Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton wants to crackdown on the next 'Hamas sympathiser Aaron Bushnell'

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton wants to crackdown on the next 'Hamas sympathiser Aaron Bushnell'
Senator Tom Cotton also introduced the Stop Pro-Terrorist Riots Now Act, in which he characterised pro-Palestinian protests as 'anti-Semitic pro-Hamas riots'
3 min read
08 March, 2024
Tom Cotton, United States Senator (R) from Arkansas, speaking at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center - 2018 [Getty]

US Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) has unveiled two new pieces of legislation aimed at restricting security clearances and demonstration rights for pro-Palestinian government workers and contractors, following the self-immolation of US airman Aaron Bushnell outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. on February 25th.

The announcement was made on Thursday in a statement posted to Cotton's website, in which he suggested the actions of Bushnell and others who rallied in his memory as sympathetic with 'terrorists' and Palestinian armed resistance group Hamas.

Sen. Cotton said "anyone who supports Hamas or any other terrorist group should not receive a security clearance", adding that active-duty military personnel should not be permitted to engage in protests deemed to threaten US national security or its allies such as Israel.

The first bill, titled the "No Clearances for Terrorist Sympathizers Act," seeks to revoke or deny security clearances to individuals found to express support for foreign terrorist organizations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps designated as such by the US government.

The second bill, the "Prohibiting Certain Off Post Protests Act," would formally codify a ban preventing certain military members from participating in 'off-base' demonstrations.

The day before, Cotton introduced the Stop Pro-Terrorist Riots Now Act, in which he characterised pro-Palestinian protests taking place around the United States as 'anti-Semitic pro-Hamas riots'. The legislation would increase the punishments for rioting and provide mandatory sentences for anyone committing violence as part of a riot. 
“Radical, pro-Hamas mobs committing crimes and perpetrating violence should face the full extent of the law. No one has the right to commit violence in support of terrorism. This bill is necessary to ensure that we reject anti-Semitism and hold these pro-Hamas criminals accountable,” said Senator Cotton.

Cotton is known for his strong, almost unhinged support for the state of Israel. It is not clear whether these bills have a chance of passing through the Senate and could be meant for political consumption in election season dominated by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

Who was Aaron Bushnell?

Last month, Aaron Bushnell's death sparked unexpected displays of public support for Palestine and Gaza in the US, including from US army veterans and presidential candidates.

The 25-year-old US airman live-streamed his self-immolation, which he described as an "extreme act of protest", shouting his final words - "Free Palestine" - as flames engulfed him.

Vigils were held in his memory in various US cities after his death drawing throngs of peace activists and Palestine supporters, including one at New York City’s Times Square on Tuesday.

Some, including army veterans, have used the vigils as a way of voicing support for Gaza. 

Footage from a vigil held in Portland even showed a group of US veterans burning their uniforms in a show of solidarity with the US airman.

Bushnell wrote a will before his self-immolation pledging to donate his savings to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a non-profit that has been delivering lifesaving medical relief and humanitarian aid to Gaza, his friend said.

He is the second person known to have self-immolated in the US as an act of protest against the Israeli war in Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people since it began in October.