Although he previously claimed that he was divesting from the tear gas business after a fierce activist campaign directed against the Whitney Museum of American Art, former Whitney board member Warren Kanders appears to have simply reorganized his holdings. Companies owned by or associated with Kanders continue to sell chemical weapons that have been deployed against American protesters and civilians around the world, according to company records reviewed by The Intercept.
The controversy began in 2018 following a report that revealed Kanders owned Safariland LLC, a seller of military and law enforcement equipment, including, infamously, dangerous tear gas and smoke munitions that had been launched a few days earlier against asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. Safariland has become an art world and human rights hotspot, and protests over Kanders’ chemical weapons profits led to his ousting of a prestigious board seat at the Whitney, a a post he had held since 2006. The gas and smoke weapons at Safariland were manufactured by the Defence. Technology, a weapons company she owned.
Reports from around the world have revealed that Safariland and Defense Technology-branded ammunition is being used to incapacitate a litany of soft targets, from protesters rallying against the killing of George Floyd to migrants trying to cross the US border into Mexico. While tear gas and smoke grenades of the type marketed by Defense Technology and Safariland are generally characterized by law enforcement as a safe and humane way to disperse a crowd, the toxic chemical compounds inside are known to cause severe organ damage, chronic illnesses such as bronchitis, and sometimes permanent physical injury to their targets if struck directly by firearm-thrown rounds. In May 2021, after Defense Technology tear gas was used against protesters in Oregon, a Kaiser Permanente study found that hundreds of women exposed to the chemicals subsequently reported abnormal menstrual cycles. While national laws deem tear gas safe enough for police to fire en masse into crowds of Americans, its use on the battlefield is prohibited by the Geneva Protocol, a ban on chemical warfare.
The fallout from the protests didn’t stop with Kanders’ resignation from Whitney’s board. In June 2020, after Safariland grenades were used against racial justice protesters outside the White House, The New York Times reported that a seemingly chastised Kanders was “retiring completely from the tear gas business”, with Safariland announcing that would sell defense technology. , its chemical weapons subsidiary. The divestiture “allows Safariland to focus on passive defensive protection” like body armor and holsters, Kanders said in a company press release, which noted that “Defense’s current management team Technology will become the new owners of the company.” But according to documents reviewed by The Intercept, Kanders never left the tear gas business, but simply reorganized its stake.
Florida-based Cadre Holdings markets itself as a “world’s leading provider of reliable, innovative, and high-quality safety and survival products for the first responders, federal agencies, and outdoor/personal protection markets,” with a broad portfolio of companies that manufacture protective gear, gun holsters and other tactical gear. Among the many companies owned by Cadre, itself run by Kanders since 2012, is Safariland LLC, whose website today is devoid of tear gas and smoke grenades and promotes itself instead as “providing reliable lifesaving equipment and innovations to the law enforcement, military, outdoor recreation and personal protection markets.
Defense technology is not mentioned anywhere on the Cadre website. But when Cadre Holdings filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year as part of its initial public offering, among its 23 disclosed international subsidiaries was Defense Technology LLC. Defense Technology was again listed as a subsidiary in Cadre’s March 2022 annual report to shareholders. Among the many risk factors disclosed in the report, Kanders’ company explicitly stated that it continued to sell chemical weapons , noting, “We use orthochlorabenzalmalononitrile and chloroacetophenone chemicals in our production of our crowd control products,” two of the most popular chemicals. compounds used to create tear gas. “Private parties may sue us for alleged adverse health effects or property damage caused by our activities.”
Documents recently filed with the Florida State Department offer further evidence of non-surrender: In an annual defense technology report filed in March, two years after Safariland claimed to have severed ties with the company, Both Warren Kanders and Safariland LLC are listed as corporations. officers. And all three companies list the exact same address for their registered agent in their latest Florida filings.
According to its website, Defense Technology is still very active in the chemical weapons business. In the “chemical agent devices” section of its website, the popular Triple-Chaser tear gas canister is always headlined; Triple-Chaser is a particularly infamous brand whose widespread use against civilians was the subject of an incisive short documentary by filmmaker Laura Poitras and research group Forensic Architecture, exhibited at the 2019 Whitney Biennial to protest against Kanders’ relationship with the museum. (Poitras was one of the founding editors of The Intercept.) Defense Technology lists a total of 117 different chemical weapons, including dozens containing the deeply toxic compounds hexachloroethane and 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, often abbreviated as CS.
“At first I thought it was just a case of someone using old letterhead, but as I dug deeper I found more and more things that hinted that companies were still connected.”
A call to Defense Technology seeking comment on the divestment prompted an automated message from Safariland; after selecting the Defense Technology extension, another automated Safariland greeting was played.
Cadre Holdings, Safariland and Defense Technology did not respond to requests for comment.
Noam Perry, an activist and researcher with the American Friends Service Committee, shared his findings with The Intercept after examining Safariland while working on a report on police militarization. “I knew when I entered the project that Safariland divested defense technology in 2020, so I was surprised when I saw receipts and packing slips from 2021 that still identified Safariland as selling arms and weapons. defense technology ammunition,” Perry told The Intercept via email. “At first I thought it was just a case of someone using old letterhead, but as I dug deeper I found more and more things that hinted that companies were still connected.” While Perry at first thought the divestment was simply dragging on, “in March, Cadre Holdings’ first annual report came out and led me to believe they had indeed been lying.”
In a 2021 article for the Union of Concerned Scientists asking if Safariland had ever really exited the chemical weapons business, researcher Juniper Simonis published emails obtained via a public record request showing that the company continued to sell defense technology gas weapons in 2020, citing “unprecedented”. demand levels, even after claiming to have disengaged from the chemical weapons business. Simonis also noted that Safariland continued to register trademarks using the Defense Technology trademark, an unusual practice after the divestiture.
“News of Kanders’ misrepresentation of his business practices comes as no surprise to us,” said Amin Husain, a New York University professor who helped organize the anti-Kanders protests against the Whitney with the group. activists Decolonize This Place. “This kind of dishonesty is typical of the magnate class who use their associations and investments in the art world to whitewash their crimes against humanity.”