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|Born||Arthur Herman Bremer
August 21, 1950
|Criminal charge||Attempted murder|
|Criminal penalty||53 years imprisonment (released after 35 years)|
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 for the Krohn Cartage Company, and Sylvia Bremer (1915 – 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 of his parents, though he appears to have been 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 or mediocre. 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. He was not bullied, but was mainly shunned, ostracized or isolated by other students. Bremer wrote 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, where he proved to be a good player. However, his mother said he was too ill to play and withdrew him from the 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 from March 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." On February 16, 1972, 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 stayed almost 18 months, quitting on January 31, 1972.
On October 16, 1971, Bremer moved from his parents' house after an argument, and moved into a three-room, one bedroom apartment at 2433 West Michigan Street, 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 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.
Around the time of his arrest in November 1971, Bremer began a relationship with 16-year-old Joan Pemrich, a junior at West Division High School. Bremer, who had never had a girlfriend before, asked Pemrich out and she accepted. Their first date on November 20 went well. They went to a museum, walked around the Lake Michigan beach area and then went to a restaurant. After this initial positive 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 on December 23, 1971, when he kissed a woman not in his group while waiting to get into the concert. He ran up to her and said "Baby, I like your hot pants!". The woman promptly reported his action to a police officer, who let Bremer off with a warning. During the concert he applauded, swaying back and forth to the music and yelled at all the wrong moments. After the concert, Bremer excitedly whispered to Pemrich that he was so sexually aroused he could hardly walk.
Pemrich ended the relationship at the start of 1972, because Bremer acted "childish", "goofy" and "weird". Bremer could not overcome this rejection. He began stalking and repeatedly calling her. On January 13, 1972, Pemrich's mother then threatened to call the police if Bremer continued to pester her. The following day Bremer shaved his head, leaving only his sideburns, saying to Pemrich that "you make me feel as empty as my head."
After Bremer's arrest, Pemrich expressed surprise at Bremer's actions, because she said he was not violent and had never mentioned or talked about either George Wallace or politics during their time together.
Plans to assassinate Richard Nixon
After the break up of his relationship with Pemrich and quitting 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. How will the news associations describe me? An unemployed painter? An unemployed part-time busboy? A colledge (still can’t spell it) drop-out? ... I have it. “An unemployed malcontent who fancys [sic] himself a writer.” 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, 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. The following day, he flew to New York City. He rented a limousine but the main purpose of the trip to New York was to visit a massage parlor in hopes of losing his virginity. That also ended in failure. 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 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 and stayed at the Lord Elgin Hotel. Three days later, Bremer, dressed in a business suit, wearing sunglasses and with a revolver in his pocket, hoped to assassinate Nixon but 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 for anybody to get close to Nixon. Bremer was also doubtful 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. Afterwards, Bremer left Canada, staying at the Sheraton Motor Inn in New Carrollton, Maryland for three days from April 16 onwards. Then he returned to Milwaukee where he remained for most of the following three weeks. On April 22 he said describing his visit to Ottawa "A woman, middle age gave me an anti-war/anti-Nixon leaflet. I glanced it over & handed it back to her, politely. ... The hippie-types also tryed [sic] to give me this stuff. ... Were the cops really afraid of these people?! Was Nixon afraid, really scared, of them?! They’re nothing. They’re the new establishement [sic]. To be a rebel today you have to keep a job, wear a suit & stay apolitical. Now THAT’S REBELLION!".
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." Then he stated. "This will be one of the most closely read pages since the scrolls in those cave. I want something to happen. All my efforts and just another goddam [sic] failure. My fuse is about burnt. I've had it. I'm tired of writting [sic] about it, about what I was gonna do, about what I failed to do. What I failed to do again & again."
Plans to assassinate George Wallace
Having realized it would be practically impossible to assassinate Nixon, and having had a ten-day break from 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, saying "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."
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 revealed "Yesterday I even considered McGovern. I have to kill somebody; that's how far gone I am. It bothers me that there are about 30 guys in prison now who threatened the President and we never heard a thing about 'em. Maybe what they need is organization. How about a 'Make the First Lady a Widow, Inc.' or 'Chicken in Every Pot and Bullet in Every Head, Inc.' They'll hold a national convention every 4 years to pick the exacutioner [sic]. A winner will be chosen from the best entry in 40,000 words or less (preferably less) upon the theme 'How to Do a Bang Up Job of Getting People to Notice You' or 'Get it off your chest; Make Your Problems everybody's.'"
Despite his pronounced lack of enthusiasm, early on the morning of May 9, 1972, Bremer left his Milwaukee apartment for what would be the last time. He took a car ferry to Ludington, Michigan. That day he visited the Wallace campaign headquarters in Silver Spring 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 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 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.
Bremer had planned to yell his carefully chosen catchphrase, "A Penny For Your Thoughts!", as he shot Wallace. However, in the heat of the assassination attempt, he forgot to do so.
After emptying his revolver, Bremer was wrestled to the ground and punched and kicked repeatedly by several people present. Ten security guards were needed to pry him from the crowd so the police could arrest him. 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.
After Bremer's arrest, his apartment was searched. Found were several photos of Playmates of the month clipped from Playboy magazine, a pile of dirty laundry, unpaid bills, Wallace campaign buttons, a Confederate flag, boxes of shells, high school-themed pornographic magazines, 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 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 Writer's Yearbook and the two books he had borrowed from Milwaukee public library ten days earlier.
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 help and 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."
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 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 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 twice easily elected governor of Alabama, 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. 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.
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 before Wallace's death 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 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. He had received a death threat in January 1973 from inside the prison, and there was an incident in February 1980 when he destroyed some property. Bremer was twice disciplined for this. 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 unobstrusive." 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 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 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.
- Bremer's diary was a primary inspiration for screenwriter Paul Schrader's 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.
- James Benning's experimental film American Dreams (Lost and Found) (1984) combines images of baseball player Hank Aaron ephemera with a continual scroll of handwritten passages from Bremer's diary.
- Nuckols, Ben (August 23, 2007). "Wallace shooter to be released". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
- Wasn't that crime a movie - Tim Huddleston, Fergus Mason, John Pleury (2013)
- "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.
- Bremer's diary 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.
- Mann, Jim (May 28, 1972). "Bremer Got a Gun After Tiff With Girl" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
- 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
- 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.
- Times Daily - September 21, 1998
- "‘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.
- Garland, Greg (2007-11-09). "Wallace assailant released from Md. prison". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on August 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- Smith, Maria (November 15, 2007), "Ministry Takes In Shooter", Cumberland Times-News, archived from the original on May 18, 2017
- 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.
- "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