Media misrepresents Aaron Bushnell’s protest

His protest was for liberation, not the result of a mental health crisis.

Aaron Bushnell, an active duty member of the US Air Force went to the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and committed self-immolation, which is regarded as the most severe form of protest. He did this on Feb. 25 to voice his stance against the murder of the Palestinian people, stating, “I will no longer be complicit in this genocide,” before lighting himself on fire. His intentions with his protest were clear as he continuously shouted “Free Palestine” while burning.

Yet, when reporting on this, some media outlets reframed his actions as a mental health crisis, while others failed to go in-depth about the purpose of his protest. One headline from the Washington Post read, “Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past,” thus insinuating he was some sort of religious anarchist, a very dangerous insinuation to make in the US.

The headline from The New York Times read, “Man Dies After Setting Himself on Fire Outside Israeli Embassy in Washington, Air Force Says.” This phrasing separates Bushnell from his position as an active duty member of the Air Force. This title leads the reader to conclude that the Air Force commented on a random person’s self-immolation in front of the Israeli Embassy and not that the Air Force confirmed the man who set himself on fire in protest of Israeli policies and US involvement in genocide was an active duty member of the Air Force, which is what the title should have conveyed if the Times was properly reporting.

Channels such as Fox News, which can hardly be considered news at this point, reported, “Bushnell… lit himself on fire as a protest against Israel defending itself against Hamas terrorists following the Oct. 7 attacks.” This not only misrepresents what is happening in Gaza but also mischaracterizes Bushnell’s actions. The murder of 30,000 people cannot be considered “defending” oneself, and Israel is not targeting Hamas but rather journalists and civilians — primarily starved civilians in the North of Gaza, as is evidenced by the Flour Massacre on Feb. 29. Bushnell’s actions were in protest to circumstances like these.

Bushnell made it clear that he did what he did to draw attention to the murder of the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel and the involvement of the US in this genocide. Characterizing it otherwise perpetuates lies and shows a lack of journalistic integrity. However, it is not a secret that Fox News has a deficit in that aspect. Although critical thinking is hard, particularly for people who collectively share a single brain cell, Bushnell’s intentions behind his actions are not hard to discern, especially since he outright said them. When reporting on Bushnell’s motivations, news sites and sites that claim to be news need to convey Busnell’s reasoning behind his actions properly.

Bushnell’s final will expressed his hope for a liberated Palestine as he stated, “If a time comes when Palestinians regain control of their land,” he would like for his ashes to be scattered there “if the people native to the land would be open to the possibility.” Time will tell if his wishes are fulfilled and if Palestinians in the diaspora, Gaza and the West Bank will finally be able to return to their homeland, live and be laid to rest in the land of their forefathers.

Post Author: Heba Saleh