On November 9, 1965, at the age of 22, Roger Allen LaPorte set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building in New York City to protest the Vietnam War. He was a former seminarian and a member of the Catholic Worker Movement. Despite his burns, he remained conscious and able to speak at the hospital. When asked why he set himself on fire, La Porte replied, “I’m a Catholic Worker. I’m against war, all wars. I did this as a religious action.” La Porte died the next day.
At least eight Americans set themselves on fire in public places to protest the war. Rhode Island College Students for a Democratic Society created and displayed a memorial of their acts in the RIC quad in 2006 as part of Diversity Week:
“to remind the audience of the extent to which people from all cultures and religious backgrounds have gone when committed to resistance to war and repression. The message of our display is in no way an endorsement for self-immolation. In a healthy democratic society, it should not be necessary for people to be driven to this extremism in order to have their pleas heard. It is nonetheless inspiring to consider what these actions reveal about human nature and its yearnings. They bear witness and are a testament to the extent to which the emotion known as compassion can move people. The majority of these people were devoutly pacifistic and religious Americans, who, feeling utterly frustrated with their efforts to halt escalations of the Vietnam conflict, decided on this action as their last plea for peace.”