'Free Palestine!': U.S. Airman Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israel Embassy to Protest Genocide

In a video shared by journalist Talia Jane, the active-duty Air Force member said he "will no longer be complicit in genocide."

Emergency vehicles and bystanders outside a building on a city street
Image via Getty/MANDEL NGAN/AFP
Emergency vehicles and bystanders outside a building on a city street

Content warning: This article contains graphic images and footage.

An active-duty member of the United States Air Force has died after setting himself on fire in front of the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. while screaming “Free Palestine!”

The self-immolation protest occurred on Sunday afternoon at around 1:00 p.m. local time, per D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. In footage shared by independent reporter Talia Jane, Aaron Bushnell—a 25-year-old airman from San Antonio, Texas—is seen telling the camera that this act is being done in protest of the ongoing violence in Gaza.

“I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide," Bushnell said. "I’m 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.”

At this point, Bushnell is seen dumping a liquid over his body.

“Free Palestine,” he says before setting himself on fire as people are heard in the background starting to approach. He repeats “Free Palestine!” several more times, eventually screaming it as his body burns.

Officers are then heard screaming at Bushnell to get on the ground despite the fact that he is on fire. Later into the video, a cop is seen pointing his gun at Bushnell, again despite the fact that he is on fire and on the ground. 

“I don’t need guns! I need fire extinguishers!” one responding official is heard shouting.

Tweet with a video of an airman on fire; user Talia Jane updates on the Israeli embassy self-immolation incident
A man in military uniform speaks to someone off-camera; a tweet by Talia Jane discusses a blurred image consent

Although initially reported to have been critically injured, Bushnell was later confirmed to have died as a result of his injuries, per police.

"On February 25, 2024, at approximately 1:00 p.m., the Metropolitan Police Department responded to the 3500 block of International Drive, NW, to assist the United States Secret Service after a man set himself on fire in front of an embassy," a police rep told Complex on Monday. "He was transported by DC Fire and EMS to a local hospital where he later died. MPD is working with the USSS and ATF to investigate the incident. The man has been identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell, of San Antonio, TX."

In a separate statement to Complex, an Air Force rep also confirmed that Bushnell, whom they did not name, had “succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.” Per the rep, further information will be released “24 hours after next of kin notifications are complete.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli embassy spokesperson told Complex in an email, “No Embassy staff were injured and are safe.”

Complex has also reached out to the U.S. Secret Service for comment. This story may be updated.

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