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May 15, 1972: Third Party Candidate Shot; White House Orders Gunman’s Apartment Broken Into

Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace.Arthur Bremer being restrained after shooting George Wallace. [Source: Kansas City Star]Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50] Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 326; Reeves, 2001, pp. 480]
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 47-50]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Howard Simons, W. Mark Felt, George S. McGovern, Ken Clawson, E. Howard Hunt, Arthur Bremer, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, George C. Wallace

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

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