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"I Will No Longer Be Complicit in Genocide"

Updated: Mar 26

Aaron Bushnell Background 

Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old United States Air Force member passed away Sunday, February 26th after standing outside of the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC. and lighting himself on fire during a Live Stream video. 

Bushnell had texted his friend the day before and said, “I hope you’ll understand. I love you.”

Bushnell joined the military in May of 2020, signing a four-year contract that would expire in just a few months. At the time, Bushnell was stationed at Lackland AFB (Air Force Base) in San Antonio, Texas; although he was originally from Whitman, Massachusetts. Growing up, Bushnell was very religious and a part of the group– Community of Jesus. Other members of this group have spoken up about the abuse that arose in the religious group causing others to wonder about the mental state of Bushnell at the time. According to a family friend, and former Community of Jesus member, who spoke with the Washington Post, told the Post that “young people in the Community of Jesus often join the military, moving from ‘one high-control group to another high-control group.”

In the summer of 2016 after high school, Bushnell visited Israel with the Church group.

Other friends of Bushnell's say that he was excited to leave the Air Force in May and start a new chapter of his life as he has been doing a lot of self-reflecting in recent years. Bushnell's friends also say that he grew up very conservative but after the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter movement, he became super anti-imperialist even though he was a member of the military. 

Bushnell had texted his friend the day before and said, “I hope you’ll understand. I love you.” and the next day called, and continued in saying that as an anarchist, certain risks and actions are necessary to make a change. “A friend who spoke to the New York Post states that Bushnell spoke to him on the phone on Saturday night. Bushnell said that he had top-security clearance and that he was distressed by what he was seeing in Gaza. ‘He told me on Saturday that we have troops in those tunnels, that it’s U.S. soldiers participating in the killings,’’ the friend continued in saying, ‘[t]here’s just too many things I don’t know, but I can tell you that the tone of his voice just had something in it that told me he was scared.’”

An Extreme Act of Protest 

Hours before the protest Bushnell posted on Facebook,

“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”

In the Live Streamed event, Bushnell walked towards The Israeli Embassy with a waterbottle full of flammable liquid and said shakily, “I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” and continued in the video to say, “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.” After reaching the front gate Bushnell began to pour the liquid all over himself and initially light his pant leg while continuously screaming “Free Palestine”, until he no longer could.

Law enforcement officers ran over and told him to get on the ground and pointed a gun at him while Bushnell stood there struggling to continue chanting “Free Palestine” until he finally fell. Another Law enforcement officer can be heard continuously screaming for fire extinguishers and yelling back at the surrounding officers, “I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers.”

Self-Immolation as a Protest 

Self-immolation has been a form of protest for decades; starting to expand in the 1960s when television and mass media became popular, self-immolation grew dramatically due to the large audience that it could now reach. There have been many forms of self-immolation as a protest in the United States alone, “[h]is, [Aaron Bushnell], was the second such protest in the United States in recent months. In December, a woman with a Palestinian flag lit herself on fire outside of the Israeli consulate building in Atlanta; she was not identified, and she has remained hospitalized, currently listed in stable condition.” 

However, self-immolation has been happening as a form of protest all over the world, “One of the earliest examples of self-immolation as a political protest occurred in 1963 when a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc lit himself on fire in the streets of Saigon to protest anti-Buddhist discrimination by the South Vietnamese government, which the U.S. was backing in its fight against communist North Vietnam.” More recently, since 2009, Tibetans have been committing self-immolation as a form of protest against China's rule over Tibet and we can expect this to continue. 

Aftermath of Bushnell's Death

Bushnell was Pronounced dead at 10:06 pm that day. Hours beforehand he had emailed numerous left-leaning news websites informing them that he would be committing a “grand act of protest” later in the day. The video has been taken down continuously, but blurred versions can still be found online. The US Air Force confirmed on Monday that Bushnell was an active member of the Military. Bushnell's former High School and College, the University of Maryland Global Campus, have sent continuous condolences to his family as have the US Military. People who knew Bushnell said he was always helping others and was a very sympathetic person.

After his death, an analysis of Bushnell's social media led the public to believe that he regretted going into the military and had even posted: 

“I have been complicit in the violent domination of the world, and I will never get the blood off my hands.”

The DAF’s (Department of the Air Force) only response has been towards the family and offering their condolences.

Reactions Across the Globe

There is a continuous battle between the public deciding whether or not Bushnell was heroic and brave, or mentally unstable and incapable of getting the help he needed in the Military. Although she does not agree with his decision, Susan Wilkins, 59, who also lived in the Community of Jesus from 1970 to 2005, argues, “[b]ut from where we grew up, and having no say in what we really wanted or believed in, it is admirable what he did for people who don’t have a voice right now.”

Activists and social justice advocates expected people to project this incident onto mental illness because for years there has been a continuous attempt to cover up and depoliticize acts of self-immolation. “The tyranny of mental health stigma must be overthrown so that deaths like Bushnell’s can lead to more productive conversations about the content of political liberation.” To certain communities, it seems as if conversations regarding mental health arise from Bushnell's death, as opposed to the conversations he intended for us to have. There is also a divided reaction amongst political parties, left-leaning citizens believe that there are emotions tied to Bushnell's decision; however, these are feelings of oppression, a burdened conscience, and extreme compassion. These are all symptoms of living under exploitation and “[c]conservatives don’t want to connect all of those feelings to Bushnell’s protest. . .” The left believes The Conservative Party uses mental illness stigma in an attempt to censor us from believing the government could make someone do such a thing. 

“They expect us to be 'well' in a sick society — to be adjusted, as though we don’t get sick from sickening conditions.”

However, Conservatives think there is no reason “to exploit and glorify a suicide.” Suggesting that this will only lead to more copycats and ultimately death. 

Military Members on social media have been very against the protest and Bushnell, saying that as a member of the military you represent a whole. Members also mention that certain laws pertain to military members and protesting including what they put on social media: “[a]ny time you engage in social media, you’re representing the DAF [Department of the Air Force]. Don’t do anything that discredits you or our service.” Ultimately, military members and citizens seem to be divided on the protest, whereas, most citizens view Bushnell in a heroic manner, at least the vocal ones do.

Interviews with a Survivor

Hosni Kalaya, in January of 2011 attempted to self-immolate in response to the poverty crisis the Tunisians are experiencing in Sidi Bouzeid. Doctors say that Kalaya is lucky to survive, but he thinks otherwise. In an interview, Kalaya says it is impossible to understand the pain you feel during the protest and the smell of your own skin burning. He continues by saying, "If anyone really knew the pain they were going to experience, they would never have done it." 

Touti Ferid, 38, is also a self-immolation survivor in Subaytilah not far from Sidi Bouzeid. He mentions in an interview that it was an act of desperation and after losing numerous promised government jobs and his mother becoming sick with no way to help. . . he wanted the government to know it was their fault.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out for help. Call 911: If someone is in immediate danger, call 911. Call 988: Get connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

I would also like to emphasize that in no way am I encouraging students to deliberately look for the video online. This video is very graphic, even while blurred, and should be watched at your own discretion.

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1 commento

Membro sconosciuto
15 mar

A very important topic that isn't being spoken enough about right now so thank you for making this article. Rip Aaron Bushnell and Free Palestine!!

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