An activist who set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court last week in an apparent climate protest has died.
The Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., confirmed over the weekend that Wynn Bruce, 50, of Boulder, Colorado, had died after lighting himself on fire, according to reports from local news site the Boulder Daily Camera and the New York Times.
The incident occurred around 6:30 p.m. EST on Friday, which was Earth Day, when Supreme Court officers spotted the man engulfed in flames. Less than half an hour before, he was spotted sitting on a bench, the reports note. Bruce was airlifted to the hospital Friday, and confirmed dead on Saturday.
Dr. Kritee Kanko, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and Zen Buddhist priest, wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning that Bruce was a friend, and that his act was “not suicide” but “a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis.”
“We are piecing together info, but he had been planning it for at least one year,” Kanko wrote.
As the Times reported, Bruce recently edited a 2021 comment under a Facebook post from a year earlier indicating the date of his planned self-immolation, next to a fire emoji.
Kanko told the Times she was not entirely sure of his intentions, but that “people are being driven to extreme amounts of climate grief and despair.” It’s her hope that young climate activists do not start thinking about self-immolation as an act of protest, she said.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that could strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority over pollution. West Virginia v. EPA has fossil fuel industry litigants battling for a strikedown of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which is not currently in effect. West Virginia petitioners most recently delivered arguments on Feb. 28 that, if taken seriously by the majority conservative Supreme Court, could remove the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The battle is widely considered one of the most consequential environmental cases in decades, and, while it’s unclear whether the tie was one Bruce considered in planning his protest, the Times points out that Bruce’s protest comes around two months after the most recent arguments.
Bruce was a photographer and climate activist that a friend, Marco DeGaetano, described to the Daily Camera as “upbeat, friendly, and positive.”
“He was always on a bicycle. I don’t think he owned a car; or if he did, he never used it,” DeGaetano said.