Catapults do hurl drugs over border. People hit in head? Doubtful

A border wall with Mexico is happening, but it has to be see-through so that Americans aren’t knocked out by 100 pounds of drugs catapulted across the border, President Donald Trump told supporters.

“Believe it or not, this is the kind of stuff that happens. So you need to have a great wall, but it has to be see-through,” Trump said when talking about catapults used to sling caches of drugs over the border.

What we wanted to know for this fact check is if drugs have been catapulted across the border and hit people on the head.

Trump was accurate about drugs being catapulted. Immigration officials have seized marijuana launched across the border, and in some cases, found catapults. Whether people have been hit on the head by these sacks is uncertain.

Reports from U.S. Customs and Border Protection about catapults date back at least to 2011.

An attempt to catapult marijuana into the United States failed in January 2011 after U.S. officials noticed the preparation through remote video surveillance. They contacted Mexican authorities who seized a sport utility vehicle, about 45 pounds of marijuana and “a catapult capable of launching contraband into the U.S.,” a press release said. The attempt happened near Naco, Ariz.

In February, Border Patrol agents in Douglas, Ariz, seized two bundles of marijuana catapulted from Mexico, weighing more than 47 pounds combined, CBP said.

Agents on patrol noticed several people retreating from the south side of the border fence as the agents approached, CBP said, and at the fence “they found a catapult system attached to the south side of the border fence.” A search of the area led them to the two bundles of marijuana.

In July, the Douglas Police Department in Arizona seized more than 140 pounds of marijuana launched over the border fence. An officer responding to calls about bundles being launched over found “a large bundle of marijuana that had broken upon impact, exposing multiple smaller bundles inside,” CBP said.

And last month, Border Patrol agents in Arizona operating remote video surveillance saw an object launched over the border. Other agents went to the area and found a large cylindrical bundle of marijuana weighing more than 96 pounds and worth $48,000, CBP reported.

Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of its Drug Policy Project, said he hadn’t heard of any injuries associated with catapults.

“Traffickers have definitely used catapults to hurl drug packages over the existing wall, but the chance of anyone getting hit by such a package along a 2,000-mile wall is simply laughable,” Tree said.

Other experts also told us that cartels have used catapults to throw marijuana over the border, but they were unaware of anyone actually being hit by the bundles.

There are drug catapults that launch loads up to 100 pounds over the border wall, but that happens very rarely. Smaller payloads of 20 to 40 pounds are more common with the drug catapults, said Brandon Behlendorf, an assistant professor at the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security & Cybersecurity within University at Albany, SUNY.

Our ruling

Trump is accurate that, from time to time, catapults have been used at the border by traffickers. Packages of marijuana thrown over the border range from less than 50 pounds to more than 100 pounds. But we found no reports of people on the U.S. side of the border hit by the falling bundles.

We rate Trump's statement Mostly True.

“So now they take drugs, literally, and they throw it, a hundred pounds of drugs. They throw it over the wall, they have catapults, but they throw it over the wall, and it lands and it hits somebody on the head.”

— Donald Trump on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 in a rally