Pennsylvania State University Associate Professor Karen Bettez Halnon, 52, took her students on a memorable field trip this month to Nicaragua that ended in witnessing her reported meltdown and arrest on an American Airlines flight that landed in Miami. In addition to reportedly raving about how the United States was setting up Venezuela for “military aggression,” she also lit up a cigarette to reportedly show symbolize the United States as a “smoking gun.” She was charged with disorderly-conduct and breach-of-peace. She has accused the FBI and airport security of abusing her after her arrest. Her two research assistants reportedly made it home safely.
Halnon was reportedly angry that the United States declared Venezuela a national security threat. She said that she felt compelled to speak out and apparently chose the middle of an airplane. She described it as her “Henry David Thoreau moment” — that is if Henry David Thoreau was an unhinged crank raving at strangers. I thought he preferred the solitude of Walden’s Pond but then again there were no airliners for Thoreau to vent about “unjust laws.”
She is shown on a video by a fellow passenger yelling “The United States has declared war on Venezuela! Venezuela has been declared a national security threat!” Another passenger responses by yelling “You’re a national security threat!” While she is shown yelling, she insisted on the interview below that women are often said to be yelling when they simply speak their mind:
At one point, a flight attendant appears and says “The police are meeting the aircraft to take you out.” Halnon dismisses the warning and says “I already know that . . . They are already arresting me so I’m going to tell you more.” She was also confronted about lighting up a cigarette on a flight.
When asked if she has been arrested before, she admitted that she had a prior public drunkenness arrest but is quoted as saying “I’ve had many, many sufferings in my life.”
Halnon says that her “great hero” is Hugo Chavez despite his record to denying basic freedoms such as the right to free speech, free press, and due process. She appears to have an affection of lefty dictators. She told media that she has pictures of Fidel Castro and Chavez above her desk at work. While her views are not relevant to these charges or any later school discipline, I find it bizarre to idolize someone like Castro who imprisoned and tortured his opponents, denied professors academic freedom, shutdown the free speech, and barred free speech.
Halnon has an impressive record. She graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College and then received her doctorate in sociology from Boston College in 1995. She also taught previously at Bowdoin College in Maine and the University of Vermont.
One of her books would seem to offer some potential support for her next appearance in court. It is entitled “Webbing Vicissitudes of Forgiveness.” It is described as
“From marriage to mythology and from revenge to reconciliation, an intriguing webbing of global, inter-disciplinary, and scholarly dialogue on the vicissitudes of forgiveness, the unforgivable, apology, ritual, and transgressions against Others.”
“The fads, fashions, and media in popular consumer culture frequently make recreational and ideological “fun” of poverty and lower class living. It is a phenomenon that puts poor whites, poor blacks, women, gays, handicapped people, and other traditional minorities back in “their place” by prioritizing self-aggrandizing materialism and individual desires over the collective good and constitutes a form of cultural denial.”
Penn State issued a statement that it “is aware of Dr. Karen Halnon’s behavior . . . and is looking into the matter.” This could raise an interesting question of what constitutes a disciplinary matter. Normally such a scene outside of school would be viewed as removed from the university code of conduct. However, she was with two students returning from a research trip. Then again, the University of California, took no serious discipline against a professor who led her students in stealing a pro-life display on campus and assaulting one of the young women at the display.
What is concerning is how unhinged Halnon appears on a trip with students. This is obviously bizarre conduct and Halnon, while saying that she regrets aspects of the incident, insists that it was an exercise of free speech and appears to be trying to justify aspects of her conduct.