The sociology professor arrested over the weekend after she lit a cigarette on a flight from Nicaragua to Miami and loudly ranted for hours about the United States declaring war on Venezuela, told her crazy side of the crazy story to Philadelphia magazine today. It is everything you hoped it could be.
Karen Bettez Halnon, who teaches at Penn State-Abington and has published on such diverse topics as "Women's Agency In Hysteria and Its Treatment," "The Power of 420" (for The American Drug Scene: An Anthology), and "challenging the assumption that horrorcore rap group Insane Clown Posse fans are a gang,"says her smoking and loud public speech were acts of civil disobedience. She'd gladly do them again. Just ask anyone who knows her.
She said what she did was "necessary," because the CIA "took out" her idol, former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, by giving him cancer. Now, she believes the U.S. has declared war against Venezuela—not true, although the Obama administration did in December sanction Venezuelan officials accused of suppressing protests by their political opponents—and that current president Nicholas Maduro is carrying on a revolution against the U.S.
Here's her remarkable explanation, in her own words:
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.
Okay, there's nothing inherently wrong with engaging in civil disobedience to express your strong beliefs about the military-industrial complex, but why on an airplane? And why smoking?
Halnon didn't really address the first issue, but she had a gloriously bizarre explanation for the second:
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.
Ah, yes, cigarettes. Those classic symbols of the revolutionary cause and not of, say, building an industry by exploiting slave labor and producing a toxic, addictive product that's now disproportionately pawned off on the developing world and described by the WHO as an "epidemic." If there's a better way protest your political hero's alleged assassination via respiratory complications from cancer, I can't think of one.
Finally, Philadelphia's Victor Fiorillo politely asked Halnon the question that immediately occurred to everyone after watching the videos of her airborne antics: Were you drunk, or what?
No, she says:
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.
Halnon is now out of lockup after paying a reported $500 bond. She told Philadelphia the FBI and TSA "tortured" her by putting her in a cold room for hours and refusing to let her go to the bathroom. She claimed she wet her pants and pooped on the floor, "and they made me pick it up and laughed at me."