Penn State Abington Professor Speaks Out About Her Miami Arrest

Someone had a memorable spring break.

At left is the staff photo of Penn State Abington sociology professor Dr. Karen Halnon. But the photo on the right is what she looked like over the weekend when she was arrested at Miami International Airport after a bizarre incident on a plane. Last week was the school’s spring break.

Halnon was flying from Nicaragua to Miami when she let loose with a tirade about Venezuela, possibly a reaction to President Obama’s recent sanctions against Venezuelan authorities. As is the case with all airplane antics in the 21st Century, the passengers caught some of it on video. Here she is lighting a cigarette on the plane:

And here she is yelling about how “the United States has declared war on Venezuela” and about her “great hero Hugo Chavez”:

Halnon is told that the police will be meeting her to arrest her, and she (relatively) calmly dismisses the comment, explaining, “I already know that, so I am going to say my piece.”

Halnon has been a professor of sociology at Penn State Abington since 1999. Her academic papers and books have included “Women’s Agency In Hysteria and Its Treatment,” “Defending the Self In a Total Institution: Staff Prompting and Patient Burlesque,” and the essay “The Power of 420” in The American Drug Scene: An Anthology.

Miami-Dade police charged the 52-year-old Willow Grove resident with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. She is no longer in custody. In 2013, she pleaded guilty to public drunkenness in Horsham Township.

Penn State officials have yet to comment on the incident. “We’re trying to figure out what the next step is,” said an employee in the school’s office of communications.

But Halnon herself had plenty to say when we reached her on Tuesday morning.

Can you comment on your arrest and on the videos of you on the plane that are circulating?
I do have a comment. I know that I expressed an act of civil disobedience. But that act was necessary.

Why so?
I’m very knowledgable about that part of the world. I teach about U.S. imperialism in Latin America. And the U.S. has declared war against Venezuela. That means military aggression. They tried to take out Hugo with a coup, and then they took him out with cancer.

It is my opinion — and Fidel agrees with me …

As in Castro?
Yes, Fidel agrees with me that the CIA had some involvement in giving him cancer, and so he died very sadly. And now Nicolas Maduro is the president and the U.S. somehow thinks this is a better position for the U.S. now.

It’s not?
No, what they don’t realize is that Maduro is carrying on the revolution. It’s not like Raul in Cuba. There is every intention of carrying on the revolution. Fifty more years.

What is the revolution revolting against?
The problem is U.S. military global domination. And they want the oil. And they want the water. And so I found that this act was a necessary Thoreau-like act of civil disobedience. I had to speak out now. The situation is dire and urgent, and any sacrifice I make for my own self, if it saves lives — there have been far too many lives lost due to U.S. global military domination.

What happened once you landed in Miami?
The FBI and TSA tortured me. My voice generally doesn’t sound like this. I was put in a room with two fans in the ceiling, it was freezing cold for hours and hours and hours. I asked repeatedly to go to the bathroom. They made me wet my pants. They humiliated me. And then to make matters worse, I have a stomach condition. Everything that comes in goes out. I’ve been like that for months since I left Cuba. I’ve lost over 30 pounds. And I was yelling that I had to go to the bathroom. But they ignored me, and I defecated on the floor. And they made me pick it up and laughed at me.

That’s awful. But what of the cigarette? One reporter who covered your actions said that lighting a cigarette on a plane is just a little better than yelling “BOMB!”
Why did I have a lighter if there is such great national security? It was right in the top of my book bag.

Listen, the point is, I am a sociologist, and I live in an intellectual world. A sociologist always thinks in terms of symbols. And every revolutionary I know smokes. It was identifying with the revolutionary cause. And then, beyond that, it is a symbol that the United States is a smoking gun. The action was necessary. They are going to kill many more people.

Some people would look at that video and wonder if you were under the influence of a substance. And I know you pleaded guilty in 2013 in Horsham Township to public drunkenness. Do you have a substance abuse issue?
No. I do not have a substance abuse issue. I have had many sufferings in my life, but no. I had a little bottle of wine on the plane that I mixed with apple and cranberry juice over three drinks. A spritzer, if you will. But I wasn’t drunk. I don’t need alcohol to protest. This is my life.

I am passionate about being an anti-imperialist. To follow Jesus is to be with the poor, to be with the suffering, to be with the oppressed, and to be anti-imperialist.

I made some mistakes here, but it wasn’t a mistake to speak out. I would do it again today. Ask anyone who knows me.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.