The Most American Thing That Has Ever Happened

Caitlin Johnstone
4 min readFeb 26, 2024

Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

A man set himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington today. He said he did it in protest of the genocide in Gaza.

Independent journalist Talia Jane reports that she was able to obtain footage of the incident, which the unnamed man apparently recorded himself. Jane reports that the man said he is “an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force” and that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide.” After igniting he repeatedly yelled “Free Palestine.”

According to Jane, a police officer showed up pointing a gun at the man’s burning body; I guess that’s just what American cops do when they aren’t sure what to do. Someone who was actually trying to save the man reportedly yelled “I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers!”

This just might be the most American thing I have ever heard of. It’s more American than the fake bald eagle cries they put in Hollywood movies. It’s more American than monster trucks and mass shootings. You simply cannot fit more America into a single incident than a man dying a horrifying death in protest of war crimes while a first responder screams at cops to stop pointing their guns at him and go get fire extinguishers. If you were to pick a single moment in history to sum up the essence and expression of the US empire, that would be it.

The New York Times reports that the man “was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries and remains in critical condition.” A spokesman for the US Air Force has reportedly confirmed that the man is an active duty member.

“I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest,” the man reportedly recorded himself saying before the incident. “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.”

The nameless protestor is correct. People in Gaza are being burned alive, are suffocating to death under collapsed buildings, are having operations and amputations without anesthesia, are starving to death, are watching their loved ones die in front of them, are experiencing suffering of a degree that very few of us here in the west can even imagine. And our ruling class is absolutely attempting to normalize this for us.

This isn’t even the first self-immolation we’ve seen in protest of Israel’s US-backed atrocities after October 7; back in December an unnamed protester with a Palestinian flag self-immolated outside the Israeli consulate building in Atlanta.

And as I reflect on this I can’t help thinking, how many Israel supporters have self-immolated in protest of October 7? How many Israel supporters have self-immolated in protest of the super serious antisemitism crisis they claim is making Jews feel unsafe in their communities? Surely their grievances are just as serious and sincere as those of Palestine supporters, no?

Of course not. This has not happened and the very idea is laughable. Israel apologists insist that it is they and their favorite ethnostate who are the real victims in all this, rather than the population of Gaza who has seen tens of thousands of Palestinians annihilated while Israeli soldiers openly celebrate their mass displacement and death. But you don’t see them self-immolating; you see them cheerleading for ethnic cleansing and genocide. They wouldn’t do anything to cause themselves pain or inconvenience to promote their pet agenda. They wouldn’t even miss brunch for it.

It’s a horrific thing, burning alive. I suspect that pretty much everyone who’s ever self-immolated has had serious regrets about it within the first few seconds. There’s simply nothing one can do to prepare oneself for the experience of that kind of pain, or for how long it can take them to lose consciousness after it’s started. At that point the only comfort they could possibly offer themselves is that it can’t go on forever.

But the fact that anyone would ever take such a measure at all shows how profoundly urgent they recognize this issue to be, and how much more sincere they are about it than those on the other side.

UPDATE: The protester has died. His name was Aaron Bushnell.


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