Burning Man arsonist dies on BART tracks in apparent suicide

Paul Addis, the man who set fire to the "Man" at Burning Man ahead of schedule in an act of arson, has died in an apparent suicide. (SFGAte via Disinfo)


  1. I’ve talked for a while to a guy who was the driver for Caltrain that hit someone committing suicide a few months prior. He had to go into therapy and has trouble sleeping and drank a lot (though we were in a bar at the time).

    People who commit suicide this way are selfish as well as disturbed.

    1. ++
      I wouldn’t even call it suicide, I’d call the ugliest form of self-aggrandizement.  The guy clearly had lethal levels of narcissism.

      1. It’s always a tragedy when someone kills themselves.  Even if that tragedy stretches back from the suicide itself to encompass the life they found themselves in.

        When we righteously declare that some people are “better off dead”, we deny how tragic it is that someone could ever have a life where that statement makes sense.  Everyone deserves to live, and everyone deserves reasons to live.

        1. The tragedy is the one he inflicted upon the innocent train driver and bystanders.  I don’t know who is righteously declaring that he is better off dead, he certainly ensured that he made a lot of other people worse off through his death.

          1. In Japan, when someone jumps in front of a train, the newspapers report how many people have been “inconvenienced”.

          2. The Japanese are not indifferent to suicide. 
            I realize you are making a funny and that I’m being pedantic, but reporting how long the trains were stopped for, who was affected, and for how long is extremely useful when the commuters from surrounding suburb cause your daytime population to swell to nearly double in size. 
            The trains stop just before midnight so such a report might mean not returning to your family until 6AM the next day.. 

      2. I work in the rail industry in the UK, and see/hear a lot of this. A strange new fad, however, seems to be the suicide “victim”(?) leaving large amounts of their estate to the train drivers.

        I’m still undecided as to whether that makes it better or worse…

        1. Whoa.  Bizarre.

          The one I really can’t get my head around are the people who think, “Oh, I’m ruined, I can’t make my house payments, etc. Better go kill my whole family, then myself. Because obviously, if I’m not around they’d be better off dead.”

    2. Hey, I have an idea: let’s shame depressed people with suicidal ideation!  Obviously they don’t have enough problems!

      (Hint: telling suicidal people they are selfish and disturbed isn’t likely to aid in any sort of recovery. In fact, given how depression manifests, it’s quite likely to make it worse.)

  2. I don’t know the full background to this guy or if he has a history of arson, but to label a recent suicide victim as an arsonist because he lit a bonfire ahead of schedule on a single occasion is stepping the line IMO. Also the article uses the fact that he has been to therapy as a stick to beat him with. This kind of reporting doesn’t lead others to seek help for fear of judgement and stigmatization.

    A friend of mine I was once studying with thought she had dyslexia, I asked her why not go to a doctor/board to see if she can get more time on the exams etc. She told me that she would rather work hard, take a lower score, than have prospective employers, doctors, or anyone else, see a paper record of a learning difficulty. At the time I thought she was nuts, but as time goes on I see she might well be right.

    I’m sure this guy was a little over the top to take his own life, but there are real arsonists out there who are psychotic scumbags, they kill people in the most horrible, cowardly way. the severity of the crime diminished by attributing the label to a prankster who (so far as I can see) only ever really harmed himself.

    Pretty sad story, I feel for the guys friends and family.

    1. ” to label a recent suicide victim as an arsonist because he lit a bonfire ahead of schedule on a single occasion”

      It was, sadly, the only thing this guy was known for doing in recent history. The context was discussed, so I don’t find it as offensive as you imply.

      1. Offence is not what I was trying to imply, more that feeling you sometimes get when you read a story, that it hasn’t been fully told.

        “A Bad Man Killed Himself”

        “The man was bad, He did this bad thing, he said a bad thing, one time to someone so he must be bad, also he sought medical help for being bad. We didn’t ask anyone what he was like a as person, or what good he may have done in his short life.”

        Half page story, likely never to be mentioned again.

        To me doesn’t seem an appropriate way to report a mans death. I’ve seen corrupt politicians who stole hundreds of millions, with state funerals, honour guards etc. and where anyone mentioned that they’re a thief and liar, it’s like ‘shhhh it’s not the time for that, it’s disrespectful’.

        1.  It certainly is interesting how many people are responding to news of this suicide by patting themselves on the back for being morally superior to this guy.

      2.  It’s not that he lit it early, it’s that he lit it with people still inside and underneath it. He put people’s lives at risk.

    2. I think that he’s an arsonist.  If I helped construct a huge sculpture with plans for a particular ceremony at a particular time and if some jackass burned it down, even if the intention was to destroy it AT THE CEREMONY I’d probably have to work very hard to contain my inner violence against that individual.  I would contain it, because we live in a society and societies don’t function when violence begets violence, but we are animals and those tendencies aren’t buried that deeply.

      I have some sympathy for those who knew him, but that sympathy is certainly tarnished by the man’s actions before he chose to kill himself.

      If he chose to kill himself because of the negative attention he received as a result of committing arson, then, well, perhaps he shouldn’t have committed arson.

      I am aware that everything that I say and do can possibly have consequences.  Understanding this causes me to evaluate what I say and do with care, and to know that some actions or words may close off avenues, and that’s not even getting into the realm of criminal or civil liability.  That’s common decency, a concept much discussed throughout the ages and seemingly seldom practiced, even though we pine about how it used to be and probably never really was.

    3. to label a recent suicide victim as an arsonist because he lit a bonfire ahead of schedule on a single occasion is stepping the line IMO

      It wasn’t only the incident when he lit the Man early, there was also this:

      Addis also had a brush with the law in 2008 in San Francisco when he was found with a backpack full of fireworks outside Grace Cathedral after telling neighbors the church “isn’t going to be there anymore.”
      He pleaded no contest to fireworks possession and was ordered to undergo counseling.

      The charge may have been “fireworks”, but what he was doing was intimating that he was going to burn down the cathedral.

    4. He was labeled an arsonist because he did two years in the pokey for arson when he endangered the lives of folks at Burning Man (leaving aside debatable property damage). There were people sleeping in the tent under the Man when he set it on fire.

      1. This.  
        I was actually at Burning Man when this happened and saw him do it.  It was my first burn, in fact, so I recall it quite vividly.  I recall sitting near the man, hearing a pop, watching him slide down the side of the tent that still had people in it, and run off.

        Burning a bonfire is one thing.  Setting fire to a wooden man on top of a tent full of people is completely another.

        I definitely feel sorry for the guy since he was clearly a bit disturbed, but let’s not pretend he just “lit a bonfire ahead of schedule.”

  3. In a Wired interview http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2007/08/addis the guy claimed to be part of “Black Rock Intelligence” and that all the other “operators” had committed suicide. 

    On the face of it, it’s simple BM hyperbole, inventing a group like that and giving them a Cloak and Dagger backstory.  However, it *does* make you wonder about his state of mind.  To me he appeared to be an attention whore.  While suicide has by many, many causes (and I am not in any way lessening the anguish of anyone in that situation, including Addis), a cry for attention is definitely one of them.

  4. Turns out a few people I know knew him. The story on him in the burner community is complex, and without knowing all the details, it’s nearly impossible to really explain.

    Burning Man lives as a paradox, of the collision of order and chaos. Hearing stories about the early years, it is easy to understand how someone who saw more and more order be imposed as the city grew larger, and was missing the insanity of old, would decide to throw things for a loop.

    It’s sad that he chose to commit suicide – someone who was that willing to stir shit up had to have gone to a very dark place indeed.

  5. I didn’t know he’d spent almost two years in prison for burning the Man. I do know that he did a great deal of research on the life of Hunter S. Thompson, and then created a one-man show that ran for several weeks in San Francisco.  Here’s an interview he did about it with R.U. Sirius.


    That was before he’d burned the Man, when I had some friends who knew Paul Addis and worked with him on some other projects. I don’t know if he had a biochemical condition, but he was obviously struggling to find the right sense of himself.  I like to think that somewhere inside of Paul was a man who’d wanted to fight the good fight.  Or to fight *a* good fight. If he could only figure out which one…

    1.  I’ve heard he took medication and had issues, which were under control when he did. I know no actual details of that though. He was a friend of friends and is much missed and people are saddened.

      I did see his one man Hunter S. Thompson show and I felt that it was well done and he did have merit as an artist and performer.

      It is sad that, regardless of the fact that he did commit arson, he did two years for that. That strikes me as extreme and I doubt it contributed to his overall stability over time.

      1. If someone commits a crime and goes to jail for it, I can’t really think of any aspect of the situation that isn’t sad, no matter how guilty they might be.

  6. that guy was a real American hero. 

    I’m sorry to hear that he couldn’t get help. My condolences to his loved ones. 

    1. His act of so-called ‘arson’ was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of happening at Burning Man. It laid bare the whole hypocrisy of the event. One minute everyone is for freedom and anarchy, the next minute those same people suddenly had a lot of important rules. Of course, the joke was completely lost on them. 

      1. Did you not read the thread? He set it on fire when there were people sleeping in it. That’s arson by even the narrowest and most forgiving definition.

  7. Bart riding had become too suburban and needed spontaneity.
    This was not an act of violence, it was one of love, of the ethos that is fading at train stations.
    There’s no sense of spontaneity. No sense of ‘F- it. Let’s jump under a train.’

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