Peoples and Nations

Arthur Bremer: Attempted 1972 Nixon Assassination

Arthur Bremer: Attempted 1972 Nixon Assassination

The following article on Arthur Bremer is an excerpt from Mel Ayton's Hunting the President: Threats, Plots, and Assassination Attempts-From FDR to Obama.


In early 1972 President Richard Nixon was stalked by his would-be assassin Arthur Bremer. Bremer wanted to do “something bold and dramatic, forceful and dynamic. A statement of my manhood for the world to see.” In fact, statements at the time of his trial indicated that he simply wanted to be a “celebrity.”

Arthur Bremer decided around March 1, 1972, to assassinate either the president or Alabama governor George Wallace, who had been campaigning around the country in the Democratic Party's presidential primaries. Bremer wrote in his diary:

“Life has been only an enemy to me. I shall destroy my enemy when I destroy myself. But I want to take a part of this society that made me with me. I choose to take Richard M. Nixon… Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace. I intend to shoot one or the other while he attends a champagne sic rally for the Wisconsin presidential primary… I am one sick assassin… I have to be within spitting distance of Nixon before I can hit him… got to think up something cute to shout out after I kill him, like Booth did-Nixon's the One! And how! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Arthur Bremer learned that President Nixon was scheduled to meet with Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, in Ottawa on April 13, 1972. He hastily flew back to his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to collect his two pistols and ammunition and then began to make his way to Ottawa.

When he arrived in Ottawa, Bremer discovered through newspaper reports the motorcade route into town and “drove up and down it to get familiar with it.”

Arthur Bremer attempted to get into Uplands Air Force Base, the military airport where Nixon was scheduled to arrive. “From the very beginning of this plan,” Bremer wrote, “I planned to get him at the airport as he was addressing a happy Canadian crowd.” Bremer dressed in his conservative business suit and wore a “Vote Republican” badge. He placed one of his guns in his pocket and “felt added confidence with a suit, short hair and shaved.” But at the airport, Bremer was told there were no facilities for the public.

Bremer left the airport and found a vacant service station along Nixon's motorcade route. He waited in a chilly drizzle for forty minutes to an hour. “My fingers got numb,” he wrote, “and I thought that wouldn't do.” Bremer sat in his car to warm up then drove up and down Nixon's motorcade route for two hours, surprised that police did not stop him in his easily identifiable dented blue Rambler car with yellow Wisconsin license plates. When he found a spot to park, he stood waiting with a gun in his pocket, fantasizing about killing Nixon by shooting over the shoulder of one of the police officers who lined the motorcade route into the city. Bremer was uncertain that the bullets from his revolver would go through the glass of Nixon's limousine, “I didn't want to get killed or imprisoned in an unsuccessful attempt. Couldn't afford that,” he wrote.

But when Nixon's limousine appeared, it flashed by too quickly for him to get off a shot. “I had a good view as he went past me,” he wrote, “and still alive… He went before I knew it… like the snap of the finger.” He walked back to his car believing “the best day to make the attempt was over… You can't kill Nixie boy if you can't get close to him.”

Arthur Bremer made a second attempt to get near Nixon during the president's visit to Ottawa's Parliament Hill on April 14. Bremer had been captured on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police video standing near Ottawa's Eternal Flame. As Nixon was preparing to leave Canada's legislative building after addressing the House of Commons, Bremer saw what he thought to be the president's car and went immediately to his hotel to collect his gun. He confessed he had “stupidly took time” to brush his teeth and change his suit. “When I arrived back,” Bremer wrote, “the car was gone.”

Bremer would later learn that Nixon's security was especially tight that day due to the fear of anti-war demonstrations. Bremer cursed the demonstrators for foiling his assassination attempt. After three days of foiled plans, Bremer gave up and returned to Milwaukee. After considering shooting presidential contender George McGovern, he decided to assassinate George Wallace. “I've decided Wallace will have the honor,” he wrote. Bremer shot Wallace during a campaign rally for the presidential candidate in Laurel, Maryland, in May 1972. When police searched his car, they discovered two books about Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan. Bremer spent thirty-five years in prison and was released on parole in Maryland in 2007.