News Branch Air Force

Active-duty airman set himself on fire in front of Israeli embassy

Washington, D.C. emergency services took the man to a hospital with "critical life threatening injuries."
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Air Force airman on fire washington d.c.
(Screenshot via Talia Jane on X)

A newer version of this story was published Monday morning, Feb. 26, “Air Force member who set himself on fire in chilling protest video dies.”

An active-duty airman set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. today, in uniform. 

The District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department confirmed to Task & Purpose that they received a report about a man on fire outside the embassy just before 1 p.m. Eastern Time and dispatched emergency services. The fire had been extinguished by uniformed members of the Secret Service. EMS took the man to an area hospital, saying he was suffering from “critical life-threatening injuries.”

The incident appears to be in protest of Israel’s war in Gaza. Independent journalist Talia Jane obtained a video of the self-immolation, although it has not been posted online beyond accounts that are quickly taken down. On X, Jane posted that the man in Air Force uniform said he was “an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force and I will no longer be complicit in genocide.” Filming himself walking, he said that what he was going to do would be minimal compared to what is happening to Palestinians. He then set himself on fire and repeatedly shouted “Free Palestine.”

In the video, the airman identifies himself as Aaron Bushnell. A spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force confirmed to Task & Purpose that the man in uniform is an active-duty airman, however, the Air Force did not confirm the man’s identity or rank in the military.

Law enforcement responded, putting out the fire with three fire extinguishers. Law enforcement also drew a gun on the burning man during the incident, while he was screaming in pain. After emergency services transported the man to a hospital, authorities searched the area around the embassy. The Metropolitan Police Department responded and sent its Explosive Ordnance Disposal team to the scene to search a nearby car; nothing was found. Bushnell’s current status is unknown.

A LinkedIn account under Bushnell’s name with a picture matching the appearance of the airman in the video says that Bushnell has been in the Air Force since 2020. Per the account, Bushnell trained as a client systems technician, working in IT management and as a DevOps engineer for the last year. According to his LinkedIn account, Bushnell was pursuing a Bachelor of Science in software engineering at Southern New Hampshire University. He was “looking for SkillBridge programs to transfer [his] skills into the software engineering career field.”

Task & Purpose contacted the United States Secret Service about the incident but as of press time has not heard back.

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A press officer for the Department of Defense confirmed it was aware of the incident but did not have any information on the individual. 

The Israeli war in Gaza, which started following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, has resulted in the deaths of thousands and is still ongoing. In December, a person set themselves on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in protest of the war. 

Update 2/25/2024: This story has been updated with confirmation from the U.S. Air Force that the man who set himself on fire is an active-duty member of the Air Force.

Update 2/25/2024: This story has been updated with Bushnell’s name and information, as well as statements by the Metropolitan Police Department.

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