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US Airman dead after lighting himself on fire in an 'extreme' act of protest against the war in Gaza

Secret Service agents near the Israeli embassy in Washington DC.
Secret Service agents near the Israeli embassy in Washington DC after a man set himself on fire there on February 25, 2024.Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
  • US Airman Aaron Bushnell lit himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in DC on Sunday.

  • He said he was protesting "the genocide of the Palestinian people."

  • The man died Sunday of his injuries, an Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider.

An active duty US Airman on Sunday died after he lit himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, in an act of protest against the war in Gaza.

Aaron Bushnell said in a live-streamed video on Twitch that he decided to "engage in an extreme act of protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people," according to a censored clip of the stream posted on X by independent journalist Talia Jane.

In the clip, Bushnell introduces himself as "an active duty member of the US Air Force," saying: "I will no longer be complicit in genocide."

"Compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it's not extreme at all," Bushnell says in the video.

He can then be seen pouring an unknown liquid from a water bottle onto his head and briefly struggling with his lighter before ignition.

In the video of Bushnell's self-immolation, security and police were seen responding to the airman as he was engulfed in flames and screamed "Free Palestine."

While some responding officers attempted to put the fire out with extinguishers, one could be seen in the video standing nearby with a gun drawn and calling for the burning man to get on the ground.

Self-immolation has a long history of being used as a form of extreme protest, Time reported, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War, during the Arab Spring, and in protests around the climate crisis.

"It's an act of despair," Ralph Young, a history professor at Temple University, told Time. "You feel that there's nothing that you can do, or that people are willing to do, so this is the ultimate sacrifice—yourself."

In addition to providing military support to Israel in the form of munitions and anti-missile systems, the US has increased its aid to the country by billions of dollars since the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

The US also recently vetoed a United Nations motion calling for a cease-fire and has stationed warships in the Red Sea conducting strikes against Houthi militias that have fired missiles toward commercial cargo ships in support of Hamas.

At least 28,064 Palestinians have been killed and more than 67,000 injured by retaliatory Israeli strikes on Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attacks, Reuters reported earlier this month. The Hamas attacks killed about 1,200 Israelis, and more have died in subsequent operations in Gaza, according to statistics from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A US Air Force spokesperson confirmed Bushnell's identity and death from his injuries to Business Insider in a statement, indicating he was a Senior Airman assigned to the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing. He had been on active duty since 2020.

"When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it," said US Air Force Col. Celina Noyes, 70th ISRW commander, in a statement emailed to BI. "We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell. Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this difficult time."

Per reporting by Jane, Bushnell's loved ones supported releasing his name and a censored video of his self-immolation, calling Bushnell "the kindest, gentlest, silliest little kid in the Air Force."

February 26, 2024: This story has been updated to reflect additional context surrounding Bushnell's death, along with a comment from an Air Force spokesperson.

Read the original article on Business Insider