Spartacus Blog

Richard Nixon and the Conspiracy to kill George Wallace in 1972.

John Simkin

On 15th May, 1972, Arthur Bremer attended a meeting held by George Wallace in Laurel, Maryland. After he had finished speaking, Wallace shook hands with some of those present, against the advice of his Secret Service guards. Bremer shouted: "Hey, George, let me shake hands with you!" Wallace turned into the direction of the voice and extended his hand. Less than three feet away, Bremer began firing. One bullet ripped through Wallace's forearm and shoulder, another entered his right abdomen and stomach, while a third bullet pierced his right rib cage and lodged in his spine. Bremer was attacked by the crowd and finally three policemen wrestled a bloody Bremer away and dragged him to a waiting squad car. (1)

Richard Nixon feared that he would be in some way associated with the assassination attempt. As Jeb Stuart Magruder pointed out: "I was also involved in a fiasco of my own that winter, one that related to two of our major political preoccupations-winning California, and the electoral threat posed by George Wallace. The Alabama governor was a constant concern to us. If he ran in 1972, would the third-party split help us or hurt us? The equation was a complex one, but the consensus was that he would hurt us, and there were constant discussions and plans on how to keep him out of the race, ranging from preempting him with go-slow school integration policies to our putting several hundred thousand dollars into the campaign of the man who ran against Wallace for governor in 1970. The ongoing White House concern about Wallace was reflected in a constant stream of memos from Haldeman asking us for up-to-the-minute reports on how many state primaries Wallace would be able to enter." (2)

Richard E. Sprague later wrote: "George Wallace was another matter. At the time he was shot, he was drawing 18% of the vote according to the polls, and most of that was in Nixon territory. The conservative states such as Indiana were going for Wallace. He was eating into Nixon's southern strength. In April the polls showed McGovern pulling a 41%, Nixon 41% and Wallace 18%. It was going to be too close for comfort, and it might be thrown into the House - in which case Nixon would surely lose. There was the option available of eliminating George McGovern, but then the Democrats might come up with Hubert Humphrey or someone else even more dangerous than McGovern. Nixon's best chance was a head-on contest with McGovern. Wallace had to go." (3)

Mark Felt of the FBI (later named by Bob Woodward as Deep Throat) immediately took charge of the case. According to the historian Dan T. Carter, Felt had a trusted contact in the White House: Charles Colson, Nixon's main organizer of dirty tricks against the Democratic Party. Felt gave Colson the news. Within 90 minutes of the shooting Richard Nixon and Colson are recorded discussing the case. Nixon told Colson that he was concerned that Bremer “might have ties to the Republican Party or, even worse, the President’s re-election committee”. Nixon also asked Colson to find a way of blaming George McGovern for the shooting. (4)

In his autobiography, E. Howard Hunt, a member of Nixon's Special Investigations Group (SIG), revealed that soon after the shooting he was contacted by Colson: "I was surprised to get a call from Chuck Colson the following morning, asking me to fly to Milwaukee, where Bremer lived, break into his home, and plant leftist literature to connect him to the Democrats." According to Hunt he replied: "Are you nuts? How the hell am I going to get into a sealed apartment that's being watched by the FBI?" Hunt later discovered that while Nixon was commenting publicly on the shooting as something "senseless and tragic," he was also "leaning on Colson to assign a break-in at Bremer's apartment." (5)

FBI Investigation

At 5:00 p.m. Thomas Farrow, head of the Baltimore FBI, passed details of Bremer’s address to the FBI office in Milwaukee. Soon afterwards two FBI agents arrived at Bremer’s apartment block and begin interviewing neighbours. However, they do not have a search warrant and did not go into Bremer’s apartment. At around the same time, James Rowley, head of the Secret Service, ordered one of his Milwaukee agents to enter Bremer’s apartment. It has never been revealed why Rowley took this action. It is while this agent was searching the apartment that the FBI discovered what was happening. (6)

The Secret Service took away documents from Bremer’s apartment. It is not known if they planted anything before they left. Anyway, the FBI discovered material published by the Black Panther Party and the American Civil Liberties Union in the apartment. Both sets of agents now left Bremer’s apartment unsealed. Over the next 80 minutes several reporters enter the apartment and take away documents. Ken Wade Clawson, Nixon's deputy director of communications told journalists that it was clear from literature found in Bremer's "that the assassin was connected to leftist causes, possibility the campaign of Senator George S. McGovern." (7)

Charles Colson also phoned journalists at the Washington Post and Detroit News with the news that evidence had been found that Bremer is a left-winger and was connected to the campaign of George McGovern. The reporters were also told that Bremer is a “dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee”. Bob Woodward was one of several journalists who published the story. However, he added other details that argued against this view: "One White House source said that when President Nixon was informed of the shooting, he became deeply upset and voiced concern that the attempt on Gov. Wallace's life might have been made by someone with ties to the Republican Party or the Nixon campaign. If such a tie existed, the source said, the President indicated it could cost him the election, which was then less than six months away." (8)

The arrest of Arthur Bremer (15th May, 1972)
The arrest of Arthur Bremer (15th May, 1972)

The day after his arrest the FBI discovered Bremer’s 137-page written diary in his blue Rambler car. The opening sentence was: "Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace." Nixon was initially suspected of being behind the assassination but the contents of the diary went against this theory. Dan T. Carter argues that "there was no political bombshell in the portion of the diary they recovered from Bremer's car." He added that "as the Bureau began to check and recheck the gunman's background and to correlate their investigation and his diary, it became more and more likely that Bremer was exactly what he appeared to be, a pathetic misfit and loner who followed the classic pattern of the political assassins of the 1960s: Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray." (9)

Trial of Arthur Bremer

Bremer’s trial lasted only five days. His attorney, Benjamin Lipsitz argued that Bremer was was a "schizophrenic" who could not be held responsible for his actions. According to Homer Bigart, of the New York Times: "The reading of Bremer's diary by the defense counsel, Mr. Lipsitz, may have insured the guilty verdict. Some of the jurors, instead of finding Bremer's account of his assassination plans bizarre and irrational thought that the document was coherent and not a bit insane." One of the jurors, Jack Goldinher, said: "A lot of guilt ran through that diary. He couldn't get Nixon, so he picked Wallace. I don't think it made much difference to him as long as it was somebody famous. As for sanity - he might have been a little withdrawn, but he wasn't insane or crazy." (10)

The jurors were unanimous on the first poll. Bremer was tried on charges of assault with intent to murder, of using a handgun in a crime of violence, and illegally carrying a handgun. County Judge Ralph W. Powers sentenced him to 43 years in the penitentiary: 33 years for the attack on George Wallace and 10 years each for shooting the other victims. "Bremer's strangely chilling grin (psychiatrists testified it was part of his defense mechanism) vanished when he heard the verdict. The 21-year-old Milwaukee busboy had clowned occasionally during the testimony, turning in his chair to stick out his tongue at the spectators. Now he was subdued." (11)

Journalism and Arthur Bremer

Journalists accepted the conclusion of the jury and no follow-up articles were produced on the case. However, early accounts of the case did suggest that Arthur Bremer was part of a conspiracy to kill Wallace. For example, the New York Times carried out a detailed investigation of Bremer's movements during the runup to the attack on Wallace. The article pointed out that Bremer made no effort to be inconspicuous during the 10 weeks in which he frequented political rallies last winter and this spring. "Most times, he was colorfully dressed. 'He looked like a flag,' said a man who watched him at a Michigan Wallace rally. Usually, the 21-year-old former bus boy wore a red, white and blue shirt and red, white and blue socks, a dark blue suit with vest, and silvered sunglasses, and his red, white and blue tie was knotted around his neck, inside the open collar of his shirt. In his more than two months of traveling from political rally to political rally, Mr. Bremer used his correct name when staying at hotels or motels. At the rallies at which he has definitely been placed, he invariably was at the front of the crowd. He drew so much attention to himself that on at least three occasions he was noticed by policemen." (12)

However, on 7th- 8th April, 1972, Bremer stayed at the expensive Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Senator Hubert Humphrey, was scheduled to be at the Waldorf on 7th, but the trip was canceled. Earl S. Nunnery, trainmaster for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's rail-auto ferry, confirmed that records of names and license plates, which must be given for reservations, show the suspect took his automobile from Milwaukee to Ludington, Mich.on 9th April." Nunnery said that "Bremer had been accompanied to the ferry's ticket window by a well-dressed man about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 225 pounds, with heavily sprayed curly hair that hung down over his ears. He said that the man had talked excitedly in what he took to be a New York accent about moving a political campaign from Wisconsin to Michigan." (13) Bob Woodward had an anonymous call saying that one of the Watergate suspects had gone Milwaukee to meet with Arthur Bremer. (14) ."

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Martin Waldron of the New York Times carried out a detailed investigation into the possibility that Bremer was part of a political conspiracy. "Thus far, newsmen have been unable to find any evidence of a conspiracy. Mr. Bremer does not appear to have traveled with a companion, although at several places he was seen with someone else.... The first report of a companion traveling with Mr. Bremer came from Milwaukee. On April 9, a curly-haired man with bushy moustache was reported to be with Mr. Bremer when he inquired at Milwaukee about taking his blue 1967 Rambler automobile across Lake Michigan by ferry. The man was talking about politics. The manager of the ferry operation, Earl S. Nunnery, positively recalled the April scene about 10 days ago. After it became known that Mr. Bremer had apparently been registered at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on the nights of April 7 and April 8, a second check was made with Mr. Nunnery, but he refused to answer questions, slamming the door in a reporter's face." (15)

Arthur Bremer stalking George Wallace (May, 1972)
Arthur Bremer stalking George Wallace (May, 1972)

It was later reported that Roger Gordon, a former member of the Secret Army Organization (SAO), a government intelligence agency, identified Bremer's ferry contact as Anthony Ulasewicz, (16) After his election victory in 1968, Richard Nixon appointed Jack Caulfield, as Staff Assistant to the President. In March 1969, Caulfield met with Ulasewicz, a former member of the NYPD's Bureau of Special Service and Investigation. "Caulfield outlined the big secret. He said the White House wanted to set up its own investigative resource which would be quite separate from the FBI, CIA, or Secret Service... The new administration, Caulfield said, was finding government intelligence methods to be deficient... Caulfield claimed that Ehrlichman, Nixon's Counsel at the White House, had assigned him to check out what it would cost to set up an off the books, secret intelligence operation." (17)

In his diary, Bremer claimed he went to Canada on 14th April 1972 in an attempt to assassinate President Nixon who was visiting the country. (18) He lamented that the President's motorcade had passed him six times, and that he had never got to fire the 38-caliber revolver in his pocket. (19) It was reported in The Toronto Star that "federal sources said that Bremer had been positively placed in Ottawa during the President's visit, but they said that there was no evidence that Bremer was 'stalking' Nixon." (20) In his diary Bremer wrote: "I want something to happen. I was supposed to be dead a week & a day ago. Or at least infamous." (21)

Unanswered Questions

In December, 1973, Gore Vidal, wrote a long article about the the possible relationship between Arthur Bremer and E. Howard Hunt in The New York Review of Books. "Arthur H. Bremer shot George Wallace, governor of Alabama, at Laural, Maryland, and was easily identified as the gunman and taken into custody. Nearby in a rented car, the police found Bremer's diary… According to the diary, Bremer had tried to kill Nixon in Canada but failed to get close enough. He then decided to kill George Wallace. The absence of any logical motive is now familiar to most Americans, who are quite at home with the batty killer who acts alone in order to be on television, to be forever entwined with the golden legend of the hero he has gunned down. In a nation that worships psychopaths, the Oswald-Bremer-Sirhan-Ray figure is to the general illness what Robin Hood was to a greener, saner world."

Vidal argued that Bremer could not have written the diary: "For someone who is supposed to be nearly illiterate there are startling literary references and flourishes in the Bremer diary. The second entry contains: 'You heard of One Day in the Life of Ivan Dyntsovich .  Yesterday was my day.' The misspelling of Denisovich is not bad at all. Considering the fact that the name is a hard one for English-speaking people to get straight, it is something of a miracle that Bremer could sound the four syllables of the name correctly in his head. Perhaps he had the book in front of him but if he had, he would not have got the one letter wrong."

Vidal adds: "Bremer goes to a massage parlor in New York... The scene is nicely done and the author writes correctly and lucidly until, suddenly, a block occurs and he can't spell anything right – as if the author suddenly remembers that he is meant to be illiterate… On this page, as though to emphasizing Bremer's illiteracy, we get 'spair' for 'spare,' 'enphasis' for 'emphasis,' and 'remember'. Yet on the same page the diarist has no trouble spelling 'anticipation,' 'response,' 'advances'... The author of the diary gives us a good many random little facts – seat numbers of airplanes, prices of meals. He does not like 'hairy hippies'. A dislike he 'shares' with HH (Howard Hunt). He also strikes oddly jarring literary notes. On his arrival in New York, he tells us that he forgot his guns which the captain then turned over to him, causing the diarist to remark 'irony abounds'. A phrase one doubts that the actual Arthur Bremer would have used. As word and quality, irony is not part of America's demotic speech or style. Later crossing the Great Lakes he declares 'Call me Ismal'. Had he read Moby Dick? Unlikely… No matter who wrote the diary we are dealing with a true author.  One who writes, 'Like a novelist who knows not how his book will end – and I have written this journal – what a shocking surprise that my inner character shall steal the climax and destroy the author and save the anti-hero from assassination!' Only one misspelling in that purple patch is not irony that abounds as much in these pages as literature… If he lives to be re-examined, one wonders if he will tell us what company he kept during the spring of 1972, and whether or not a nice man helped him to write his diary, as a document for the ages like the scrolls in the caves. (Although H.H. is a self-admitted forger of state papers I do not think that he actually had an hand in writing Bremer's diary on the ground that the journal is a brilliant if flawed job of work, and beyond H.H's known literary competences". (22)

Bremer told his brother that others were involved and that he was paid by them. (23) In May, 1974, Martha Mitchell visited George Wallace in Montgomery. She told him that her husband, John N. Mitchell, suggested that Charles Colson was involved in the attempt to kill Wallace. Cornelia Wallace, told The Birmingham News that Mitchell had said to his wife: "What was Charles Colson doing, talking with Arthur Bremer four days before he shot George Wallace." (24)

George Wallace became convinced that he was a victim of a political conspiracy and that Nixon's campaign team had financed Bremer. After his visit from Martha Mitchell, Wallace gave an interview to Chicago Sun-Times. He pointed out that Bremer seldom made more than thirty dollars a week. "How can he buy an automatic, buy two guns? Stay at the Waldorf Astoria, go to massage parlors, rent limousines, go to Canada, follow me all around?" Where did Bremer get the money? His final point was why did this community-college dropout just happen to write a diary which 'proved' that he was acting alone. (25)

Most of the media ignored the comments made by Martha Mitchell and George Wallace. However, Donald Freed, an investigative journalist who had published articles and books on politics and civil rights movements, established the Citizens Research and Investigation Committee (CRIC), a Los Angeles based group of journalists active in the 1960s and 1970s, He believed he identified Anthony Ulasewicz as the man who had been identified by Earl S. Nunnery, trainmaster for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway as being with Bremer on 7th April, 1972. (26)

In March 1969, Jack Caulfield, Staff Assistant to the President, had recruited Ulasewicz, a former member of the NYPD's Bureau of Special Service and Investigation. "Caulfield outlined the big secret. He said the White House wanted to set up its own investigative resource which would be quite separate from the FBI, CIA, or Secret Service... The new administration, Caulfield said, was finding government intelligence methods to be deficient... Caulfield claimed that Ehrlichman, Nixon's Counsel at the White House, had assigned him to check out what it would cost to set up an off the books, secret intelligence operation." (27)

Freed claimed: "The full story remains to be told. But during 1972-Z3, our research group, the Citizens Research and Investigation Committee (CRIC), receive several bits of unconfirmed information which are worthy of note: On July 13, 1973 Roger Gordon, fifty-three, a member of the right-wing Secret Army Organization (SAO) fled from a hiding place in Australia to beg asylum in Suva, Fiji. According to the Associated Press, Gordon "had secret information concerning Watergate" and feared for his life. His information: that the heavy-set man with the "Joisey brogue" seen giving orders to Bremer on an Ohio ferry was Anthony Ulasewicz, a White House operative." (28)

Richard E. Sprague , the author of The Taking of America (1985): argued that Donald Segretti and Dennis Cassini, supplied money to Bremer before he attempted to assassinate George Wallace. "Arthur Bremer was selected. The first contacts were made by people who knew both Bremer and Segretti in Milwaukee. They were members of a leftist organization planted there as provocateurs by the intelligence forces within the Power Control Group. One of them was a man named Dennis Cassini. Bremer was programmed over a period of months. He was first set to track Nixon and then Wallace. When his hand held the gun in Laurel, Maryland, it might just as well have been in the hand of Donald Segretti, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Richard Helms, or Richard Nixon. With Wallace's elimination from the race and McGovern's increasing popularity in the primaries, the only question remaining for the Power Control Group was whether McGovern had any real chance of winning. The polls all showed Wallace's vote going to Nixon and a resultant landslide victory. That, of course, is exactly what happened." (29)

George Wallace continued to argue that the assassination attempt was organized by Nixon's team in the White House. According to his son, George Wallace Jr.: "We seek the release of any additional tapes which could possibly shed any light on the actions of Arthur Bremer in relation to his assassination attempt on my father... Since 1972, we have heard on different occasions that Bremer was seen on a ferry in the state of Michigan, where he did stalk my father at one time, with someone who worked directly for President Nixon... I do know that Bremer stalked my father for several weeks, staying in some of the finest hotels in the country... I have always wondered how a 21-year-old man with no visible means of support could enjoy such a comfortable life style." (30)

Arthur Bremer
Arthur Bremer

Arthur Bremer was released from the Maryland Correctional Institution on 9th November, 2007 and went to live in Cumberland. "Officials say Bremer has been living in an apartment on the city's east side since he was released from prison last week. Bremer walked away from the Maryland Correctional Institution after serving 35 years behind bars. He is currently under the supervision of the Maryland Division of Parole and Probation until his sentence ends in 2025. Local officials have been assured that Bremer is not a threat." (31)

The following week the Cumberland Times News reported that Bremer was living at "Footer Place off Frederick Street" and was being looked after by the religious organization, Restoration of the Heart. Frances Jones, the director of the organization commented that her goal is to get "him back out there in the world, the same as everyone else." A bicycle and a toaster were two items requested. "It's just a joy to see the person's face in being able to be free, to be normal and to be alone," Jones said. "My heart is overwhelmed, it's overjoyed at how this child is coming out to a new world. He's nothing like what he's been made out to be." The newspaper added: "Bremer has reportedly declined media interviews, including some that included offers of monetary payment." (32)

John Simkin (3rd May, 2021)

References

(1) Dan T. Carter, Politics of Rage (2000) page 437

(2) Jeb Stuart Magruder, An American Life: One Man's Road to Watergate (1974) page 310

(3) Richard E. Sprague, The Taking of America (1985) page 41

(4) The Washington Post (21 June, 1973)

(5) E.Howard Hunt, American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond (2007) pages 206-207

(6) Dan T. Carter, Politics of Rage (2000) page 440

(7) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President's Men (1974) page 326

(8) Bob Woodward, Washington Post (21st June, 1973)

(9) Dan T. Carter, Politics of Rage (2000) page 444

(10) Homer Bigart, New York Times (5th August, 1972)

(11) New York Times (6th August, 1972)

(12) Martin Waldron, New York Times (29th May, 1972)

(13) New York Times (21st May, 1972)

(14) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President's Men (1974) page 326

(15) Martin Waldron, New York Times (29th May, 1972)

(16) David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, The People's Almanac (1985)

(17) Anthony Ulasewicz, The President's Private Eye (1990) page 177

(18) New York Times (14th April, 1972)

(19) New York Times (21st May, 1972)

(20) The Toronto Star (24th May, 1972)

(21) Arthur Bremer, diary entry (24th April, 1972)

(22) Gore Vidal, The New York Review of Books (13th December 1973)

(23) Richard E. Sprague, The Taking of America (1985) page 42

(24) Cornelia Wallace, The Birmingham News (16th May, 1974)

(25) Chicago Sun-Times (29th May, 1974)

(26) New York Times (21st May, 1972)

(27) Anthony Ulasewicz, The President's Private Eye (1990) page 177

(28) Donald Freed, Operation Gemstone (1974)

(29) Richard E. Sprague, The Taking of America (1985) page 42

(30) The New York Times (14th December 1992)

(31) WSFA News (14th November, 2007)

(32) Cumberland Times News (15th November, 2007)


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The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)

Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)

Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)

Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)

Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)

Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)

The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)

The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)

Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)

New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)

Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)

Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)

Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)

Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)

The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)

Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)

British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)

Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)

Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)

The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)

The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)

What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)

Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)