972, the unemployed 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." 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, he attended a Wallace dinner and rally at Milwaukee's Red Carpet Airport Inn. Then on April 3, he attended a Wallace victory rally at a Holiday Inn in Milwaukee. On April 8, while preparing for a trip to Ottawa, Wisconsin, he put one of his guns, a Browning 9mm, under a mat in the trunk of his car, but it fell 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 10, he traveled from Milwaukee to Ottawa. Three days later, Bremer, dressed in a business suit, wearing sunglasses and with a revolver in his pocket, initiated an attempt to assassinate Nixon but could not find an opportunity to do so. Security was tight, making it impossible for Bremer to get close to Nixon. Bremer also doubted whether any bullets would go through the glass of Nixon's limousine. He later returned to Milwaukee where he remained for most of the following three weeks.
Plans to assassinate George Wallace
On May 4, 1972, after a ten-day break from writing, Bremer realized it would be almost impossible to assassinate Nixon, and 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: Sirhan by Aziz Shihab and "R.F.K. Must Die!" by Robert Blair Kaiser.
Despite his pronounced lack of enthusiasm, early on the morning of May 9, 1972 Bremer took a car ferry to Ludington, Michigan and visited the Wallace campaign headquarters in Silver Lake, Michigan and offered to be a volunteer. The evening after that, he attended a Wallace rally in Lansing. Two nights later, he was present at a Wallace rally in Cadillac and stayed overnight at the Reid Hotel in Kalamazoo.
On the afternoon of May 13, Kalamazoo Police received an anonymous phone call saying a suspicious looking person had been sitting in a car near the National Guard Armory. When questioned, Bremer said he was waiting for the Wallace rally to begin and wanted to get a good seat. Bremer was photographed at the rally that evening, where he had a clear opportunity to shoot his target, but, according to his diary, he did not do so because he might have shattered some glass and blinded some "stupid 15-year-olds" who stood nearby.
Short of money and unable to afford a hotel room, Bremer slept in his car for the following two nights, as he had done on some nights the previous week. He made his final diary entry on May 14, 1972, when he drove to Maryland.
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 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 fell back and lost a pint of blood, going into 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), who was shot in the stomach, Dora Thompson (a campaign volunteer) who was shot in the leg, and Nick Zarvos, a Secret Service agent. Zarvos was shot in the neck, and his speech was severely impaired following the shooting.
After emptying his revolver, Bremer was wrestled to the ground and then arrested. Bremer himself was taken to a hospital for treatment of a head wound he had sustained. Just after midnight, he was arraigned and taken to the Baltimore County Jail, where he would be held for the next two months.
Upon searching it, police described Bremer's car as a "hotel on wheels". In it they found blankets, pillows, a blue steel 9mm 13-shot Browning Hi-Power Semi-automatic Pistol, binoculars, a woman's umbrella, a tape recorder, a portable radio with police band, an electric shaver, photographic equipment, a garment bag with several changes of clothes, a toilet kit, and a 1972 copy of a Writers' Yearbook and the two books he had borrowed from the Milwaukee public library ten days earlier.
Trial and conviction
His subsequent trial in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was condensed to five days, and was held only 2½ months after Bremer shot Wallace, beginning on July 31, 1972. The defense argued that Bremer was 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 help and treatment, was sane, knew what he was doing, had been seeking glory and was still sorry that Wallace had not died.
Jonas Rappeport, the chief psychiatrist for the circuit court in Baltimore, who spent nine hours with Bremer in June 1972 on four separate occasions, said Bremer had a "schizoid personality disorder with some paranoid and psychopathic features", but also stated that this didn't "substantially impair his capacity to understand the criminality of his actions".
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. 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, 1972, after an appeal. On July 6, 1973, Bremer's second appeal to have the sentence reduced further was rejected.
A 113-page portion of Bremer's diary was published in 1973 as An Assassin's Diary; it covers the period from April 4, 1972, to the day before he shot Wallace and his subsequent arrest. In it, Bremer 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, 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 discusses his desire to kill 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 office holder 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.
Although Bremer's actions and trial and conviction attracted media attention, he soon faded into comparative obscurity. He did not reach the level of infamy of Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth, both of whom had assassinated presidents.
Bremer's assassination attempt did not end Wallace's political career. Wallace was subsequently elected governor of Alabama twice, in 1974 and 1982. However, the result of the assassination attempt, combined with changing circumstances – both Wallace's, and on the political stage – ended Wallace's presidential aspirations. Public concerns over Wallace's health meant he would never gain the same momentum as he did in the 1972 campaign. He entered the presidential election race in 1976 but withdrew early due to poor support.
Wallace forgave Bremer in August 1995 and wrote to him expressing the hope that the two could get to know each other better. Bremer did not reply.
George Wallace died on September 13, 1998.
Sentence and release
Bremer served his sentence at the Maryland Correctional Institution (MCI-H) in Hagerstown. Bremer was placed in solitary confinement for 30 days after a fight on October 6, 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. In prison, he declined to receive mental health treatment or evaluation. He worked in the prison library and was described by the chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, David Blumberg, as "compliant and unobtrusive." He was visited multiple times by his parents before they died.
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 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 1980 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.
- The assassination attempt is briefly mentioned in the 1994 film Forrest Gump.
- Bremer's diary was a primary inspiration for screenwriter Paul Schrader's character Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, in Taxi Driver (1976). In turn, Taxi Driver would be one of the inspirations for John Hinckley, Jr. to shoot President Ronald Reagan.
- "A Penny For Your Thoughts" is a short animated documentary (2018) illustrating Bremer's assassination attempt. The source material was Arthur Bremer's diary.
- 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.
- New York Times, May 17, 1972
- Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 17, 1972
- Palm Beach Post - May 21, 1972
- "Loner gunman shoots Democrat maverick". The Times. London. October 5, 2008.
- 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
- The south-east missourian - 2 August 1972
- 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.
- "'Arthur Bremer Is Alone'". Newsweek. 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2017-02-13.
- "Mourners praise George Wallace at vigil" Archived December 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Cable News Network, Inc. (CNN). September 16, 1998. URL retrieved on December 23, 2006.
- Smith, Maria (November 15, 2007), "Ministry Takes In Shooter", Cumberland Times-News, archived from the original on September 13, 2012
- Sounds Magazine, 1980 Family Snapshot (SongFacts)
- "Portrait of an Assassin: Arthur Bremer". The American Experience. PBS. Archived from the original on 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-25.
- A Penny For Your Thoughts | REEL SOUTH, retrieved 2018-10-03
- "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
- on YouTube
- Laurel Shopping Center, George Wallace 40 Years Later