United Pilot Suspended After Calling For Hillary Clinton To Be Hanged

Filed Under: Media, United

This past Friday, Michael Folk, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and United Airlines pilot, Tweeted the following:

@HillaryClinton You should be tried for treason, murder, and crimes against the US Constitution… then hung on the Mall in Washington, DC.

This came after the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal, where they recommended charges not be brought against her.

Obviously Folk is getting a lot of political backlash regarding these comments (as he should be), and he’s now apologizing for the statement, saying he didn’t mean it and that it was a hyperbolic statement. Per CNN:

“I do think she should be tried and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Folk told CNN Saturday. But as for being hanged, he said, “No, my gosh. That was the hyperbole in the statement.”

United has taken actions against the pilot as well, and has removed him from flying pending an investigation:

It’s great that United is investigating this and communicating that publicly, and I’m curious if we ever find out what comes of the investigation.

Should a pilot lose his career over a statement calling for a politician to be hanged?

I’m sort of conflicted. Of course I think what he said was absolutely ridiculous, and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable flying with someone who believes that (purely in terms of the mental state they’re in). At the same time, assuming he didn’t actually mean it and it was just a really stupid remark, is it something he should lose his airline pilot career over? I assume he’s going to face a lot of political backlash as well.


Regardless, kudos to United for launching an investigation so quickly.

What do you think Folk’s punishment should be as far as his airline pilot career goes?

  1. “It’s great that United is investigating this”

    It’s great that an airline is wasting time and money “investigating” this?

    Either pilots can or can’t make political statements on Twitter. As a private company, United has every right to decide this. Just set a policy and enforce it across the board… No need to “investigate.”

  2. You want to start the morning off right Ben don’t you? Regardless of your poitical philosophy, you shouldn’t be commenting in that way if you are in a public facing role. It reflects poorly on you and the company. Stick to the semi and totally anonymous blogs to propagate that language. You wonder why we are discussing police violence when the educated in responsible positions like pilots are talking like this. It’s just a poor reflection on you to do it. Anymore than the Cheeto Jesus, Orange Mussolini, or modern day Hitler references we are seeing against Trump. Back to the issue at hand. Pilots have even more responsibility to set an example to the public in their roles. They are captain of the ship and as such should refrain from such controversial statements. There are ways to express your views in private or in more appropriate ways. As for his punishment, if this is his first offense, then discipline, counseling, and evaluation are in order but maybe not termination. It was emotional not safety. If this has been repeated that is a different story. Freedom of speech comes with responsibility. Or we will end up like Turkey over the weekend.

  3. As if the blog comments hadn’t already deteriorated enough. This should be fun. I think this one gets my ignore button.

  4. >Should a pilot lose his career over a statement calling for a politician to be hanged?

    Making death threats is usually enough to end most careers. I’m unable to figure out a reason why pilots would be the exception.

  5. I’m an independent and undecided between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and I have performed for and met both of them, and they were both exceptionally nice. We have a right to free speech, but calling for the hanging of anyone is inappropriate and this pilot should be fired. One can think whatever they want, but I certainly wouldn’t want anyone who thinks speaks publicly In this manner flying me around.

  6. Pilots, don’t have latitude to say “oops, I was wrong”. At the minimum this speaks to a potentially unstable mental state which needs full psychologic evaluation before clearance to fly. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable as a passenger on a plane with someone at the helm who has an outburst like that.

    On the other hand, free speech has it consequences and United has every right to let go of hate-mongers.

  7. Although I don’t agree with anyone speaking with that tone toward anyone else, I must say it will be sad day when this pilot will receive more retribution and discipline for his one comment then Hillary Clinton ever will for all her lies, deceit and “carelessness”.

  8. Thanks for posting this! I appreciate your keeping us informed on all aspects of air travel.

  9. I think this is fine what United is doing, the First Amendment does not protect you from being fired by your employer for speech you make (unless it is that you are a protected class or if you are a Government employee) further you could argue that this was a death treat which is not covered under the First Amendment anyway. I think it is fine what United is doing because I am not sure if a person making such rash decisions should be in charge of a multi million dollar aircraft and hundreds of lives

  10. First of all the comment was in bad taste…but this was not a death threat. It’s not like he said he was going to hang her. I do think he was speaking in hyperbole. I like Hans point why should he be punished when she wasn’t. I worked in government (DOD) for awhile and let’s just say if I did what Hillary did I would be in jail right now. Very poor taste and United does have a reputation so I could see a suspension for a few weeks in order. If they fire him I could see the pilots union fighting this one. Shows the real danger, never tweet or Facebook post something you wouldn’t want your employer to read.

  11. This isn’t even a free speech issue, it’s been decided already by the Supreme Court that there are limitations to free speech, and making threats of physical violence against other people is one of them. That kind of inflammatory rhetoric should not be welcome anywhere, whether it is a public or private forum, anonymous or not. As much as I despise the idea of Trump as president, calling for his assassination or hanging is way over the line. United has every right to discipline this pilot, especially if they feel that he hurts the public image of the company. Personally as a United loyalist, I do not feel comfortable with having a pilot or flight attendant who publicly calls for the execution of any other person who isn’t a brutal dictator, terrorist, serial killer, or serial rapist, especially one who has not been found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. I especially don’t want someone who has so little respect for the life of another person so lightly to be flying an aircraft with hundreds of people on it.

  12. At least he stopped with “hanged” – if he had added “drawn and quartered” he would not be politically correct. However, if this pilot had suggested “tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail,” the SPCA would have been all over him for cruelty to chickens.

  13. The tweet is a possible sign of mental instability and at the least a clear indication of a lack of judgement and self control. I hope that the airlines are becoming more aware of keeping track of the mental state of pilots since the horrific incident of Germanwings Flight 9525 last year. The airline would be foolish (and open to incredible liability) not to suspend him.

  14. @Ryan

    This fails the Miller test, which determines whether a speech is “obscene” or not and was determined by the Supreme Court in 1973 in a ruling called Miller v. California.

    The Miller test has three parts:

    – Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards”, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
    – Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions[3] specifically defined by applicable state law,
    – Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

    The work is considered obscene only if all three conditions are satisfied.

    This statement definitely has serious political value. This is a speech, get over it.

  15. This is reason number 1,285,756 why almost everyone should avoid Twitter – at least if you’re going to use it non-anonymously. I get mad and say regrettable things, too. So does everyone else. But saying them in private to a few friends or family is completely different from saying them publicly on Twitter for thousands or millions of people to read.

  16. didnt know there were so many doctors on this site that can diagnose a person’s mental state by one comment that a pilot made… sheesh.

    Its free speech that isnt considered obscene in the legal sense, and he has every right to use it without ramifications; if United fires him, there would be grounds for wrongful termination lawsuits provided that there werent exceptions stated in his contract.

  17. If he gets fired, it’s because he violated United’s policy on social media, which was very recently reiterated to it’s employees – no posting on social media anything that can cast a bad light on United. All employees are required to sign off that they have read and understand this policy. It also states that the punishment for violating said social media policy is termination. Now this republican hoohah, who’s party hates unions, will be begging for ALPA to get him his job back.

  18. No one in their right mind would think he really wants her publicly hanged. I’ve wished people dead a few times in my life but I didn’t really mean it. The guy is just frustrated with a politician he doesn’t like. Let it go.

  19. As an airline pilot. I would question the pilots mental state while making a comment like that. This guy needs to be evaluated.

  20. I would not feel safe flying United if this guy might be my pilot. Asking for public execution of anyone suggests mental problems. This is beyond political expression.

  21. I have a gut feeling many readers would reverse their judgement if he was calling for Trump to be hanged.

  22. Reading the comments above….. if only we held our elected officials to the same standards as our pilots. Somehow we’re okay with them making laws for us, but won’t dare fly with someone who was so “mentally unstable”.

  23. What’s worse?
    This United pilot in charge of people’s lives, and flying a multi-million dollar aircraft?
    Hillary in charge of America with millions of people’s lives, and trillions of dollars at stake?
    I’ll take the pilot any day of the week over Hillary.

  24. We all make statements that we’d regret if people completely dissected them.

    Just let him apologize and move on. Why turn this into a bigger deal than it should be? People on both sides of the political spectrum make these kinds of statements all the time. Firing him for this just furthers the divide between the two (because everyone’s a victim).

  25. This was probably just gross hyperbole impulsively tweeted by the pilot out of frustration for not getting what he wanted. The pilot’s tweet may have been just a baby-like temper tantrum; nonetheless, it was a call for mob violence and vigilante justice. He publically advocated for the death of a public official he does not like. And he–and his, no doubt, significant number of supporters–expected to just blithely get away with it? Really? How does the flying public know that this pilot won’t let his intense, ugly political frustration get in the way of his safely navigating a plane under his command? What if his tweet is a warning sign that he might use anything under his control as a weapon against Secretary Clinton?

    Of course, United needs to seriously and deeply investigate this pilot.

  26. Starting the morning with click-bait again I see…

    When you’ve got people running around assassinating police with military grade high powered assault and sniper rifles at the moment, are we are going to care more about some hyperbolic twitter post by someone exhibiting no actual intent? Free political speech means accepting harsh hyperbole will exist, and Facebook and Twitter is full of it. While the comments are about Hiliary Clinton, this guy is not speaking to her (he is not saying that is what he intends to do to Clinton – which would be a threat – but rather is clearly talking smack about her).

    And unless this guy held out he was speaking on behalf of, or representing United’s views, then it has got zero to do with United (and certainly not grounds of action against him).

    I don’t agree with this guy’s comments, but I’ll support his right to express his opinion, because democracy isn’t about supressing or chilling free speech (even if you don’t like it). You got to debate it, challenge it, or simply starve it of oxygen, if you don’t like what someone says, not act dictatorial about it.

    North Korea ensures no-one in that country gets to say anything bad openly about “Dear Leader”, is that the path you want to take?

  27. Calling for someone to be executed who is under Secret Service protection is… inadvisable. I imagine they will be having a chat with him.

  28. Many companies monitor what you say on social media. This pilot although entitled to free speech is an idiot. There was a pilot at my airline who resigned because of backlash from flight attendants from what he said over an open mic and ATC was trying to tell him..When he left our company, he had the audacity to try suing the company for a hostile work environment. He lost. Hope he is happy with his food stamps now.(no offense to anyone on food stamps as I know people go through difficult times)

  29. Free speech aside, from a purely business standpoint, I think United is doing the right thing. Basically, half the flying public either support one candidate or the other. Why piss off half your customers by turning a blind eye to this type of rhetoric? The company has to act, the question that remains is what the punishment will be.

    Perhaps firing is too harsh but then again, not sure I want to be flying with someone with such poor impulse control and bad judgment.

    But another reason not to fly United…..

  30. Thought this was an article by Gary Leff for a second. The clickbait is strong with this one.

  31. It plainly appears that the pilot expressed his hope for the death penalty to be lawfully imposed pursuant to full legal process. 18 USC 2381 codifies the crime of treason and provides that death may be the penalty. Hanging is still a legal form of the death sentence in many US jurisdictions, though largely unused. Venue of the execution (public square, prison grounds, etc) generally is not dictated at the time of sentencing and therefore it could be argued that the jurisdiction has discretion as to this (though a national monument seems an unlikely place). Nevertheless, expressing ones desire to see a legal outcome is a far cry from calling for murder.

    Poor decision? Sure. United within its rights to fire? Most likely. Still, methinks had he called Trump a racist and called for the infliction of severe harm upon him outside of the scope of the law, the outcome would be quite different.

  32. Being so reckless with his words while wearing a UA pilots uniform should be sufficient for him to lose his job with the airline. No one, regardless of party or position should be saying such things about politicians they disagree with. This kind of rancor and the acceptance of this behavior is what has created such a nasty environment in our nation. Life is tough enough as is…we don’t need pointless additions to it. If you don’t have something positive to contribute…perhaps save the negative for those who know you and would care to hear it. He should be fired. Accountability is imperative…and it should be applied no matter who the target is. I despise Trump and all that he’s dumping in the public domain but I still don’t think it right to threaten him harm.

  33. Tell the Pilot to KEEP his opinions to himself it reflects on the Profits .U he said that about no one would have said anything . If Trump gets in the new AJ will destroy the Clintons . I do have spare rope and 13 turns he can learn on the internet .

  34. You’d think someone who’s educated enough to be a pilot would be smart enough not to be a trump supporter.

    It’s surprising you have so many readers who are trump supporters too. (See moron). Do they not realise you are gay? And supporting trump (and pearce) is basically calling for the hanging of everyone who’s gay and not white. Of course I’m being hyerperbolic. Or am I.

  35. Why is United starting an investigation? Last I checked there was something called the first amendment, just because someone doesn’t share the same opinions as yourself doesn’t mean that you stand on higher ground and it definitely doesn’t give you the right to judge.

  36. I could care less who the pilot votes for . His poor judgement tells me he should not be flying .

  37. I don’t think anything should happen. Yes, he shouldn’t have said that, but then again it was clearly a joke. It seems more like they disagree with his political views than what he actually said, and they will use the joke to make their case. It almost seems like what some middle eastern carriers do, follow their employees personal lives too much, and use what they do in their personal lives in the work place.

  38. I think a bit of time off would be reasonable . There is a regrettable wave of rude behavior and outright hostility in the public discourse these days . Thoughtless incendiary statements by politicians are disgraceful enough , but voiced by those well known as being part of a respected profession for a company that is striving to rebuild their image it simply is not acceptable .
    He has not only damaged United he has damaged the United States

  39. This pilot is a great role model for my children…NOT ! Fire him for his ridiculous comment. That’ll teach him to open his mouth & tweet Twitter or Facebook something next time. This company is unraveling from the top. They’ve lost my family’s business !

  40. @Fred Smith

    Do you have a case of the vapors because you sound more hysterical than him.

    I don’t think a reasonable person would think this was in any way a credible threat or even a threat at all, it was pure hyperbole. Was it in poor taste, probably..Does it violate his company’s online civility code, likely.

  41. @Donna – You hit on a very important point. If United customers refuse to fly under a pilot that has such harsh political leanings in public, then the termination of said employee is justified 100%, and is certainly easy to prove in court, and IF United has specific rules governing speech outside the office hours, he is toast. Loss of revenue is a good reason to terminate someone. Of course the politician(s) in question have no recourse, because they are held to a much higher standard of proof of damages than the average person.

  42. He elects to have a Facebook page in which he identifies himself as a pilot for United as well as an elected delegate for his home state. Had his Facebook page simply reflected his political persona, then it has nothing to do with his job with the airline, and that would have been clear. Since he did not, by “representing” the airline on his page, he associates his opinion with them. I am a retired NYPD Detective. I can’t count the number of time when I was in uniform that I was asked questions by media people, to which my only and always answer was “I have no opinion.” When a reporter said to me “you’re lying, of course you have a personal opinion”, I responded “not when I’m wearing this uniform I don’t”. The level of discourtesy spewing from some Republican party members is disgusting. I watched an interview today in which a Republican official described my ethnicity as a “sub-group”. My “sub-group” of Middle Eastern ancestor were living in buildings when his European ancestors were living in hide huts.

  43. The irony is that none of this would have reflected upon United if they’d just ignored it. Now they’ve summoned the Streisand Effect and made the situation worse.

    Should the guy have said it? No harm, no foul. He wasn’t calling on the public to incite violence. Would I have said it? No.

    “If you’re not offended at least twice a day, you’re not living in a free society.” — Thomas Jefferson
    “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” — Salman Rushdie

  44. I thought we lived in a country where you could speak freely. I guess not. A person giving their political view point…..and the pilot is the bad guy. United Airlines openly supports the LGBT, a group of perverted people with deep emotional problems…..and that’s okay….but Hilary Clinton illegal scandals…can’t mention that.

  45. Wow! Get over it. The guy is tired of seeing Democrats get away with breaking laws right and left, and spouted off instead of waiting 24 hrs. to think about it. For commenters to judge his mental stability over this…go find something serious to worry about, like electing someone President who was “extremely careless” with top secret information.

  46. Reading that statement it seems like he is not the most stable individual. I certainly would not feel comfortable putting my life in the hands of someone who is calling for a presidential candidate to be charged with murder (who she murdered I have no idea) and have her hanged on the national mall. Seems like a big red flag the guy may have problems because most people would never thing to suggest such a thing. Don’t want to know someone like this. Don’t want to fly with someone like this. Good for United.

  47. Nice blog post.

    Given past events like 9/11 or more recently the germanwings crash, it’s kind of scary to think of a pilot who might even a 1% chance of wanting to kill people by crashing the plane.

    On the other hand, it’s 99% likely that this guy was just making a really stupid comment. Moreover, in context, it’s not even clear he was calling for extra-judicial execution, but more literally seemed to be advocating she be legally given the death penalty, which is totally stupid and impossible, but unfortunately not that much stupider and impossible than a lot of stuff you hear on right-wing talk radio or fox news or even from republican candidates. (Institute a religious test and ban muslims?)

    So I would advocate suspend without pay while instituting a full psychological evaluation. If indeed there’s truly a 0% chance the guy would try to crash his plane into Clinton’s house to try to kill her or whatever, then allow him back on the job with a stern warning that anything else and he’s totally out. Also require public apology to reassure passengers. And provide 1K benefit that you can blacklist particular pilots on your flight (kidding).

  48. I know this is super late, but for all those people who are trying to bring the First Amendment into this, it doesn’t really apply to United’s decision as a private company to terminate this employee. The First Amendment only protects your right to be free from government suppression of your speech, not a private corporation’s suppression of said speech.

    If the statement was simply an endorsement of Trump, then he might have an argument for wrongful termination on the basis of discrimination of political opinion (which is typically protected in most states), but this statement is so extreme that it would probably trigger any reasonable corporate social media policy’s right to terminate an employee for cause.

    Also, the obscenity case law doesn’t really have anything to do with this, since that’s more about censorship by the government than a private corporation terminating an employee for a statement that reflects poorly on them.

  49. There is a difference between an opinion and a threat, but apparently the herd mentality is unable to make the distinction.

  50. United is a Dog Dung airline full of Leftwingers and PC people . Send him to Nice for a week the Dam fool will get what he Deserves !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Dam Rightwingers

  51. Granted, I did not read ALL of the comments- but we’re ignoring something pretty important here: the fact this pilot was fired as a form of control.

    He is surely not the first person that has made this comment, or worse! And shall not be the last. I actually heard worse than this at a Baptist church of all places, in regard to the current POTUS (for what it’s worth, I never returned there, but not for political reasons, but in regard to fear of being put on some watch list!)

    I think we really, really need to look at this new form of control. Our speech, the fact we have to apologize before every phrase, for fear of sounding “phobic” or “racist”.

    People are losing their livelihoods, their voices, and their respect and being shamed internationally by millions when they say something someone doesn’t like.

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