Arthur Herman Bremer (born
August 21 1950), gained notoriety after he shot U.S. Democratic presidential candidate George Corley Wallace on May 15, 1972in Laurel, Maryland, leaving him paralyzed for life. He was 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.
Arthur Herman Bremer was born in
Milwaukee, Wisconsinthe oldest of four sons born to William Bremer, who was a truck driver and Sylvia Bremer, who was a waitress. Bremer's working-classparents raised him in Milwaukee in a dysfunctional household. He did well in English and history at school and displayed a talent for writing, although his grades were generally mediocre. He scored 106 on an IQ test in high school, and around 114 on a test he took after his failed assassination attempt. [American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics by James K. Clarke]
School was an ordeal for Bremer because he could not make friends. Bremer wrote, "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." [An Assassin's Diary published 1973, written on
14 March, 1972]
One teacher wrote that it was a pleasure to have Bremer in class, but when he was in the
third gradeanother 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." [New York Times 21 May 1972] He was remembered for awkward laughter and not being able to engage in small talk with others.
Bremer was not rebellious as a youth and did not attract concern. Instead, he was an adolescent in emotional trouble whose problems were overlooked because they did not involve transgressions on which authorities focus. Despite his problems, he graduated from high school on
January 28, 1969. [New York Times 17 May 1972]
18 November, 1971, Bremer landed his first arrest for carrying a concealed weapon and for parking his car in a no-parking zone. After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, he was fined for disorderly conduct a month later. Bremer was still able to purchase a Charter Arms.38 caliber pistol on January 13, 1972from Casanova Guns, Inc.
Planning an assassination
Bremer had got a job at the Milwaukee Athletic Club as a busboy in October 1971. However he was demoted to janitor because customers and patrons of the Milwaukee Athletic Club had complained that he would often talk to himself. Bremer quit his job at the Milwaukee Athletic Club on
February 16, 1972. He also briefly pursued a relationship with a 16-year-old girl named Joan Pemrich (later fictionally portrayed in the film " Taxi Driver"). Two weeks later, on March 1, he began his diary with the words, "It is my personal plan to assassinate by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace". His purpose was "to do SOMETHING BOLD AND DRAMATIC, FORCEFUL & DYNAMIC, A STATEMENT of my manhood for the world to see". ["An Assassin's Diary", published 1973]
March 23, Bremer attended a Wallace dinner and rally at Milwaukee's Red Carpet Airport Inn. At the time, however, the main focus of Bremer's activities was to assassinatePresident Nixon. Bremer hoped that his act would result in his death and create infamy for himself. On April 4, 1972, he flew to New Yorkto visit a massage parlor in the hope of losing his virginityand stayed at the Waldorf Hotel. That evening, he appeared at a Wallace victory rally. On April 8, he slipped the weapon under a mat in the trunk of his car, but it went down so deeply under the right wheel well that he could not get it back out again. It was removed a week after Bremer's arrest when the car was dismantled.
April 10Bremer travelled to Ottawaand stayed at the Lord Elginhotel. Four days later, Nixon made a public appearance in a limousineat Parliament Hill. Bremer, dressed in a business suit, wearing sunglasses and with a revolver in his pocket, hoped to assassinate the President but security was tight due to presence of Vietnam Warprotesters and Québec nationalists. Ottawa police officers guarded the motorcade's path, making it impossible for anyone 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 President sped past unharmed.
Bremer left Canada the following day, staying at the Sheraton Motor Inn in
New Carrollton, Marylandfor three days. After this he returned to Milwaukee. On April 24he stated that "I'm as important as the start of WWI. I just need the little opening and a second of time".
However, having realized it would be near impossible to assassinate Nixon, on
May 4he decided that Wallace would have the "honor" of being his victim, even though his diary entries never showed the same enthusiasm as they did with regard to assassinating Nixon, with entries such as "Who the hell ever got buried in 'Bama for being great?" and "To this man it seems only another failure. I won't even rate a TV enteroption sic in Russia or Europe when the news breaks. He won't get more than 3 minutes on network TV news". [An Assassin's Diary]
Events leading up to the shooting
Despite his lack of enthusiasm for assassinating Wallace, on
May 8Bremer left his Milwaukee apartment for what was to be the final time. He traveled east in a 1967 blue Rambler going to Maryland. On May 9Bremer visited Wallace headquarters in Silver Spring and offered to work in the campaign. On the evening of 10 Mayhe attended a Wallace rally in Cadillac, Michigan.
Bremer attended a Wallace rally on the evening of
May 13in Kalamazoo, which passed without incident. He had the chance to shoot his target, but did not. According to his diary, he passed up the opportunity because he might have shattered some glass and blinded some "stupid 15-year-olds" who stood nearby. He made his final diary entry the following day, May 14, 1972, when he traveled to Maryland for the third time in a month. The final words in the diary were "My cry upon firing will be 'A penny for your thoughts'. Copyright 1972. All rights reserved. Arthur H. Bremer".
Bremer turned up in
Wheaton, Marylandfor a noon appearance that Wallace was making at 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 everything Wallace said, which was in contrast with many others who heckled and taunted Wallace. Two tomatoes were thrown at Wallace during the rally, but missed. Based on this reception, Wallace refused to shake hands with those present, denying Bremer the opportunity to carry out his plan.
At a second rally, which took place at Laurel Shopping Center, 16 miles away, there was minor heckling early on but it did not last. About 1,000 people were present; they were mostly quiet and listened approvingly to what Wallace said. 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., a few minutes after the rally ended, Bremer pushed his way forward, stuck his .38 revolver in Wallace's stomach and opened fire, emptying the weapon before he could be subdued. [http://www.efluxmedia.com/news_Wallaces_Shooter_to_Be_Released_Friday_10449.html] 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
abdomenand chest. Three other people present were wounded accidentally: AlabamaState 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 damaged following the shooting.
Bremer had a carefully chosen catchphrase of "A Penny For Your Thoughts!", which he had decided to yell as he shot Wallace. In the heat of the assassination attempt, however, he forgot to do so. ["The crocodile man: a case of brain chemistry and criminal violence" André Mayer & Michael Wheeler. p. 7]
After Bremer's arrest, his apartment was searched. Found were Wallace campaign buttons, a Confederate flag, boxes of shells, old high school themed
pornographicmagazines, Black Pantherliterature, 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 collared, male, suburban, democratic 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, binoculars, a woman's umbrella, a tape recorder, a portable radio with police band, an electric shaver, photographic equipment, a 1972 copy of a "Writer's Yearbook", two books on the assassination of
Robert Kennedyentitled "Sirhan" and "RFK Must Die", and a Browning 9mm semiautomatic pistol. From 8 May 1972to the day of his arrest Bremer had slept in his car.
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. The defense argued that Bremer was 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 obviously disturbed and in need of psychiatric treatment, as well as being full of hate and feelings of intense humiliation, 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."
4 August 1972the jury of six men and six women took just over an hour and a half 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 [the prosecutor] 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
28 Septemberafter an appeal.
Part of Bremer's diary was published in 1973 as "
An Assassin's Diary". 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.
The remainder of his diary (pages 1-148) was found on
August 26, 1980where he had concealed it, heavily wrapped, at the foot of Milwaukee's 27th Street viaduct. In it, he 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 confessed his admiration for Vel Phillips, a pioneering black officeholder of Milwaukee (who was elected and serving as Secretary of State of Wisconsinwhen the diary was found).
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 dollars when he lived at home 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.
Bremer would serve as the inspiration for the
Travis Bicklecharacter played by Robert DeNiro, in " Taxi Driver" (1976). [cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wallace/sfeature/assasin.html|title=Portrait of an Assassin: Arthur Bremer|publisher= PBS|accessdate=2008-06-25] That film would subsequently be called a motivating factor in John Hinckley, Jr.'s decision to shoot President Ronald Reagan.
Wallace forgave Bremer in August 1995 and wrote to him [ [http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/news/050406/wallace.shtml "Pope-Wallace meeting remembered"] , "
The Decatur Daily", Decatur, Alabama. April 6, 2005. "URL retrieved on December 23, 2006".] 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" and "Please let Jesus Christbe your savior". Bremer did not reply. The former Alabama governor died on September 13, 1998.
Bremer served his sentence at the
Maryland Correctional Institution(MCI-H) in Hagerstown, Maryland. He was originally scheduled to be released in 2025 at the age of 75. 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". [ [http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1998/09/16/wallace.01/ "Mourners praise George Wallace at vigil"] , Cable News Network, Inc. ( CNN). September 16, 1998. "URL retrieved on December 23, 2006".] Bremer was released from prison on Friday, November 9, 2007, at the age of 57, having served 35 years of his original sentence. His spotless prison record qualified him for mandatory early release under Maryland law. [cite news |first=Greg |last=Garland |title=Wallace assailant released from Md. prison |url=http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-bremer1109,0,52754.story |publisher=Baltimore Sun |date= 2007-11-09|accessdate=2007-11-09 ] His probation ends in 2025.
Bremer is in a
halfway housein Cumberland, Maryland. Conditions of his release include electronic monitoringand staying away from elected officials and candidates. He must undergo a mental healthevaluation 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. [Smith, Maria. [http://www.times-news.com/local/local_story_319001802.html "Ministry Takes In Shooter"] "Cumberland Times-News", Nov. 15, 2007]
References in popular culture
*The most famous pop culture reference to Bremer is
Martin Scorsese's 1976 film " Taxi Driver". The story is loosely based on Bremer's adult life, using much artistic license.
* Dawn Davenport, the protagonist of the 1974 John Waters film
Female Trouble, references Bremer's shooting of Wallace during a cabaretact in the film.
Peter Gabrielwrote a song, "Family Snapshot", based on " An Assassin's Diary".
* Bremer is briefly mentioned in
Stephen Sondheim's musical "Assassins" as a placed member of the audience. When the John Wilkes Booth character addresses the audience in the scene titled November 22, 1963he asks, "Is Artie Bremer here tonight? Where is Artie Bremer?" The audience-placed Artie Bremer comically hollers out "It was a bum rap, my penis made me do it."
* Bremer was mentioned in one of Forrest Gump's flashbacks in the movie "
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/daily/sept98/wallace051672.htm "Wallace Is Shot, Legs Paralyzed; Suspect Seized at Laurel Rally"] , William Greider, "Washington Post",
May 16, 1972
* [http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/analysis/back.time/9605/29/index.shtml "George Wallace's Appointment in Laurel"] , "Time Magazine",
May 29, 1972
* "Bremer case still a riddle because of Judge's haste" ( [http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/baltsun/access/49370674.html?dids=49370674:49370674&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+28%2C+1996&author=MICHAEL+OLESKER&pub=The+Sun&desc=Bremer+case+still+a+riddle+because+of+judge%27s+haste abstract] ), Michael Olesker, "Baltimore Sun",
January 28, 1996
* [http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=427037 "Failed Assassin Queues for Buffet"] , "National Post",
April 7, 2008
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