Aaron Bushnell: How Western Media Failed His Legacy

Instead of recognizing Aaron Bushnell’s self immolation as an act of protest in response to the ongoing atrocities in Palestine, mainstream American media sources have spun the story and buried his message. What is the true reality behind his actions?
Carlos Latuff on X, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons
Carlos Latuff on X, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

On February 25, 2024, Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy while yelling “Free Palestine” in protest of the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Bushnell succumbed to his wounds hours later. Despite his intentions to raise awareness, Western mainstream media has twisted the story, leaving out the most critical details and making him out to be a madman. 

One article by the Washington Post was titled “Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past.” Another article by the New York Times was headlined “Airman Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in Washington, Air Force Says.” Despite being two of the biggest newspapers across the country, both sources failed to headline anything regarding Palestine and the genocide he aimed to protest.

An article by The Intercept titled “Will Aaron Bushnell’s Death Trigger Anarchism Witch Hunt?” even went as far as highlighting claims that Bushnell’s actions were “in support of terrorism” while featuring a letter from former Army members asking  “why and how the Pentagon could tolerate an airman like Bushnell in its ranks.” 

Compare these headlines to Al Jazeera which released an article titled “Suicide Vs Genocide: Rest In Peace Aaron Bushnell.” Al Jazeera highlighted how rather than examining the atrocities that led to his self-immolation, Western media began insinuating mental health issues.”

While the public has labeled Bushnell’s act of protests as barbaric, Al Jazeera emphasized that the reality of the Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation includes burning to death, especially given Israel’s illegal use of white phosphorus and relentless bombing of civilians. They also highlighted Bushnell’s statement that “compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, [this] is not extreme at all,” as a clear indication that he understood the magnitude of his actions as well as the suffering he aimed to highlight.

The reality is that Bushnell was a Cyber Defense Operations Specialist for the United States Air Force but prepared to leave after witnessing their “flippant attitudes toward violence within the force.” The reality is that Bushnell’s self-immolation was strategically planned as he live-streamed the whole incident and even contacted officials prior to his act of protest to ensure that there was a response. The reality is that Bushnell’s death could have been prevented if instead of pointing a gun at him, the police officer on duty did something to assist him rather than watching him burn. The reality is that as tragic as self-immolation is, this action is a form of protest that has historically taken place–from making a statement in regards to the persecution of Buddhists during the Vietnam War to more recently, environmental activists trying to bring attention to the ongoing climate crisis

Ultimately, the reality is that Bushnell’s self-immolation was an act of protest and despite the shortcomings of Western media, it is imperative that Bushnell’s message is heard loud and clear: More than 30,000 Palestinian civilians have been slaughtered and as Americans. We are all complicit.

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  • L

    LadanMar 25, 2024 at 12:52 am

    Thank you for writing this insightful piece, Shaheera! There has been far too much misinformation being spread after Bushnell’s self-immolation. I hope Bushnell rests in peace and his memory serves as a reminder that the psychological effects of the genocide in Gaza affect people all over the world, whether indirectly or directly.

    Reply
  • A

    Andrea B.Mar 24, 2024 at 12:26 am

    Awesome article, Shaheera!! Thank you so much for addressing this issue. I think a lot of people have trouble grasping the idea that life is more than just about self-preservation. It is unthinkable to them that somebody in their “right mind” could sacrifice themself, therefore they must be “mentally ill”. Or belong to a cult. Whatever to distract from the point. They would never do it, so “that man must be crazy.” Ultimately falls into the lines of not being able to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. And ignorance. Without knowing the atrocities being committed in Palestine, and an apparent lack of effort to dig deeper into the “why” of this act of self-immolation, many people would rather just believe what they want to believe. Thank you so much for putting your voice out there, we need to correct as many people who have false ideas about this event as possible.

    Reply
  • S

    SyedMar 23, 2024 at 6:38 pm

    Very strong piece written about the one of the strongest pieces written about Bushnell’s message against genocide.

    Reply
  • S

    SavvyMar 23, 2024 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you! Rest in Power Aaron Bushnell, Palestine will be Free

    Reply
  • J

    JesseMar 23, 2024 at 5:10 pm

    Wasn’t aware of most of this , great coverage!

    Reply
  • Y

    Yaseer HashemiMar 23, 2024 at 4:34 pm

    It was such a great read I really enjoyed it especially how your opening the eyes of the readers to what this Israel-Palestine conflict really is which its a genocide.

    Reply
  • C

    Casey JMar 23, 2024 at 4:18 pm

    A critical analysis on a deeply misrepresented issue. Refreshing to find an article that is amplifying SWANASA voices. I hope to see more articles like this going forward. Thank you Shaheera for putting this into perspective for a lot of us who may not be getting alternative analysis within our community! Aaron Bushnell gave his life in protest to illuminate the atrocities committed against Palestinians. Palestinians and Aaron deserve humanity.

    Reply
  • B

    BRMar 23, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    insightful and informative writing!! we absolutely need more of this!

    Reply
  • F

    FarahMar 23, 2024 at 3:47 pm

    Beautiful article. Thank you for your amazing work!!!

    Reply
    • W

      Willow DaunMar 28, 2024 at 2:43 pm

      Beautiful analysis of the misrepresentation of Aaron Bushnell’s protest and death, and the continuing genocide in Palestine. Thank you so much for calling question to main stream media for their disrespectful and deceitful reporting. Free Palestine!!

      Reply
  • R

    RaneemMar 23, 2024 at 3:44 pm

    Calling out misleading headlines aimed to confuse and misinform the public is exactly what is needed at this time. This country is complicit in an ongoing genocide and reporting difficult truths is what lies as the foundation of true journalism. Amazing article!

    Reply