Scene of self immolation outside Israeli embassy in Washington
Scene of self immolation outside Israeli embassy in WashingtonAnadolu via Reuters Connect

The US Air Force member who burned himself to death outside Israel’s embassy in Washington, DC, on Sunday, was an anarchist who grew up in a strict religious sect with links to a school in Canada that “controlled, intimidated and humiliated” students, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty US air force senior airman from San Antonio, Texas, died in hospital on Sunday several hours after he doused himself in a flammable liquid and set himself alight outside the Israeli embassy.

Bushnell, 25, livestreamed the self-immolation on the social media platform Twitch, declaring he “will no longer be complicit in genocide” and shouting “Free Palestine” before starting the fire.

According to Tuesday’s report, which cited The Washington Post, less than two weeks before the episode, Bushnell and a friend spoke by phone about what “sacrifices” were needed for them to be effective as anarchists.

Bushnell did not mention anything violent or self-sacrificial during the call, but on Sunday morning, just before setting himself on fire at about 1:00 p.m. outside the embassy, he texted the friend and wrote, “I hope you’ll understand. I love you. This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

The Post spoke with some people who described Bushnell’s upbringing on a religious compound in Orleans, Massachusetts, run by a Benedictine monastic religious group called the Community of Jesus.

The church, the report said, has a darker side, according to a lawsuit in Canada brought by former students of a now-closed Ontario school where many officials were alleged to be members of the US-based religious group.

Those officials, the students said, ran a “charismatic sect” that “created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation that fostered and inflicted enduring harms on its students”.

The school and church denied the allegations, but an appeals court last year awarded the former students C$10.8 million.