On Sunday, November 25, a calamitous scene ensued at the US–Mexico border between Tijuana and San Diego, when US border agents discharged tear gas on hundreds of Central American asylum seekers, including children, shutting down the border to prevent entry. As the migrants marched toward the border, a blockade of Mexican police wearing riot gear attempted to thwart their crossing, before they were met with chemical weapons by United States Customs and Border Protection officers.
According to the New York Times, “at least two dozen tear gas canisters could be seen on the Mexican side of the border after the migrants eventually turned back.” Journalists and organizers at the scene have spread information and wrenching photographs of the clash rapidly on social media, confirming the use of tear gas and smoke grenades. Multiple on-site reporters have posted photos of the tear gas canisters, many of which are branded by “Safariland” and “Defense Technology” logos — corporations owned by Warren B. Kanders, a vice chairman at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Kanders, who is listed as a “significant contributor” in the recent Whitney Andy Warhol exhibition, From A to B and Back Again, is also a giant in the weapons manufacturing trade.
In 2015, Hyperallergic reported on Kanders’ stake in the militarization of United States police forces through his role at Safariland, LLC, whose weapons are also utilized by Ferguson, Oakland, and Baltimore police. According to Bloomberg, Kanders is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Safariland and has been affiliated with the company since 1996. He purchased the corporation in 2012 for about $124 million from the UK-based BAE Systems, which is the largest defense contractor in Europe and the third largest in the world.
One Twitter user who realized the connection included Aaron Cantú, a journalist for the Sante Fe Reporter. Cantú told Hyperallergic in an email, “In my experience, you see a lot of the same people sitting on the boards of powerful companies and institutions, and I figured Safariland officials probably had connections elsewhere.” He says he discovered the connection on LittleSis.org.
Defense Technology, which operates under Safariland, offers pepper spray, impact munitions, chemical agent devices, launchers, batons, and others. Their slogan, broadcasted on the front page of their website, is “Less lethal solutions.” Safariland’s site sells law enforcement and sporting equipment, including “riot gear,” their mission statement boasting, “Together, We Save Lives.” Safariland also offers a training academy for law enforcement, military, and similar professions. The Department of Homeland Security is included in their list of organizations applicable for training.
Donald Trump has adamantly defended the use of tear gas at the border, as reported by the Military Times. At a roundtable in Mississippi on November 26, Trump posited: “Why is a parent running up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?” He also accused asylum-seeking women of being “grabbers,” rather than mothers, saying they kidnap children to increase their chances of being offered asylum.
Hyperallergic has not yet received a response from Safariland or the Whitney in response to multiple inquiries.