Salvo 02.28.2024 10 minutes

Extremism on Duty

Hundreds mourn US airman who self-immolated at Israeli Embassy in protest of Gaza war

The suicide of Aaron Bushnell indicates that the military has not purged itself of dangerous ideologies.

Video footage of a U.S. Air Force Airman engulfed in flames on video this week brought back for me many terrible memories from Iraq. 

Unlike the brave heroes I knew who lost their lives to horrific burns inflicted by enemy action on the battlefield, this airman’s burns were self-inflicted, initiated out of a misplaced loyalty to a cause upheld by that same enemy.

The transformation of today’s Department of Defense (DoD) to one seemingly incapable of recognizing insider threats has also been self-inflicted. While it breaks my heart to see the current state of our military, it reinforces my belief that it’s time for accountability for its current leadership.

Aaron Bushnell, an Air Force Client Systems Technician based in San Antonio, Texas, live-streamed a video of his self-immolation outside the Israeli Embassy on Sunday February 25in which he covers himself in a flammable liquid which he ignites while yelling, “Free Palestine.”

The video was posted to the Internet using the live-stream service Twitch under the username “LillyAnarKitty,” beside a circle-A symbol commonly used by anarchists. A link to the account was sent to multiple left-leaning media outlets, including the Huffington Post as well as the Anarchist website CrimethINC. CrimethINC regularly posts manifestos or claims of responsibility for actions by anarchists around the world. CrimethINC cited an online social media post identifying Bushnell as a “principled anarchist.”

Bushnell subsequently died of his injuries and his death was immediately seized on for propaganda purposes, with a variety of images promoting the anarchist airman’s suicidal act, many of them apparently published by foreign actors.

One image instructs the reader to “refuse to be an accomplice to genocide – Honor Aaron Bushnell” before a stylized image of the deceased airman. Another image shows a saluting U.S. soldier engulfed in flames against a backdrop of a Palestinian flag.

On X, the hashtag “Rest in Power” trended, in reference to Bushnell. “Rest In Power” is a slogan commonly used in reference to anarchist, left-wing or Black Liberation extremists who are viewed as martyrs by their comrades.

A New York based Antifa activist and videographer known as Talia Jane cited “comrades” of Bushnell who claimed that Bushnell conducted activism on behalf of the “unhoused,” a common focus of anarchist mutual aid efforts. The Daily Mail reports that Bushnell’s Facebook account indicated support for two Ohio-based Anarchist groups, Burning River Anarchist Collective and Mutual Aid Street Solidarity, as well as a college Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, a group linked to propaganda support for Hamas and PFLP terror groups.

All available evidence suggests Bushnell was an open and acknowledged anarchist, which raises questions about his role as an active-duty airman with access to the Air Force IT Systems. According to military.com his assignments included being a “cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland” and being assigned to “the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Fort Meade in Maryland.” Bushnell’s case has similarities to other insider threat cases where individuals with sympathies for anarchist extremism engaged in espionage.

There should be a counterintelligence investigation conducted by the military to determine whether Bushnell inappropriately accessed any military systems or communicated with foreign or domestic anarchists or jihadists.

Based on my own experience, however, I believe it is unlikely we will see such an investigation.

On September 11, 2020, while in command of the Marine Corps only reserve Force Recon Company, I attended the U.S. Navy’s “Senior Leader’s Legal Course” after a summer where numerous cities were still reeling from violent riots that caused billions of dollars’ worth of economic damage as well as numerous injuries and deaths. A month earlier, a U.S. Air Force Security Forces Airman was arrested for participating in the burning of a police car during one of those riots.

During the course, I asked whether officers of the U.S. military have a professional duty to understand what foreign and domestic enemies are doing to subvert the U.S. Constitution, and referenced the published documents of revolutionary communist groups actively involved in the 2020 civil disorder. I pointed out that, 19 years after the 9/11 attacks, the DoD still doesn’t have a program of instruction on the doctrine that motivates jihadists and through which they seek to supplant our Constitution.

While I never received an official answer to my question, it was implicitly answered the following spring during the Biden Administration’s “Extremism Stand-Down” in 2021. Units were forced to stop every task related to military readiness. The DoD spent well over a million man-hours on this training.

The materials issued to the force in relation to the “Extremism Stand-Down” deliberately omitted examples of U.S. Army soldiers conducting terrible acts of jihadist terrorism. Also missing were any examples of servicemembers supporting Marxist BLM or Antifa violence. While I complied with the orders to conduct this “stand-down,” to ensure that my Marines received balanced education covering all relevant threats, I included jihadist and left wing extremism—which they very much appreciated.

Nor was my experience unique. Multiple service members complained that the “stand-down” training was ideologically slanted, and did not properly identify support for groups like Antifa or Black Lives Matter as inappropriate for active duty personnel.

It’s no surprise that today’s senior DoD leaders, trained in “diversity, equity, and inclusion” practices, didn’t identify BLM or Antifa as an extremist threat to the force. But the scary truth is that too many of the senior DoD leaders have more in common with Bushnell’s views than we might want to admit.

These are senior ranking men and women—both military officers and their civilian counterparts—who support woke policies and doctrines that condemn the United States of America as systemically racist, genocidal, and essentially unworthy of defending.

These are the same senior DoD leaders whose U.S. Strategic Command welcomed a keynote speaker who praised the Iranian terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for the kinds of the IEDs that horrifically burned my Marines.

When Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier, off-duty and in his personal capacity, attempted to highlight the DoD’s growing embrace of cultural Marxism, he was relieved of command and forced to resign his commission after 19 years of service.

Our military needs a major course correction, starting with accountability for those leaders who have shirked their duty to the Constitution to understand and counter its enemies, both foreign and domestic.

The promotion of these views by DoD Senior leadership will only lead to more Bushnells, men and women who put on the uniform and even risk their lives, not to protect America and her principles, but to harm them.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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