Why Some on the Left Are Praising the ‘Free Palestine’ Protester Who Died After Setting Himself on Fire

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, over the weekend. The airman, who was identified as 25-year-old Aaron Bushnell, allegedly engulfed himself in flames while yelling “free Palestine” because he could “no longer be complicit in genocide.” 

Curiously, the disturbing self-immolation has actually garnered praise and rationalization from certain factions of the media and left. On Tuesday’s show, Megyn was joined by Mary Katharine Ham, host of Getting Hammered, to discuss Bushnell’s death and the reaction to it.

What Happened

On Sunday, Bushnell recorded himself outside of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, pouring an unknown liquid onto his body and then igniting it while yelling “Free Palestine” repeatedly. He said he was doing so because his suffering was minimal compared to what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza. 

Megyn determined that the video, which has been circulating on social media, was “too disturbing” to show on the air, but she noted he did not die immediately. “It’s very, very bizarre to see this man on fire walking around and seemingly shouting,” she said. Police officers rushed to extinguish the flames as he collapsed to the ground. Bushnell was transported by emergency service personnel to a local hospital where he died on Monday.  

The Air Force confirmed that Bushnell was a cyber defense operations specialist assigned to the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Wing. He had been on active duty since May 2020. A source told The Washington Post that he was scheduled to leave the military this spring.

Reports indicate that Bushnell was raised at a religious compound in Orleans, Massachusetts, called the Community of Jesus. He eventually left the group, but the organization’s school is alleged to have created a toxic environment for students. “There are troubling things in this guy’s background, you won’t be surprised to learn,” Megyn noted. 

Additionally, people close to Bushnell told The Washington Post that he sent his friends a copy of his will on Sunday, giving his cat to a neighbor and his fridge full of root beer to an acquaintance. He had also apparently expressed that he was “outraged” by what was happening between Israel and Hamas, he believed no one “in charge was listening to protestors,” and he felt he had “privilege” as a “white man and a member of the military.”

The Reaction

Rather than react in terror to the suicide, two presidential candidates expressed praise for Bushnell’s actions. “The Cornel West post on the X takes the cake,” Megyn said. 

“Let us never forget the extraordinary courage and commitment of brother Aaron Bushnell  who died for truth and justice,” West wrote. “I pray for his precious loved ones! Let us rededicate ourselves to genuine solidarity with Palestinians undergoing genocidal attacks in real time!”

Green Party politician Jill Stein struck a similarly celebratory tone. She posted a screenshot of Bushnell engulfed in flames with the caption, “Rest in power Aaron Bushnell. ‘I will no longer be complicit in genocide. Free Palestine!’ May his sacrifice deepen our commitment to stop genocide now.”

Other supporters, like columnist Wajahat Ali, pushed back on claims of mental illness. “There is no evidence Aaron Bushnell was suffering from mental illness,” he wrote on X. “He was very clear about his reasoning for self immolation, the most extreme form of protest against what he believes is an ongoing genocide against Palestinians by Israel.”

Megyn was not moved by the defense. “There is no evidence Aaron Bushnell was suffering from mental illness other than the fact that he set himself on fire and took his own life at 25 in an act that will do absolutely nothing to change the national conversation around Palestine,” Megyn said. “They really do see this guy as totally sane and competent in body and mind and this is just a choice on the [protest] menu.”

In Ham’s view, the reaction has been “an even more disturbing” layer to an already “deeply disturbing and sad” story. “The idea that we have a society where major figures… are valorizing self-immolation is just insane to me,” she said. “This reaction actually made me disturbed in sort of a physical way. I had to put down my phone and walk away from this conversation because I was like, ‘What is happening here?’”

Ultimately, she believes it is a “frightening” commentary of the start of the U.S. today. “There are moments when you look around at your fellow Americans and… you go, ‘Are we living in the same world,” she concluded. “Because any society that starts glorifying self-immolation is on a very, very bad path.”

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Ham by tuning in to episode 732 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.