Memories of Aaron Bushnell As Recounted by His Friends

Aaron Bushnell with a cat

On February 25, Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire at the gate of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC as an act of protest against the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza. Hostile critics have attempted to shrug off Aaron’s action as the consequence of mental illness. On the contrary, Aaron’s choice was a political action arising from his deeply held anarchist convictions. In the following collection, CrimethInc. shares Aaron’s own summary of his politics, followed by testimony from three of Aaron’s close friends.

Author
Submitted by Steven. on February 29, 2024


An altar honoring Aaron’s life, at a vigil his friends held in remembrance of him on February 27.

As Aaron recounted to his comrades in a mutual aid group in San Antonio, he grew up in a very Christian conservative white enclave in Cape Cod. He was 18 years old when Donald Trump was elected; he joined the Air Force in 2019. While in the Air Force, he arrived at anarchist politics through a process of self-education.

In February 2023, Aaron prepared a document aimed at helping this group to become more cohesive. As another participant in the group told us, “Aaron sought to formalize and mature some of our organizing methods, and he felt that having deep and open discussion was a crucial first step for building long-term trust. He created a list of questions as a way for our ragtag group of lefties doing mutual aid to start a conversation with each other.”

In his own answers to these questions, Aaron states:

I am an anarchist, which means I believe in the abolition of all hierarchical power structures, especially capitalism and the state… I view the work we do as fighting back in the class war which the capitalist class wages on the rest of humanity. This also informs the way in which I want to organize, as I believe that any hierarchical power structure is bound to reproduce class dynamics and oppression. Thus, I want to engage in egalitarian forms of organizing that produce horizontal power structures based on mutual aid and solidarity, which are capable of liberating humans…

I favor consensus-based decision-making over “democratic” or voting-based governance.

In the same document, Aaron explained why he was committed to doing mutual aid work in solidarity with the unhoused:

I’ve always been bothered by the reality of homelessness, even back when I was growing up in a conservative community. I have come to believe in the importance of solidarity politics and I view the enforcement of homelessness as a major front in the class war which must be challenged for all our sakes. I view helping my houseless neighbors as a moral obligation, a matter of social justice, and a matter of good politics. If I don’t stand with those more marginalized than me today then who will be left to stand with me tomorrow.

I view enforced homelessness as a societal failing and a crime against humanity. I believe that no one deserves to be deprived of basic human necessities. I believe that homelessness as an involuntary condition must be abolished.

In the following three accounts, Aaron’s friends share their memories of who he was and how his life touched their lives.

If you wish to do something in Aaron’s memory, one option is to donate to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, which he mentioned in his will.


Aaron and friends watching a solar eclipse.


“Aaron Will Live Forever”

Lupe

Aaron will live forever. I know this, because everyone who was loved by Aaron will carry a bit of him in their soul, and everyone who witnessed his sacrifice will carry him in their minds. Aaron cherished life. He knew that in giving up his own, he could give the people of Palestine a chance to keep theirs. Aaron has permanently changed the fabric of your being. You know this because for the rest of your life, you will wrestle with the thought of what you will sacrifice for the liberation of others.

My friend said that everywhere Aaron went, he planted trees. I imagine these seeds planted in our hearts and minds. They will sprout, and they will grow into giant strong trees with deep roots built to weather the many battles that lie ahead on this burning planet. They will remain upright, like Aaron did, until they no longer can, but by then their own seeds will have been planted in the hearts of our loved ones, and they will grow into trees as well. They will continue this struggle until the beautiful world that Aaron knew we deserved is born.


Aaron Bushnell.


“He Was Someone We Really Needed”

T Bear

It seems a lot of people just saw Aaron as someone in the military. Online lefties and liberal media alike were quick to dispose of his words and actions, and choose instead to judge him based on puritanical ideals just as bad as the ones he’s been trying to escape his entire adult life.

I write this knowing it will be read by comrades. I want to say something profound that can make us reflect on why we have such a tendency to be so quick to treat others as disposable, but I don’t think I can. I hope that instead, you will carry the burden of finding an answer to that with me.

After a lifetime of engaging with anarchists, it was this recently radicalized, 25-year-old active-duty airman I spent two years with who showed me my chains—long before his decision to leave this earth. Aaron had this effect on every single person he met. He was incredibly committed to developing relationships based on deep trust and understanding—and would be the first to give you the raised brows for a snarky answer to an important question. He never let a potential harm go unaddressed. He embodied more than anyone I know the anarchist spirit, “that deeply human sentiment, which aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and love among the people.”1

He was someone we really needed here. I encourage you remember Aaron’s words and actions the next time you’re about to flatten someone’s lived experiences. I encourage you to reflect on your relationships, and how you can reduce control and coercive power dynamics. I encourage you to build deeper, and ever deeper, bonds with your comrades. Honor them now. It’s not worth losing them.


An altar honoring Aaron’s life, at a vigil his friends held in remembrance of him on February 27.


“My Friend Aaron”

E

My friend Aaron was kind, compassionate, and principled, sometimes to the point of being annoying, and he was incredibly reflective and willing to change to meet my needs in our relationship. He was one of my quickest and best friends.

I loved Aaron deeply. I have few regrets from my relationship with him. I was consistently vulnerable and open, which he returned in kind. I told him all the things I felt for him and often. I spent as much time with him as I possibly could and I am very grateful that I did. What I am most afraid of in this moment is that our relationship, our friendship, the deep, deep love I had for him, all of the little intimate moments, the bits, the laughs, the facts about his takes, all of it—I am afraid to be the only person holding that knowledge. I don’t want it to disappear, I don’t want it to be held only by me and my fallible memory. I just want people to know that I loved him.


An altar honoring Aaron’s life at the vigil at which Aaron’s friend read this text aloud.

Cult

I want to provide some background context on Aaron’s life. He shared this with me in confidence, but I feel OK sharing it with you all now because he is gone and I want to help contextualize him for you all. The press has also reached out to people from his past so it will be coming out regardless and I think it’s better y’all learn from a comrade.

Aaron was raised in a cult. A Christian sect and self-styled monastery called the Community of Jesus. In this cult, as is a quality of many cults, Aaron was kept busy constantly from a very young age. Through working as unpaid labor, engaging in intensive training for performance arts programs organized by the community, or engaging in worship. This traumatized him deeply, partially because he had to maintain that while grappling with his neurodivergence that interfered with his ability to perform tasks well. He had to learn to mask very young and felt that his childhood was stolen from him. As a teenager, he had to work every day at multiple jobs one summer in order to make enough money to pay superfluous fees for a performance arts program he was required to be in. Everything at the Community of Jesus was motivated by shame and guilt and the threat of ostracization. This affected him deeply and fundamentally shaped how he could and could not engage in building relationships with people. It is the reason he left SACC [San Antonio Collective Care], for his own protection. I was incredibly lucky to have been able to forge the relationship I did with him.


Being raised in a cult, essentially a small society with different cultural norms than ours, gave Aaron the ability to see and better identify the norms and qualities of our society that are harder for us to see because we have been conditioned within it. He could see the latent fascist logic and cult-like tendencies that we swim through every day. He could see and feel them in ways that I struggle to feel and understand beyond an intellectual level. He was always very cagey about his past and did his best not to lie. You may recall him saying things like “sort of” or “something like that” whenever he was asked questions about being in theatre or band.

When Aaron lived there, he was a full believer, engaging in all of the shaming rituals and cycles of harm. He was completely invested in that reality. The fact that he was able to escape that ideology and the visceral experience of the shattering of that worldview was one of the things that made him so incredibly principled and dedicated to the abolition of hierarchy.


Times He Changed and Reflected

We would text and I would accuse him of texting like a straight man (which he was). He would never use reaction emojis or punctuation or expressions of laughter like lol. It was incredibly annoying. And he made such an active effort to do those things after I asked him to, very quickly and consistently.

Once, Aaron and I were having a discussion, a political one about the ethics of eating and producing meat. As a former vegan, I had many takes, as did he. At one point, the conversation got to plants and Aaron expressed that he thought of plants as nothing more than biological machines completely devoid of life or at least the essence that makes something morally valuable and worth protecting, like sentient animals. I was honestly very shocked. I told him he was wrong, in more words than that, and told him to read Braiding Sweetgrass, kind of in the way you tell people to read books but never actually expect them to. Our conversation seemed to weigh heavy on him, it came up a few more times over the following weeks. On his drive up to Ohio, he listened to Braiding Sweetgrass and he was texting me about it. He really, really liked it. I think it reshaped some of his worldview.


Aaron with his beloved cat, Sugar.

Principled

Aaron saw hierarchy and injustice and his role in those systems and hated it. He felt a lot of guilt because of the situation he was raised in; guilt was the primary emotion through which he engaged with most things. I feel very sad that he was not able to heal from that fully before this.

He had so much love for his cats. The contradictions of owning someone you love weighed on him heavily. He was constantly thinking of how to best accommodate them and navigate this relationship of domination, complete control of their agency. I saw how it genuinely distressed him.

Aaron refused to say words like crazy, insane, or lame due to their roots in ableism and he got on me for my use of the word lame constantly. He wouldn’t say the word fuck because he saw its roots in misogyny and hetero-patriarchy.

Aaron also didn’t like the word democracy for reasons that are too long to explain; we would argue about it a lot, it was kind of a recurring bit.

Aaron deleted Signal before he self-immolated. A last act of security and love for his comrades.


Aaron serving food in Ohio as part of the mutual aid organization Serve the People Akron. “Aaron was a valued member of our organization and the community who immediately jumped in to help the unhoused and any project that came up. He was dependable and persistent with the mutual aid work he did in a city that was still new to him. We will be forever grateful for the effort he put in to make Akron a better place.”

Excerpts

I was very vulnerable and open with Aaron and I am proud of that. Vulnerability builds trust and deepens our bonds with each other; it is something that I actively work to cultivate in myself. To that end, I would like to share excerpts from two things I wrote to Aaron.

All of our relationships change us, shape us. When I look at the people, the friends, who I love the most, the people who I have the most secure loving relationships with, I can mark the ways that they have changed me. The mannerisms, habits, forms of speech, or worldviews that I adopted from them. It makes me feel so proud and thankful. There is no doubt that you have already changed me in ways that I will be proud of and thankful for, but I feel that one of the things that hurts most is mourning the loss of the ways that you could change me…

I wish I could know you more. There are so many other things I want to know about you and so many other things I want you to know about me. I wish I could get to see firsthand your continuing political development and I wish we could have closer impacts on each other’s development. I wish you could see mine, to change it and make me into a better revolutionary. I want to see you in struggle, to learn how to struggle next to you and to struggle with you. I want you to be here.

I keep imagining you here. Upon reflecting I am imagining you here but not as I know you, I am imagining you here and free. Free of your military indenturement. It brings me so much joy to imagine you free and in struggle, to imagine your joy.


Conclusion

I think it will be hard to grieve this loss without being able to be with his body. To not get to experience the physical and psychological effects of being with his body after he is gone.

I am feeling tiny and crushed by the magnitude and inertia of the systems we are fighting against. I feel tiny and helpless in the face of these systems that have existed for hundreds of years and will likely exist for hundreds more. I normally feel quite the opposite but right now I feel so small. How in this world do we find peace that is not complicity? I hope Aaron found his.

But the outpouring of support and parallel grief from you all and my comrades around the country has been immense and I am truly in awe. I used to tell Aaron about how sometimes I would get overcome with awe and love to the point of crying while thinking about my comrades. Y’all’s support has moved me to tears many times in the past few days. I don’t have words to express how much I love you all. I am just in constant and pure awe.


Aaron and his friends.

I want to end with two things, some words from Aaron’s will and a poem that he had been practicing to recite once he was out of the military.

From Aaron’s will:

“I am sorry to my brother and my friends for leaving you like this. Of course, if I was truly sorry, I wouldn’t be doing it. But the machine demands blood. None of this is fair.”

“I wish for my remains to be cremated. I do not wish for my ashes to be scattered or my remains to be buried as my body does not belong anywhere in this world. If a time comes when Palestinians regain control of their land, and if the people native to the land would be open to the possibility, I would love for my ashes to be scattered in a free Palestine.”


The Empire Raised Me

A Poem from Anansi’s Library

I was a soldier for her before I knew her name
Raised to die before I fully knew mine
Crafted by hand for eternal war
Raised for combat as the empire’s ward
I was raised a soldier
I was built for bowing down
To drop to my knees and worship at the sound of
Blood money capital and oil king’s crown
Obey our enforcers, pray to our flag
Our god is the state and war is her ballad
And you were raised a soldier
Stay your tongue child keep silent I beg
Don’t you know that our god can look into your head
See thoughts and images
Fears and dread and shape it all into will
Ask too many questions
Look through the fog
Set truth to deception and raise up the mob
Fight for real justice and soon you will see
The beauty of our weapons pointed straight at you and me
In the end this state knows no loyalty

For we were both raised soldiers
Peer through the windows and watch every street
Heed George Jackson’s words
Watch the pigs and never sleep
A muslin tall grass
A flashbang in the dark
Bombs for the masses
Soon the fires will start
A stalker in the nighttime
A predator
A drone
Tear gas and flames
Jack boots in your home
Door-to-door searches
To your knees dropping atone
Fearful and wordless we all look on
Toward the burning of Rome this can only progress
Toward panic in the streets
Police violence and unrest
Desperate riots to escape the cruelty
While the guilt is placed square on the shoulders of those in need
Fighting for justice is the greatest of sins
Punished by death since the empire began
And I was raised a soldier
Now the muzzle is at my back
The boots are at my door
The guns are all racked
And like my ancestors before
A hail of bullets will set me free
Express one day delivery
From your state god to thee
Expect from your lord no loyalty
For I was raised a soldier



  1. “By anarchist spirit I mean that deeply human sentiment, which aims at the good of all, freedom and justice for all, solidarity and love among the people; which is not an exclusive characteristic only of self-declared anarchists, but inspires all people who have a generous heart and an open mind.” Errico Malatesta, Umanita Nova, April 13, 1922

Taken from https://crimethinc.com/2024/02/29/memories-of-aaron-bushnell-as-recounted-by-his-friends

Comments

westartfromhere

1 month 2 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on February 29, 2024

Shudder to think what atrocious acts of violence Aaron must have been exposed to in his role as cyber-defense operations specialist to commit such an act of violence on himself because of the atrocious acts of violence by another nation state.

Some more tributes paid to his poem on blood money capital:

Lauren Bastin: Poetry does such a good job of capturing emotions in a way that a more traditional speech can never do, there’s such a lyrical element to your delivery and it really helps sell the impact of what is being said
AmanirenaIl: This might be my new favorite poem.
outlikeabitch: A year late but this is good on an eternal scale
ProletariatHiking: So talented 🤍
NotHPotter: I'm an infantry vet. Hit it right on the head.
elluchadork: Beautiful

The future is, in the word of Leonard Cohen, murder, unless we can each be prepared to take such selfless acts as Aaron Bushnell's, but please, not in such a fashion.

One important function of computing is the separation, provided by automated weapons systems, between the war makers and those attacked. Computers are a vital part of technological weapons systems that remove military personnel from the blood and agony of war fighting. High-altitude bombing, the electronic battlefield, crewless vehicles, and a host of other techniques have increasingly removed soldiers, not to mention officers, from the formal scene of the fighting... This separation makes it possible, at least for some, to wreak devastation with less of the moral revulsion that results from seeing the consequences of one's action directly.

Computing and war, Published in Peace & Change, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1989, pp. 203-222

adri

1 month 2 weeks ago

Submitted by adri on March 1, 2024

Crimethinc. wrote: On the contrary, Aaron’s choice was a political action arising from his deeply held anarchist convictions.

Self-immolation is a tool in the anarchist toolbox of tactics now?

I could name a thousand of other things this "anarchist" could have done instead to help stop the Israeli assault on Gaza (e.g. disrupting events, obstructing the flow of arms to Israel, etc.). What did he also achieve? To be lauded by Hamas? To have the Pentagon Press Secretary repeat, in response to Bushnell's death, that American support for Israel's right to so-called self-defense is "ironclad"? It's also probably ill-advised to go around promoting, which is what this article by Crimethinc seems like, such extreme forms of protest unless one wants to encourage others to do the same. More alarming is that nowhere in this article do they express any kind of disapproval of such entirely unnecessary and extremist acts.

Aaron refused to say words like crazy, insane, or lame due to their roots in ableism and he got on me for my use of the word lame constantly. He wouldn’t say the word fuck because he saw its roots in misogyny and hetero-patriarchy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6YF-nxc7XI

adri

1 month 2 weeks ago

Submitted by adri on March 1, 2024

It seems that Crimethinc has actually expressed disapproval, but in an entirely separate article:

Just as we have a responsibility not to show cowardice, we also have a responsibility not to promote sacrifice casually. We must not speak carelessly about taking risks, even risks that we have taken ourselves. It is one thing to expose oneself to risk; it is another thing to invite others to run risks, not knowing what the consequences might be for them.

And here, we are not speaking about a risk, but about the worst of all certainties.

Let’s not glamorize the decision to end one’s life, nor celebrate anything with such permanent repercussions. Rather than exalting Aaron as a martyr and encouraging others to emulate him, we honor his memory, but we exhort you to take a different path.

westartfromhere

1 month 2 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on March 1, 2024

On Mohamed Bouazizi, the man that literally sparked revolution:

“The fact they decided to stop being afraid of the government changed everything.”

When Mohamed was younger, people called him Basbous, which Ali [cousin of Mohamed Bouazizi] translates as “someone who makes jokes”.

“He used to be a funny guy who laughed a lot,” he recalls. “But in the last years of his life, he’d lost his sense of humour because of the daily stress he experienced.”

Mohamed’s father worked in Libya, but died of heart failure when his son was just three years old, Ali explains. So, from an early age, Mohamed supported his mother and six siblings.

“Every day, he took his cart to the wholesale market at midnight to buy fruit and vegetables, which he would sell from early the next morning until evening,” he recalls.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a week before his self-immolation: "I’m so fed up and tired," he told him. ‘I can’t breathe anymore".

Corruption within the police and among government officers was common. The police always harassed Mohamed, says Ali. “Because he worked illegally, they demanded bribes from him. Either he had to give them money, part with everything he had earned that day, or they would confiscate his scales or his merchandise – the fruit and vegetables he was selling.”

“He would then go home to sleep a few hours, and then repeat that same routine over and over again. He was always occupied with work and paying back his debts.”

On the morning of December 17, 2010, police had confiscated Mohamed’s scales because he was working as a street vendor without a permit. He went to complain to the governor at the provincial government building in Sidi Bouzid, but he refused to see him. In an act of sheer desperation and protest, Mohamed set himself alight on the street outside. ...a taxi driver who had used his own jacket to put out the fire engulfing Mohamed, came to Ali and screamed: “Ali, it is Mohamed! It is Basbous, the good man.”

Ali says he was so shocked he cried. He managed to film the gathering crowd and, after Mohamed was taken to hospital by ambulance, the growing number of protesters outside the government building.

“At first, they were only a handful of family members and close friends”, he says, all shocked and demanding to see officials in the building. “Other people were watching from a distance,” he recalls.

But then more people joined – dozens, “perhaps hundreds”, Ali says now – eventually forcing their way into the building. The governor also refused to meet with them and then fled.

Aaron's life was his own to do as he saw fit with it, ideology aside. Time will tell whether we act upon his actions as the working people of the Maghreb did.

westartfromhere

1 month 2 weeks ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on March 1, 2024

More tributes to Aaaron Bushnell:

zoeygeorge: Aaron Bushnell, you will live forever.
miseendriste: rest easy, soldier of humanity
jazzman: I wish I could've known you, brother.
weylinwebber: I did not know you but would have loved to pick your mind over anything for hours. Thank you Aaron.
KonaduKofi: Dude was so precious
WitchOracle: May your sacrifice not be in vain, thank you, Aaron, bless you
8lec_R: Rest in power Aaron
Ismael-kc3ry: This comment’s a part of history now. Rest in peace Aaron.
writethepath: ⚡️
EExpressions: This art is so beautiful. Aaron Bushnell i absolutely love you. The clarity and steadfastness you embody. You are being honored in Yemen, in Palestine. And yes your ashes will be scattered on a FREE PALESTINE ❤ Top salute to you. Deep respect.
miscellaneous: Rest in Peace Aaron :( Thank you for your sacrifice in hope of a fairer world
lagrangian: RIP Aarson
Sindowne: Rest in power king.
kyokari: YOU WERE AMAZING. I HOPE ITS PEACEFUL ON THE OTHER SIDE
kaitskiba: The world lost Aaron 3 days before I was supposed to give birth to the baby I lost six months ago. For six months I’ve been looking for a cool anarchist from history to name the baby after. Anyways this poem inspired me to write my own:
I was a mother before I even knew my mother had a name.
Raised to lay down my life to bring forth the next generation.
Raised to be the next generation’s first propaganda machine.

I was raised a mother

I was built to push out the next generation of the empire’s foot soldiers. 

To drop to my knees and worship at the sound of 
golden chains and natural childbirth

Obey our husbands, pray to our flag

Our god is the state and war is his mandate
And you were raised a mother

Given a doll to feed and diaper while you’re still being fed and diapered
Get an abortion
Mourn a miscarriage for too long

Fight for real reproductive justice and soon you will see
The danger within mothers reflected back at you

A pop of the hand

A cut of the eyes
Babies are already ripped from their parents arms
To be given to the woman raised a mother
To be raised as a mother

Numb and mute we all look on

Fighting for justice is the greatest of sins
Punished by death since the patriarchy began

And I was raised a mother
jamieocean7: Aaron, thank you. ♥️
chickengogo: rest in power
lurji: rest in power aaron. we love you
kaitskiba94: hon, I love this so much ❤️‍🔥
livertiny: You did so much more than any of us are willing to do. We will carry on your voice.
starcapture: I love you so much, how could we let them stole you from us. rest in peace friend.

KodieKulp

1 month 1 week ago

Submitted by KodieKulp on March 11, 2024

The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak
Archibald MacLeish

Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts.

They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us.

They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done.

They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.

They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.

They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say: it is you who must say this.

They say, We leave you our deaths: give them their meaning: give them an end to the war and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their meaning.

We were young, they say. We have died. Remember us.