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The Adventures of Hylic Man: Arthur Bremer, the Great Assassinator

Posted 17 November 2002, 4.03 pm by Tagboard

“I was concerned, overly concerned with my appearance & composure after the bang bangs. I wanted to knock the shit out of the SS men with my calmness. A little something to be remmered by. All these things seemed important to me, were important to me, in my room.” AH Bremer, April 23, 1972.

It is difficult to read of the activities of Arthur H Bremer without a certain nausea, a certain contempt, a desire for some reassuring psychic distance, creeping into our minds. This is reasonable. It isn’t so much Bremer’s crimes that provoke this response – they are, by our own more barbarous hyper-modern standards, basically gauche, even mundane acts – as the thoughts and motivations which we read in his Diary, three decades after his attempted assassination of Governor George Wallace of Alabama on May 15, 1972.

This Assassin’s Diary works like a distortograph on a diorama of the North American continent – its desires, fantasies and perversions: Bremer, barely of age at the time of his murder attempt, is the most arid, absurd and, above all, vacuous assassin one can possibly imagine. His motivation was not political subversion, but celebrity: he was bereft, semi-literate, feckless and self-circling, obsessed with the act and thought of his own image, and indeed image-making in general: the murder of his target would be the blasphemous Chrism of his own personal identity. He was not just an assassin, but a great “assassinator”, as he insistently termed it. Political assassins were once inspired by idealism, hope and revolutionary fervour, like Fanya Kaplan, Charlotte Corday and Trott zu Solz: Bremer was never inspired. That connotes some kind of external vigour irrupting inwards, some Paracletian or diabolical inspiration. Bremer was a vacuum. He had no grandeur: he was banal ipso facto. His only percepts were self-percepts, and all his thoughts were parasitic. His life reminds the reader of the voice of the gnostic text, Thunder, Perfect Mind, in which the spirit tells us that

“I am the barren one and many are her sons” (Stanza Two)

In one sense, however, Bremer’s chaotic tale is a valuable examplar: we, peasant scum that we are, can identify with him more readily than other, more remarkable and admirable assassins and terrorists – we can see our own weaknesses and infirmities writ large in the Great Assassinator, but not in the remote, technically competent likes of Oswald, Elser and Corday. We live in an underemployed, underskilled world without passion or ideology; we are both the propagators and victims of a devastating skepsis which infects our every move. We worship nothing except our own meandering selves; we prostrate ourselves before beauty like no other generation before us not because we are shallow, but because we are cowards: we are no longer brave enough to worship teratologically. We lack even the energy to build our own idols; we tear them out of FHM along the dotted line. The cult of ideas is dead; the cult of celebrity is ubiquitous. We live in the Abomination of Desolation.

How can we understand the deadly Marxian thought which span through the mind of Lee Harvey Oswald the second before he shot the “social-fascist” with such appalling accuracy in the Year of the Death Wish? How can we possibly understand the divine zeal of Corday as she avenged the Girondin cause, or the pleasure which rent republican Cassius’s mind as he vanquished the spectre of Caesarism? We can’t; we’re not even in the same fucking league. We can, however, quickly recognize the catalogue of errors, solecisms and bathetic blunders of Arthur Bremer, and the narcissistic apercus which litter his diary: after all, we’ve been there.

“Had justed watched that morning & made fun of a dopey preacher on TV & figured if he was against it I wanted it. Watched young female asses bounce for encouragement, wasn’t a hell of a lot of ‘em. When you want a girl….never arround.” AHB, April 13, 1972.

Arthur Herman Bremer, erstwhile busboy, kitchen helper and soi-disant Assassinator, was born in 1950, August 21. A classic underachiever living with dipsomaniacal parents, he was completely isolated: his fellow-pupils at school derided him as the “Crazy Man”, the duckspeak drifter. He fantasized that he lived with a television family: he began talking to himself, and attended a shooting club, where his firing proved to be as wayward, wavering and erratic as his mind. By 1971 his life was in disarray: by October he was completely estranged from his family – they do not even merit a mention in his self-pitying Diary, significantly – and then he was discovered asleep in his automobile before a synagogue, bullets scattered like dragonsteeth over the front seat. He was submitted to a psychiatric evaluation, and fined for disorderly conduct. By Thanksgiving he had met and been unceremoniously rejected by a fifteen-year-old girl, his one and only romantic foray: disappointed, he shaved his head, imagining he could win her back with evidence of his selfless faith; this romantic gesture was unsurprisingly spurned, and the girl’s mother pointedly warned him to stay away in future. It was January 13, 1972. Now completely friendless, he was growing ever more paranoid, and ever more eager for self-realization.

In March he began his Diary: the first half was found buried in a land-fill site in 1980. The first entry was a statement of intent: “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” These were ambitious targets, if nothing else: but they were chosen not out of any antipathy for the either, but for their celebrity. He was playing for political keeps: he would brutally annexe the fame of Nixon or Wallace. Nixon was the more famous, but Wallace, the populist and controversial racial-segregationist Governor of Alabama, was an appropriately accessible alternative. On April 3 he arrived in New York, on a Nixon-hunt. The entries which follow are interminably tedious: badly punctuated inventories of his dull, valetudinarian (“I am one sick assissin”) routine, including an abortive entrée into a massage parlour, which he somehow manages to escape with his virginity intact. There’s a certain naivete about Bremer which makes him teflon-resistant to hate: we can despise and pity, perhaps - but never hate.

“The funnyest thing happened to me when I arrived in NY just after I got off the plane. I forgot my guns! I was in a washroom when I heard my name over the loud speaker. WOW! The captain of the plane smiled & nodded as he gave me them.” AHB, April 21, 1972.

Calamity followed calamity: after retrieving his guns from the pilot, Bremer followed the President to Canada. He forgot his driving license, and had to find an alernative route into the country. Lodging in a Michigan hotel, he accidentally discharged a bullet from his 9mm Browning into the floor. Early in the morning, the intrepid assassinator struck on the brilliant idea of secreting his guns near the rear wheel: he promptly lost the 9mm in the wheelpit, and was unable to recover it – his .38 would have to do. Arriving in Canada, he soon became hopelessly lost. His attempt in Ottawa was foiled by Canadian demonstrators whose sense of political reality was undoubtedly a good deal keener than his own: they already knew Nixon was finished, and they didn’t carry guns. Harding Lemay has noted cogently that, as he neared his victim, Bremer’s prevailing emotion was not overwhelming hatred, but rather a steadily increasing and faintly unsettling familiarity: “Nixon” becomes “Nixon-boy”; then finally the appallingly matey-sounding “Nixy-boy”. By 4 May, he abandoned his hilariously ill-contrived scheme, and reverted to eliminating Governor George Wallace, the high priest of racial hatred in Alabama.

“tired of writing about it.
about what I was gonna do
about what I failed to do.
about what I failed to do again & again.
Travelling around like a hobo or some kind of comical character.”
AHB, April 24, 1972.

The project was stillborn from the beginning: Wallace was never more than an ersatz Nixon trailing clouds of faint glory, and Bremer knew it. He fully expected to die; that was part of the plan; but, as he so eloquently phrased it, “Who the hell ever got buried in ‘Bama for being great?”. He was constantly undermined; he was becoming aware of his own ridiculous impotence, and it was making him madder than ever, more eager for his lonely consummation. He could not or would not perceive that a glorious ending would be a non sequitur: it would have been utterly inappropriate. He even had his own catchphrase for the moment of Truth: he would shout, “A penny for your thoughts!”, as if he were some kind of gun-toting Guy Fawkes effigy. There are other, more profound moments in the Diary where the small enclave of sanity that remains in Bremer’s head is articulated touchingly: on May 7 he pauses, half-surprised at himself, and the tone is intriguingly confessional:

“Funny…I’ve got nothing to say.
Have I ever said anything?”

At moments of dreary, touching anfechtungen one sympathizes absolutely with the diarist: he is stripped of all his pompous-grandiloquent Man of Destiny regalia, and a truthful assessment prevails. Unfortunately, these moments are all too few: the mood of psychotic cupidity prevails, and the indicative displaces the subjunctive. His repellent self-exaltation resumes:

“I’m as important as the start of WW1 I just need the little opening & a second of time.” AHB, April 24, 1972.

He was a little man lost in a world of matter; unable to impose himself through the usual channels, he chose the line of least resistance: like a moth, he was drawn to celebrity without any understanding of his own desires. He confounded need with desire: he engaged in a lonely, doomed pursuit of the authentic without fully understanding the implications. The Diary has a full and complete cast of characters, but none of them are friends of Bremer, or his relatives: they’re merely acquaintances, workers, policemen, special agents, Presidents and Governors. He has no sounding-board; no-one to ground him, no-one who will listen to his complaints and talk sense back into him. Harding Lemay’s observation of the dreadful affection of Bremer – of his displaced quasi-erotic relationship with his proposed victims – is worth raising again: it is, in fact, more complex than this. We all draw sustenance from our friends, our points of closest contact: we unconsciously copy their mannerisms, their tone of speech, their modes of expression, even their appearance. Bremer’s closest point of contacts were his victims, and in his monomania he became a physical caricature of their cause. By the time the man the Times dismissed as a “strange little drifter” lunged forward at his “target of opportunity” for a reckoning, he was accoutred as a full-scale Wallacite, a ghastly parody of an American “good ‘ole boy”: short, blonde dressed in a comical red, white and blue shirt with “Wallace for President” badge-motif, shielding his eyes with sunglasses. He even out-clapped the true Wallacites, and the reader is forced to raise a smile at the thought of the terrible irony of the scene he so ingenuously describes:

“why was’t this crowd responsive? I DID THE MOST HAND CLAPPING, ALL THE SHOUTING, & WAS GOING TO START THREE DIFFERENT STANDING OVATIONS BUT FELT THE CROWD WOULDN’T FOLLOW ME….a great disappointment for him [Wallace] I bet. Poor guy. What would he have done without ME?” AHB, May 13, 1972.

But the humour is futile: Wallace was a preacher of racial hatred, but no-one, as the Reverend Jesse Jackson was quick to point out at the time, deserves to be treated like that: “Killing can no longer be justified, whether it is in Vietnam or Maryland or Memphis.” Wallace was crippled for life by the attack in Maryland, but survived the attack of the loner and continued his political career for another decade, his popularity magnified by the attack; Bremer, who failed – naturally - to die on the spot as he had planned, was sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment. He was as poor at political futurology as he was at stalking: Wallace’s reputation was inflated at the expense of his own.. Bremer had fluffed his lines at the kill-that-never-was; the “great assassinator” misfired five times and was quickly overpowered. He was more realistic in his retrospective analysis at the trial: asked after sentencing whether he had anything to say, he acknowledged that

“Looking back on my life, I would have liked it if society had protected me from myself.”

Prison can rehabilitate a man from crime; it can also rehabilitate failure, which, in the final analysis, was both the essence and the fountainhead of Bremer’s own crime. Even the Special Agents understood this: an unlikely dialogue sprang up between the Agents and the fallen assassinator as Wallace was rushed to hospital.

Bremer: “Did I kill him? Did I kill him?”

Officer Landrum: “Yeah, yeah. You killed him. He’s

Deputy State’s Attorney Femia: “You got him. You
killed him good.”

Reassurance. They knew Wallace was alive and well: “We had to tell him,” Femia explained; “it was very important to Bremer that he killed Wallace.” That one oddly touching exchange is the most heartening aspect of the whole case, and it restores one’s faith in humanity. If only they’d kept a diary.

Buy it at amazon
on 18 November 2002, 8.07 am
That was fantastic, Amaurote - if amazingly random. Nice to see you finally on the front page.

Note: It seems at certain resolutions the right hand table border disappears - this is a bug in the CSS and not Amaurote trying to nefariously take over the site. I hope.

on 18 November 2002, 5.20 pm
I'd forgoten to look at who's work i was reading untill halfway through when i just realised that i knew, i didnt have to look.
As always, class Am, pure class. If you hadn't slated the book i might have bought it!

on 4 August 2004, 6.19 am

on 4 August 2004, 6.21 am

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