The Trump Trial Self-Immolation Is Part of a Startling Trend

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty

A conspiracy theorist from Florida who ranted online about the government set himself alight outside the Manhattan courtroom where Donald Trump’s criminal trial was underway on Friday afternoon—the latest in an alarming string of recent self-immolations in the U.S.

The courthouse self-immolation is at least the third instance in the past five months of an American setting themselves on fire in politically fueled protest, and the fourth in the past two years. Though the shocking incidents have varied in time, place, and motive, they all occurred outside major seats of power.

Here are other recent self-immolations that made headlines.

Uniformed Airman Aaron Bushnell Sets Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in D.C.

A 25-year-old active duty U.S. airman died after setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 25. Bushnell was wearing his uniform and livestreamed his last moments in protest of Israel’s actions in Gaza, which he called a “genocide.”

“My name is Aaron Bushnell,” he said on camera. “I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

Bushnell shouted “Free Palestine!” as he burned.

The fire was extinguished by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Service responders, and Bushnell was rushed to the hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds a short while later.

In memorial, the Palestinian town of Jericho in the West Bank named a road after the fallen airman. One of the city’s council members, Amani Rayan, told The Guardian, “This man gave all his privileges for the children of Gaza.”

Bushnell’s act caught international attention, but he wasn’t the first to self-immolate in protest of Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

Woman With Palestinian Flag Self-Immolates Near Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

In December, an unnamed woman set herself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, also protesting the country’s actions in Gaza. A Palestinian flag was found nearby as part of the protest.

The woman’s name, age, and gender were not officially released, but Fox’s Atlanta station identified her as female. The protester was eventually extinguished and rushed to the hospital in critical condition, but it’s unclear whether she was ever discharged or if she succumbed to her wounds. The act also injured an intervening security guard, who suffered severe burns as he tried to put out the flames but survived.

The woman committed the act on Dec. 1, the day after a 7-day Hamas-Israel ceasefire expired.

Climate Protester Self-Immolates Outside Supreme Court

Wynn Alan Bruce, a 50-year-old man from Colorado, self-immolated outside the nation’s highest court in April 2022. His friend Kritee Kanko, a fellow climate protester, said Bruce had been planning the action for at least a year, and that it was meant to bring attention to the growing climate crisis. She was clear in characterizing Bruce’s decision as an act of protest.

“This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to the climate crisis,” Kanko wrote on X.

Unlike the pro-Palestinian protesters, who had messages or symbols explaining their actions, Bruce did not directly reveal his motive for the extreme act. But he was a well-known climate activist who had posted multiple times about the crisis to his social media channels, and he committed the act on Earth Day that year.

Bruce was a practicing Buddhist as well as a climate activist, and a regular at sangha meditation meetings, according to those who knew him. In the last 15 years, hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists have set themselves alight to protest the Chinese government’s refusal to recognize their country.

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