While many prefer their nachos loaded with cheese, sour cream and refried beans, a former deputy chief for U.S. Border Patrol on Monday falsely suggested that another topping would be safe to eat: pepper spray.
Ron Colburn, now president of the Border Patrol Foundation, made this remark on Fox News after a chaotic scene Sunday near Tijuana and California, the busiest port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. As Central American migrants attempted to enter the United States, Customs and Border Protection officers used tear gas to stop them, sparking outrage as images of children running from the gas went viral on social media.
Steve Doocy of “Fox & Friends” asked Colburn on Monday morning whether tear gas was a necessary measure to combat rocks that were thrown toward U.S. Border Patrol agents. Colburn responded by saying that the agents used a type of pepper spray, which was “absolutely” warranted.
“To clarify, the type of deterrent they used is OC pepper spray — it’s literally water, pepper, with a small amount of alcohol for evaporation purposes. It’s natural, you could actually put it on your nachos and eat it,” Colburn said.
“It’s a good way of deterring people without long-term harm,” he added.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether pepper spray was also used in conjunction with the tear gas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to an inquiry Monday afternoon.
Despite Colburn’s claim that OC pepper spray is safe to eat, experts say that it can be dangerous for human exposure — let alone consumption.
“I am very concerned that Mr. Colburn is misrepresenting the potential harms from pepper spray and tear gas,” said Sven-Eric Jordt, an associate professor in anesthesiology, pharmacology and cancer biology at the Duke University School of Medicine. He added that pepper spray and tear gas are sometimes confused with one another.
“Yes, the burning, painful ingredient in pepper spray, capsaicin, is of natural origin, distilled from chile peppers,” Jordt said. “However, capsaicin is used at several thousandfold higher concentrations in the spray. It would never be used at these concentrations on food.”
Jordt added that capsaicin in high concentrations is especially dangerous for children because of their small lungs. The elderly, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and the common cold, are also at risk. He pointed to deaths reported in prison inmates who were sprayed with pepper spray as evidence.
“How to control riots . . . it’s a question we need to discuss in society, what is the appropriate response?” Jordt said. “Especially when used against crowds of children and elderly, there is grave concern with injuries.”
A longer version of the “Fox & Friends” segment posted by Media Matters shows Colburn stating that the caravan of migrants approaching the border has a “core of violence to it that basically communicates a sense of entitlement.”
“These are persons that one would like to think are true refugees, but they’re not showing that in their actions,” Colburn added.
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment on Colburn’s remarks Monday morning.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement Sunday that the border was closed “to ensure public safety in response to large numbers of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. illegally.” Officials cited “multiple instances of people throwing projectiles” toward U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Customs and Border Protection officers reopened the border later that day.