Professor explains wild airline rant: In-flight cigarette was 'revolutionary' act of 'civil disobedience'
Karen Halnon

A Penn State professor was arrested over the weekend in a bizarre videotaped incident that went viral.


Karen Halnon, who teaches sociology at the university’s Abington campus, was flying from Nicaragua to Miami when she lit up a cigarette and ranted about Venezuela and President Barack Obama.

"The United States has declared war on Venezuela! The United States has declared war on Venezuela!" Halnon says in the video, as another woman reminds her she’s repeated the claim about “seven times.”

"My great hero, Hugo Chavez, nationalized the oil supply so that the people would own the oil," Halnon continues. "Not Exxon Mobil. Tell Exxon Mobil to go away."

Another video shows her light a cigarette, puff on it a few times, and then stub it out before blaming the smoke on another passenger.

The 53-year-old Halnon was arrested when the plane landed, but she yelled, “F*ck you, this is not a democracy” as officers took her into custody.

She was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and released on $500 bond.

Halnon explained to Philadelphia Magazine that she had engaged in a “necessary Thoreau-like act of civil disobedience” with her airborne rant.

“I'm very knowledgeable about that part of the world,” she explained. “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.”

She said former Cuban president Fidel Castro agreed that the CIA had some involvement in causing Chavez’s cancer, but she said U.S. authorities were wrong to think the Venezuelan president’s successor was more agreeable to American interests.

“What they don't realize is that (President Nicolás) Maduro is carrying on the revolution,” Halnon said. “It's not like Raul in Cuba. There is every intention of carrying on the revolution -- 50 more years.”

She claims the FBI and Transportation Security Administration “tortured” her after she was taken into custody.

“I was put in a room with two fans in the ceiling, it was freezing cold for hours and hours and hours,” Halnon said. “I asked repeatedly to go to the bathroom. They made me wet my pants. They humiliated me.”

Halnon claims authorities ignored her pleas to use a bathroom, so she defecated on herself, and she said guards mocked her as she cleaned up after herself.

She admits to drinking a wine and juice “spritzer” on the plane, but she denies being intoxicated, and she said the cigarette was symbolic.

“Listen, the point is, I am a sociologist, and I live in an intellectual world,” Halnon said. “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.”

Watch Halnon light a cigarette in this video posted online by Chris L: