A protester with a Palestinian flag set themselves on fire Dec. 1 outside the Midtown Atlanta building that houses the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast.
The protester — whose identity has not been released publicly — suffered third-degree burns over 100 percent of their body and was reported to be in critical condition at Grady Hospital.
A security guard who tried to stop the self-immolation suffered burns to a wrist and leg. Television footage showed the guard, later identified by WSB-TV as Michael Harris, being placed in an ambulance, and taken to Grady Hospital.
Harris’ family told WSB that the protester was a woman.
Atlanta fire Chief Rod Smith told reporters at the scene that the protester arrived at the 1100 Spring Street building at 12.17 p.m., at which time “The security guard noticed that the individual was attempting to set themselves on fire. He immediately attempted, but failed, to stop the individual.”
Smith, who called the fire an act of arson, said that the protester was alone.
At the same press conference, Atlanta chief of police Darin Schierbaum said, “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest.”
“We do not believe there was any nexus to terrorism,” Schierbaum said, adding that “Right now, we’re not aware of any credible threat against this location, against the consulate or its staff or anyone in this building.”
In addition to the Atlanta Police Department’s Homeland Security Unit and Atlanta fire and rescue personnel, agents of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were present.
A photograph published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed an Atlanta fire department investigator carrying a red gasoline can. “We found evidence of gasoline being utilized as an accelerant,” Smith said.
In addition to the Palestinian flag, burned articles of clothing were found at the scene.
The building, a Selig Enterprises property, houses numerous businesses in addition to the Consulate. The sidewalk and street along Spring Street have been the site of pro- and anti-Israel demonstrations since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and about 240 kidnapped, and Israel’s subsequent retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, which has resulted in the deaths of 15,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.
Schierbaum said, “This department is aware of the tensions that are present right now in the Jewish community and in the Muslim community. We actually have dedicated patrols occurring at this location and at other Jewish and Muslim communities in the city.”
Brian Davis, community security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, told the AJT that he consults regularly with the Consulate’s security director. Davis said that from all appearances the protesters was a “lone actor” and posed no threat to the wider Jewish community.
As a precaution, the building housing the Federation and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum was evacuated for about 30 minutes, while Atlanta police performed a security sweep, and then reopened.
A statement issued by Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way. The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the City of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”
The security guard’s family told WSB that Harris suffered second- and third-degree burns. “He has a burn on his hand. He has a burn on his leg between his knee and his ankle. He has another one on his ankle on his left side,” Harris’ brother, Douglas Harris, told WSB.
“My brother is doing well under the circumstances. I was down there earlier today to see him. He’s in pretty good spirits. He’s just trying to wrap this whole thing around his head on what happened,” Douglas Harris said. “By the grace of G-d, that he’ll be okay in time. It’s going to take some time.”
Harris’ family said his military instincts kicked in when he tried to intervene to save the woman’s life. “My brother is an Army Veteran. As far as helping people. We were raised that way to help somebody. So, him doing that is not surprising for people who know him,” Douglas Harris said.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective reported that a candlelight vigil in solidarity with the protester was held outside the building. The online site quoted Adam Brunell, a participant, as saying: “In Judaism, we say may their memory be a blessing, and may their memory be a revolution. I hope all these folks whose lives have been taken – I hope they become a revolution. That’s my prayer.”
- Dave Schechter
- Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast
- Grady Hospital
- Michael Harris
- Atlanta fire Chief Rod Smith
- Darin Schierbaum
- Federal Bureau of Alcohol
- and Explosives
- Anat Sultan-Dadon
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
- Atlanta Community Press Collective