Washington, DC

Man Set Himself On Fire In Front Of The US Supreme Court To Raise Awareness About Climate Change


He had allegedly been planning this act of protest for at least a year

US Supreme Court BuildingJarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL, CC BY-SA 3.0. Wiki Commons

Wynn Bruce was a 50-year-old climate change activist and a Buddhist. And this past Earth Day, April 22, 2022, he set himself on fire in front of the US Supreme Court. Though he was airlifted and taken for treatment, Bruce died the following day.

According to a friend, Bruce's choice to self-immolate was a “deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis…" He had allegedly been planning the event for at least a year.

Bruce even made a Facebook post online last year that said 04/22/22 with a fire emoji.

Still, it is unclear if anyone knew what he was planning.

There are only a few known instances of people in the United States setting themselves on fire as a means of creating attention around a topic. One documented case was in 2019 when a man set himself on fire outside the White House- he died, as is often the case. This is something that has come up a handful of times in the last decade, but rarely captures more than a moment of press attention.

While a trip into history will tell us a bit more about acts of self-sacrifice through hunger strikes and protests, self-immolation, or setting oneself on fire as a means of protest, is not something that most Americans have a working knowledge of.

Friends of Wynn Bruce have stated that they did not know what he was planning, and some have expressed heartbreak at his death. But in addition to sorrow, he is being heralded (by some) as a person who carried out a brave act of protest.

The Denver Post called Wynn’s actions an apparent act of protest and those words are significant — especially the word apparent. While the idea of this act being a protest was immediately spread, little is known or published on why he did this and what he believed it would accomplish in regards to his passion for educating people about climate change.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a noteworthy monk who passed away earlier this year, wrote a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1965 with the following words on the subject of self-immolation.

“The press spoke then of suicide, but in the essence, it is not. It is not even a protest. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with utmost courage, frankness, determination and sincerity.”

Thankfully, self-immolation has never become a common practice in the US, but in other countries it's much more prominent. In China there have been at least 85 deaths from this type of self-sacrifice over the last four years.

Some past activists who have died after setting themselves on fire have sent out some sort of explanation to the press offering insight. That was the case for David Buckel who passed away after self-immolating back in 2018.

What that in mind perhaps more will come to light on this case as it continues to be investigated. Meanwhile, no manifesto or explanation has been found.

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Writer, Performer, Activist. Founder of That's What She Didn't Say: Creating Healthy Conversations About Challenging Topics.

Los Angeles, CA

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