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Arthur Bremer Is Alone

The man who shot George Wal­lace is now out of prison, but ques­tions about his sta­bil­i­ty remain.

Catharine Skipp and Ari­an Cam­po-Flo­res

In the frigid hours before dawn last Fri­day, Arthur Bre­mer emerged from the Mary­land Cor­rec­tion­al Insti­tu­tion in Hager­stown. He looked far dif­fer­ent from the man who entered in 1972 for shoot­ing Alaba­ma Gov. George Wal­lace, leav­ing him par­a­lyzed from the waist down. Gone were the blond head of hair and eeri­ly cement­ed smile; now 57, Bre­mer is bald­ing and paunchy, with a long, gray beard. Sport­ing civil­ian clothes and bear­ing three box­es of belong­ings, he exit­ed through the pris­on’s rear deliv­ery gate and was whisked away in a con­voy of six dark vehi­cles car­ry­ing state and fed­er­al law-enforce­ment offi­cers. His des­ti­na­tion was unknown, his prospects uncer­tain. “Arthur Bre­mer is alone,” says a Mary­land cor­rec­tions spokesman. “He has no one.”

Bre­mer’s release rais­es unique con­cerns. Foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist Park Dietz says no assas­sin has ever been freed from cus­tody in the Unit­ed States. Bre­mer failed in his attempt, but only nar­row­ly. Back then, he was soli­tary and mis­an­throp­ic, brim­ming with anger and crav­ing noto­ri­ety. In prison, he with­drew, behav­ing well enough to shave 17? years off his 53-year sen­tence. Now that he’s been released, he’ll remain under state super­vi­sion until 2025 and will be barred from attend­ing polit­i­cal events; the Secret Ser­vice will like­ly be watch­ing him as well. “He wants to have a low pro­file and be alone and be left alone,” says David Blum­berg, chair­man of the Mary­land Parole Com­mis­sion. Whether Bre­mer retains any homi­ci­dal ten­den­cies 35 years after his crime remains a mystery—especially since he refused any men­tal-health eval­u­a­tion or treat­ment dur­ing his con­fine­ment. “I don’t believe he will be a dan­ger,” says Blum­berg. “But he will have to accli­mate to mak­ing deci­sions that he has­n’t had to make since 1972.”

Blum­berg describes Bre­mer as com­pli­ant and unob­tru­sive. Bre­mer nev­er caused prob­lems and devot­ed him­self to a qui­et cler­i­cal job in the prison library—a cov­et­ed senior posi­tion that he worked hard to attain. That offered him his only real oppor­tu­ni­ty for social­iz­ing, and he became “the go-to man for help with read­ing, writ­ing or com­pre­hend­ing,” says Blum­berg. Though Bre­mer’s par­ents vis­it­ed him for many years, both are now deceased. He’s estranged from all four of his sib­lings, except the youngest, Roger, with whom he recon­nect­ed in the past year, says Blum­berg. Nev­er­the­less, he says, Roger declined to allow his broth­er to stay with him upon release. (Roger did not respond to repeat­ed requests for com­ment.)

Despite Bre­mer’s docil­i­ty, he has nev­er expressed remorse for try­ing to kill Wal­lace, whose views on race appar­ent­ly ran­kled him. In a 1997 writ­ten appeal after he was denied parole, he dis­par­aged the gov­er­nor as a “seg­re­ga­tion­ist-dinosaur.” “Can we get the Con­fed­er­ate flag off your Mary­land license plate and be halfway fair to Arthur H. Bre­mer?” he wrote to the parole com­mis­sion (a spe­cial license plate at the time fea­tured the flag). “I got a ‘Bama lynch­ing at my parole hear­ing and the Chair­man is whistling Dix­ie.”

That unre­pen­tant atti­tude dis­turbs the Wal­lace fam­i­ly. Though the gov­er­nor, who died in 1998, even­tu­al­ly for­gave his assailant and wrote sev­er­al let­ters to him over the years—to which Bre­mer nev­er responded—other fam­i­ly mem­bers weren’t as mag­nan­i­mous. “I just don’t know if jus­tice has been served when I con­sid­er how much my father suf­fered,” says George Wal­lace III, 56. (He, too, reached out to Bre­mer in the ear­ly 1990s and sug­gest­ed a meet­ing. Bre­mer’s response, accord­ing to the account Wal­lace’s son says two FBI agents gave him: “He jumped up on the bars of his cell … and start­ed mak­ing sounds like a mon­key.”) “While he has com­plied with the laws of Mary­land,” says Wal­lace, “is he as sta­ble as you would want?”

That is a legit­i­mate wor­ry, says Dietz. “In the absence of treat­ment, and where the orig­i­nal prob­lem is one of personality—which is what the tes­ti­mo­ny was in the Bre­mer case—one does not expect for there to be improve­ment,” he says. How­ev­er, he adds, research shows that as vio­lent offend­ers age, the like­li­hood of recidi­vism declines. What’s almost cer­tain is that Bre­mer will have a dif­fi­cult time rein­te­grat­ing him­self to soci­ety. Peo­ple who have been locked up for decades, says Dietz, often “turn to their old social mech­a­nisms of coping—social with­draw­al, iso­lat­ing them­selves, fig­ur­ing out whom to blame, build­ing their anger and repeat­ing crim­i­nal acts.”

Bre­mer’s per­son­al­i­ty dis­or­ders became appar­ent at an ear­ly age. Raised in Mil­wau­kee by a booz­ing father and an emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant moth­er, he was a lon­er who fan­ta­sized about sui­cide. As he grew old­er, he became angri­er and more alien­at­ed. He decid­ed to assas­si­nate a polit­i­cal fig­ure, fix­at­ing ini­tial­ly on Richard Nixon before set­tling on Wal­lace, who was seek­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. On May 15, 1972, he shot the gov­er­nor and three oth­ers (all of whom sur­vived) at a cam­paign ral­ly in Lau­rel, Md. Months lat­er, in the court­room where he was con­vict­ed of attempt­ed mur­der, a judge asked if he had any­thing to say. His response: “[The pros­e­cu­tor] tells me he’d like soci­ety to be pro­tect­ed from some­one like me. I would have liked it if soci­ety had pro­tect­ed me from myself.” Now that he’s re-emerged, both con­cerns seem as rel­e­vant as ever.


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