Who Is Aaron Bushnell? Why Did US Air Force Member Set Himself On Fire Outside Israeli Embassy In Washington DC?

U.S. Air Force member set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in D.C. in protest of the Israel-Hamas war. He promoted his act by calling it his way of protesting against the ‘genocide.’

Published on Feb 26, 2024  |  06:38 PM IST |  94.6K
Aaron Bushnell
US Air Force member sets himself on fire (PC: Twitter)
Key Highlight
  • Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy
  • Bushnell's act was a stark message against what he perceived as the genocide

Trigger warning: This article contains references to war and tragic events

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, in apparent protest of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which he described as a genocide.

The incident

On a brisk afternoon in the nation's capital, a tragic incident unfolded outside the embassy, drawing the swift response of DC Fire and EMS (DC FEMS) and the U.S. Secret Service. At 12:58 p.m., emergency services were alerted to a situation that had already been brought under control by Secret Service members, who had extinguished a fire. 

However, their intervention was not solely for fire suppression; they were responding to what appeared to be an individual in the throes of a medical or mental health crisis. This revelation, shared by Secret Service spokesperson Joe Routh, shed light on the complex nature of the incident.

The gravity of the situation became apparent with the revelation of a burn victim, identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell. In a video captured at the scene, Bushnell identified himself, but his journey ended tragically that Sunday night when he succumbed to his injuries. 

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Independent journalist Talia Jane, who has been in contact with Bushnell's family and friends, shared this heartbreaking news on social media. Despite initial reports from DC FEMS indicating that an adult male had been transported to a nearby hospital with critical injuries, the identity, condition, and status of the individual remain unconfirmed by authorities when questioned by TIME.


Investigation and response

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) also had a role in the unfolding events, as they investigated a suspicious vehicle near the scene. Fortunately, their search yielded no hazardous materials, providing a measure of relief in an already tense situation. 

Embassy spokesperson Tal Naim confirmed that no embassy personnel were injured in the incident, a small silver lining amidst the chaos. However, the investigation into the incident is far from over. The Secret Service, MPD, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are all working together to piece together the events that led to this tragic outcome.

In a twist that added layers of complexity to the story, it was revealed that the man who set himself on fire was an active-duty airman. This information, confirmed by spokespersons for the U.S. Air Force, was shared with CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. 

This revelation raised questions about the individual's actions, given the Defense Department policy prohibiting active-duty service members from engaging in partisan political activity. Additionally, military regulations explicitly state that wearing the uniform during certain public activities, such as demonstrations, is not permitted.

Aaron Bushnell, the 25-year-old who identified himself in a video of the incident, was wearing fatigues at the time. His LinkedIn profile revealed that he was a DevOps engineer based in San Antonio, Texas. This information added a personal dimension to the story, providing insight into the life of the individual at the center of this tragic event.

Aaron Bushnell Set Himself On Fire  (PC: Twitter)

The protest and its message

Bushnell reportedly reached out to media outlets before his planned self-immolation, issuing a stark warning. "Today, I am planning to engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people," he declared. 

On Facebook Sunday morning, he elaborated on his motivations, asking a series of thought-provoking questions. "Many of us like to ask ourselves, 'What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?' The answer is you're doing it. Right now."

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Accompanying his message was a link to a live stream of his protest on the web-broadcasting platform Twitch. However, the video has since been removed by Twitch due to violations of its community guidelines and terms of service.

In footage reviewed by TIME, the airman, in a determined tone, declared, "I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I'm about to engage in an extreme act of protest," as he made his way toward the Israeli embassy. 

He juxtaposed his actions with the suffering endured by Palestinians, stating, "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."

As the airman prepared to ignite himself, voices off-camera, presumably belonging to unidentified law enforcement or security officers, could be heard asking, "Can I help you?" After setting himself on fire, he cried out "Free Palestine" repeatedly.

Context and reactions

Protests have become common against Israel's military actions in Gaza and U.S. support for Israel since the war started after an October 7 attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people. Gaza's health ministry, run by Hamas, has said that Tel Aviv's bombing of the area has killed around 30,000 people.

Israel's diplomatic offices have become places of protest against the war in the Middle East, and this isn't the first time someone has set themselves on fire outside them.

Self-immolation has a long history as a way of protesting, especially during the Vietnam War and in Tunisia during the Arab Spring. In December, an unnamed person with a Palestinian flag was left in critical condition after setting themselves on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta.

ALSO READ: Who Is Harshkumar Patel Aka 'Dirty Harry?' Indian-origin Man Arrested For Smuggling Family Who Died Near US-Canada Border

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FAQs

What was the motive behind Aaron Bushnell's self-immolation?
Bushnell protested the Israel-Hamas war, which he described as genocide against the Palestinian people.

What is the U.S. military's stance on political activity by active-duty service members?
The U.S. military prohibits active-duty service members from engaging in partisan political activity or wearing uniforms during public demonstrations.

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About The Author

Shovan has a Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism degree from Calcutta University. He loves to live in the

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