Everyone knows blood libels have consequences for their intended targets, but Aaron Bushnell’s suicide shows how deadly they can be to anyone who believes them.

Bushnell, a 25-year-old active-duty cyber-defense specialist in the Air Force, self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy on February 25. His reason for doing so—and for broadcasting it as it happened—is important not for the content but for the evidence of how pro-Hamas activists across the country have manipulated Bushnell and so many others.

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” Bushnell said, referring to “what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers.”

The claim that Israel is carrying out a genocide of the Palestinians is meritless, but its proponents already know that. This is what is known as Holocaust inversion, whereby some person or persons seek to lessen the historical judgment on Nazi Germany by assigning to its victims an equivalent judgment. It is a rhetorical tactic—one not without consequences, as the death of Aaron Bushnell reminds us.

That Bushnell was in the U.S. military is key to his post-suicide beatification by activists. His friend Levi Pierpont, who served with Bushnell and who left the force last year as a conscientious objector, eulogized Bushnell in the Guardian with this proclamation: “Aaron is by no means the only United States military member who has felt complicit in the military’s violence, powerless to change anything, and stuck waiting until the end of a four- or six-year contract. There are thousands of military members similarly distraught, having thoughts of taking extreme actions to escape something that feels inescapable.”

Bushnell felt that complicity, a writer for n+1 magazine theorized, working for “the US Air Force, the mightiest incendiary device that humans have ever constructed.”

He desperately needed people close to him to tell him they wanted him alive not dead. But if there were any such voices, they were clearly drowned out by the activist class falsely accusing him of complicity in genocide. In that way, Bushnell is less a conscientious objector than he is like Conrad Roy, the teenager who hesitated in taking his own life and was told by his girlfriend over the phone to get back in his truck as it was filling with carbon monoxide.

Bushnell represented something evil to these activists: the United States armed forces. Thus to them he was expendable. They came to bury him first, then to praise him. But oh, did they praise him. “Let us never forget the extraordinary courage and commitment of brother Aaron Bushnell who died for truth and justice!” tweeted professor and presidential candidate Cornel West. The suicide was, according to a writer for Current Affairs, “an act of courage and honor.” A professor at Gonzaga lamented he’d never “be able to muster up the courage of someone like Aaron Bushnell.”

Yet it’s hard to escape the conclusion that what they were attracted to wasn’t Bushnell’s courage but his vulnerability. A Veterans Affairs suicide prevention psychologist found in a 2017 study that guilt “had direct effects on” suicide ideation in military veterans. A 2021 study found that “[w]hen examined concurrently, guilt—but not shame—remained significantly associated with suicidal ideation, after accounting for effects of depressive symptoms and past suicide attempt.” According to an Ohio State Medical Center researcher, “literature has consistently implicated guilt in suicidality.” Those studies focused on the U.S. and UK. In similar research in Australia, “guilt was significantly associated with PTSD severity, anger, alcohol use, attempted suicide and being a contemporary veteran.”

I mention all of those simply to show that guilt, the category of emotion into which complicity falls, is nearly a universal marker of the chances of attempting suicide among military and veterans. It is emotional cyanide. The activists disrupting everyday life with cries of “genocide!” are feeding the population a steady dose of rat poison.

Redemption politics have always been a mainstay of extreme political movements—the Soviet gulags themselves were seen as purifying by their sociopathic wardens. And that concept is clearly driving the campaign of human sacrifice that has claimed real victims and whose ringleaders seem to be taking only encouragement from that fact.

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