Climate Activist Dies After Lighting Himself Ablaze On Supreme Court Steps
Alvaro Medina Jurado via Getty Images

A Colorado man has died 24 hours after lighting himself on fire in front of the United States Supreme Court on Earth Day as part of what appears to be a religious protest against the use of fossil fuels and in order to bring attention to climate change.

On Friday evening, Washington, D.C., first responders airlifted Wynn Bruce, a 50-year-old climate activist, to a local hospital after he engulfed himself in flames. He later died Saturday evening despite medical efforts to save his life.

Those reportedly close to Bruce are emphasizing that he did not consider this to be an act of suicide, rather that he was simply practicing Shambhala Buddhism and viewed the intentional act as one of self-immolation in order to draw attention to the supposedly damaging effects of climate change.

On Twitter, Zen Buddhist priest and environmental scientist Dr. K Kritee tweeted, “This guy was my friend. He meditated with our sangha. This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis.”

Self-immolation is a centuries-old practice, but was popularized during the Vietnam War era after a Buddhist monk called Thich Quang Duc “sat down in the lotus position, crossing his legs. Some other monks poured petrol over him and then he set himself on fire and burned to death while sitting in this position” in Saigon to protest the Vietnamese treatment of Buddhists in the country, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) noted in 2016.

“We are piecing together info but he had been planning it for at least one year. #wynnbruce I am so moved,” Kritee added.

The New York Post reported that a Facebook page “belonging to a person named Wynn Bruce said he was a Buddhist and a climate activist.”

“In 2020, Bruce left a cryptic Facebook comment that included a fire emoji and the date of his death, 4/22/2022,” the Post added.

Bruce is not the first climate activist to kill himself via self-immolation. In 2018, a prominent LGBT attorney named Bruce Buckell lit himself on fire in New York in the name of environmentalism.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” Buckell said in his suicide note.

“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” he added.

Simanti Lahiri, a political scientist at Villanova University, told ABC that most people who self-immolate as a form of protest “see themselves as part of a larger tradition of non-violent resistance, but that said, these are intensely violent acts they are perpetrating on their own bodies.”

“Suicide protest has the ability to harness both the morality of non-violent action with the visceral nature of violent action,” Lahiri added in her explanation of why people choose to light themselves on fire.

As of press time, it is unclear whether or not Bruce had left behind a suicide note explaining his actions.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline for individuals in crisis or distress or for those looking to help someone else. It is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

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