Iranian Media Sensationalizes Tragic Suicide of US Airman Suspected of Setting Himself on Fire

Iranian state media has exploited the death of Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old member of the US Air Force who set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy on Sunday.

Bushnell died because of his actions. He stated he did it due to the war in Gaza and created a short video showing him dousing himself in liquid before setting himself on fire. Despite attempts by first responders to help and put out the fire, they were unable to save him.

Iran’s Press TV published an image of Bushnell and has exploited the tragedy. The Iranian media in Farsi does not seem to have the same adoration for the act, possibly because self-immolation is not acceptable in Iran. However, Iranian regime media in English is using this to escalate the crisis around the war in Gaza.

The Press TV post mentions that “Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty member of the US Air Force, set himself on fire outside the embassy of the Israeli regime in protest against the campaign of death and destruction in Gaza. He died Saturday night, US officials say.” They added a hashtag with his name. Press TV also created an image of the airman with a quote where he said he planned an “extreme act of protest.”

The social media reaction

Support for Bushnell’s actions has spread on social media, mainly by individuals who are pro-Iran or pro-Palestinian. These voices are mostly in the West and have adopted extreme views to exploit them.

A man identified as US Air Force soldier Aaron Bushnell, 25, moments before setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. (credit: screenshot)

The campaign supporting Bushnell’s actions appears coordinated, with some accounts using the term “self-immolate.” It is unlikely that many suddenly learned this term, suggesting the use of talking points. The aim is to soften the harshness of the act by using the word “immolate” instead of “burn oneself to death.”

Why is the Iranian regime exploiting this tragedy in English-language media but not elsewhere? It is likely to stir up crisis in the West, even though they may not approve of Bushnell’s actions in the Middle East or other regions.

There is a complex background behind this decision, but it seems that Iran and its Western supporters, some sympathetic to regimes backing Hamas, want to create controversy. While they do not condone people setting themselves on fire, they believe such tragedies can benefit their cause. They are adept at tailoring their message for Western and domestic audiences.

For example, pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen did not prominently feature articles on Bushnell in Arabic on February 27 on its website. However, Al-Jazeera in English had an op-ed titled ‘Suicide vs genocide: Rest in power, Aaron Bushnell: Bushnell’s extreme act of protest has put Western corporate media to shame.’ The difference in coverage and perception between Arabic and English media, especially those supportive of Iran and Hamas, is noteworthy.