Aaron Bushnell: Friends talk about finding it difficult to understand US airman’s death during Gaza protest

Aaron Bushnell, 25, calmly approached the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, on Sunday morning, and lit himself on fire. Mr. Bushnell declared that he would “no longer be complicit in genocide” while wearing his US Air Force uniform. As he burnt, he yelled “Free Palestine” until he passed out. Soon after, he passed away in the hospital. Mr. Bushnell made sure that his self-immolation, which he called a “severe act of protest,” was viewed by a large audience outside of Washington by live-streaming it.

 

Despite the removal of his first video, it went viral on social media, and many protesting Israel’s war activities in Gaza have scheduled vigils in US cities this week in response to Mr. Bushnell’s suicide. The health ministry operated by Hamas reports that the dead toll there surpassed 30,000 this week. Others have voiced worries about his protest’s radical content and the possibility that it could serve as inspiration for other violent crimes. However, the loss of Mr. Bushnell has affected his friends even more personally. Even those closest to him were taken off guard by his self-immolation, and they are now juggling the grief of losing a friend with the need to understand what he did, as well as the sudden attention from the international media.

 

Friends and family in San Antonio, Texas, where Mr. Bushnell resided from 2020 until the end of last year while serving at the Lackland Air Force Base, described his passing as a “shockwave” that shook the community of activists and organizers. Mason Escamilla, a friend of Mr. Bushnell, told the BBC on Friday before a public vigil staged in a San Antonio park, “At first, there was just a lot of shock and sadness, that he felt this was the only action that he could do to bring attention to something that he cared heavily about.” “It’s hard that he chose these actions, it’s hard to comprehend even from people who sympathise with a ceasefire and the safety of Palestinian people and civilians,” Mr Escamilla, 25, stated.

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