Ben Shapiro: When Radicals Cheer Self-Immolation

The perspectives and thoughts expressed in this op-ed are the exclusive purview of the author.

This week, a mentally disturbed anarchist and active-duty Air Force member named Aaron Bushnell lit himself on fire and proceeded to burn himself to death while shouting “Free Palestine” in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. In his suicide note, he explained just why he had self-immolated: “My name is Aaron Bushnell, and I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force. I will no longer be complicit in genocide. 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.”

Now, nearly every word of this note is factually wrong. The Israeli Defense Forces are not perpetrating a genocide in Gaza — far from it. The only genocidal force in the current Gaza conflict is Hamas, which seeks to kill every Jew — and also seeks as many Palestinian deaths for the cameras as humanly possible. Meanwhile, the IDF is taking extraordinary and unprecedented measures to protect civilian life even as genocidal Hamas terrorists hide themselves — and Israeli hostages — in tunnels beneath civilian areas and among civilians themselves. As John Spencer, chair of the Urban Warfare Studies Modern War Institute at West Point says, the “steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties is historic in comparison to all these other wars.” Despite Israel’s complete air superiority in Gaza, Israel has sent its own forces in on the ground in order to try to preserve life — and in the process, Israel has had nearly 240 soldiers killed and 1,400 injured in the Gaza Strip.

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But put aside Bushnell’s politics. The reality is that an American dousing himself with flammable liquid and then lighting a match is obviously a sign of mental disturbance that ought not be celebrated. No matter the rationale for such a suicide, the situation is a tragedy and a sin. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question here is how the American military allowed someone like Bushnell into the ranks.

And yet many members of the left are now cheering self-immolation — treating Bushnell as a martyr and a hero. Cornel West, who is currently running for president, tweeted, “Let us never forget the extraordinary courage and commitment of brother Aaron Bushnell who died for truth and justice!” Former Green Party candidate Jill Stein tweeted, “Rest in power Aaron Bushnell.”

This is dangerous stuff. It’s dangerous because it acts as an incentive to the disturbed to harm themselves and others in the name of supposedly virtuous politics. And indeed, the celebration of Bushnell’s death follows hard on the left’s embrace of riotous violence in 2020 in the name of George Floyd. So long as the cause is just, in the views of the left, any terrible act becomes merely an example of overzealousness. And extremism in pursuit of wokeness is no vice.

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Our political environment is facilitating dangerous insanity. It is easy enough for people like Cornel West and Jill Stein to celebrate the pseudo-heroism of disturbed people lighting themselves on fire. But both the mentally disturbed and our society pay the price for such celebration.

Ben Shapiro, 39, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and co-founder of Daily Wire+. He is a three-time New York Times bestselling author; his latest book is “The Authoritarian Moment: How The Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent.” To find out more about Ben Shapiro and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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