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A teargas canister manufactured by Safariland, discovered at the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry by immigration journalist Patrick Timmons (image courtesy of and by Patrick Timmons/@patrickwtimmons)

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.

Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture. She received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies...

4 replies on “A Whitney Museum Vice Chairman Owns a Manufacturer Supplying Tear Gas at the Border”

  1. 1. Oh, the horror, the horror!
    2. So what?
    3. Would-be immigrants rushed the same crossing a couple of years ago. But that was under Obama, so no one said a peep.

  2. To Robyn Reeder (who strangely replaced her original, seemingly thoughtful question about whether or not this mattered with an incompetent diss on the whole website) – it is an issue because all companies that manufacture any kinds of devices are interested in providing more into the market, i.e. finding more reasons to use them, because that’s how they make money. What happened in Istanbul was that after the Gezi protests started, the orders from American companies multiplied, and that has gone hand in hand with increased usage. These companies are directly participating in the creation, enlargement and increased violence of police methods against their own citizens and other innocent victims.

    Yes, of course it is bad that profits from this industry go to arts programming.

    The problem of clean money substitutes is real, though. The fundamental issue is the privatization of all our community and society services, which was a very deliberate and calculated process (or set of processes, not one diabolically united strategy), and not the only way things had to go down. That is not easy to reverse. But as long as people keep arguing for small government, this is the way the void gets filled. It’s thorny, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air, and we definitely need to call attention to it and come together to try to think of alternative futures.

    I don’t have an easy answer to your question about a site where police had ended a violent white supremacist demonstration, and it’s a fair question. I’d say when you throw “violent” in there, the question is already skewed in a direction where yeah, that seems more excusable. But there’s an underlying issue of what can happen on that slippery slope. When police are allowed to use military tactics in civilian situations if they’re violent, then suddenly every peaceful protest turns “violent” for the sake of PR purposes. So, that’s a bit tricky.

  3. Are people really still surprised by the dirty money connections within Art institutions and Museums? It’s been going on for DECADES. And artists who put their work into that system are just as much part of the whole collusion, with the Board members, collectors and the rest of the unethical capitalist mess of it all. Artists like G.A.A.G and Hans Haacke and others have been pointing out these connections for quite a while. Ok, so, isn’t that nice: world-wide weapons-trade guy likes to collect Warhols – not sure what that says about Warhol, but it does say something about Warhol’s estate, and about the Whitney right now, that neither one is seeming to have any problems with any of this. The money is all too deeply embedded. When will all of these corrupt kajillionaires be kicked out of Art institutions all together? Likely not anytime soon, unfortunately.

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