South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem continues the Jan. 6 insurrection
South Dakota Gov. Kristin Noem is laying the ground for an eventual run for the president, promoting herself as a defender of the southern border. But her move to send S.D. National Guard troops sets a dangerous precedent. | Abigail Dollins / The Argus Leader via AP

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—Kristi Noem, the right-wing Republican governor of South Dakota, notorious for making her state the world epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic last year, outdid herself this week when she enlisted funds from a billionaire businessman to turn her state’s National Guard into a mercenary operation on the nation’s southern border.

She declared that, in contradiction to the U.S. Constitution, which puts foreign policy under the control of the president and the national government, she was sending South Dakota National Guard troops to “secure” the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The Biden Administration has failed in the most basic duty of the federal government: keeping the American people safe,” Noem said when she announced her decision. “The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide.”

The outrage is compounded by the fact that the move is being financed by a billionaire capitalist, setting the dangerous precedent of the wealthy in this country buying up portions of the military and using them as mercenaries to carry out policies they support, even when those policies contradict the policies of the U.S. government.

The ruling class doing that to protect their interests in the Middle Ages or in a modern-day fascist state might be business as usual, but for a democracy in modern times, the action is unprecedented and puts the country on a dangerous path, critics say.

Noem is not alone among governors in using the border situation to pursue new attacks on democracy. Earlier this month, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey sent out an appeal urging their fellow governors to send law enforcement personnel and equipment to the parts of their states that border on Mexico. Abbott and Ducey stated that the people who answered their call would be deputized and turned loose to round up and arrest anyone they suspected of having crossed the border illegally.

When Abbott sent out his appeal for “help” at the border, he had in mind that the other GOP governors would send police or state troopers they could “spare.” Noem, however, came up with the creative idea of enlisting a right-wing billionaire to fund sending National Guard troops as an army-for-hire.

Since Abbott and Ducey made their request, governors other than Noem have promised to send troops to the border. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts are sending state troopers and state police. Noem is bragging that by sending the National Guard she, unlike those other governors, is not making the communities in her state less safe by reducing their police protection.

She is using her alleged concern for law and order on both the border and in her state as a major plank in her expected campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency. At some point that could lead to a clash with Donald Trump, who is also a possible candidate for that nomination. For now, however, she, her fellow right-wing governors, Trump, and large portions of the pro-fascist Republican base are all on the same page: doing everything possible to sabotage the Biden administration, including derailing anything his administration tries to do on the border.

“We should not be making our own communities less safe by sending our police or Highway Patrol to fix a long-term problem President Biden’s administration seems unable or unwilling to solve,” Noem said. “My message to Texas is this: Help is on the way.”

Trump joined Texas Gov. Abbott on the border this week where Abbott also announced he was getting money from wealthy Republican donors. He said he was using the money to start up construction on the wall that has been halted by the Biden administration. He posed and smiled with Trump as the two said the construction of the wall would proceed even though it had been halted by Biden.

Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visit Trump’s unfinished border wall in Pharr, Texas, June 30, 2021. Not to be outdone, S.D. Gov. Kristi Noem is now dispatching National Guard troops to the border as mercenary soldiers. | Eric Gay / AP

The South Dakota National Guard deployment will last between 30 and 60 days, with the costs completely covered by the private donation, Noem said yesterday.

Ian Fury, a Noem spokesman, said the funding for the deployment came from the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation. Willis Johnson is the billionaire founder of an online used car auction company called Copart. He often makes huge contributions to Republicans and gave a quarter-million dollars to the Trump Victory Committee. Public records show he gave at least $550,000 to Trump in 2019 and 2020.

Trying to deflect criticism that the rich are being allowed by Noem to run loose in her state, Fury said, “The governor welcomes any such donations to help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers.” He refused to give the press any estimates of the cost of deploying the state’s National Guard, claiming that there were “security” concerns.

Obviously nervous about how bad all of this looks, Noem said yesterday that she was actually “surprised” when the billionaire GOP donor gave the $1 million donation to fund turning National Guardsmen and women into private mercenaries.

The Republican governor spoke to reporters yesterday about the whole affair only after a rising chorus of opposition has said she has effectively turned the National Guard into soldiers-for-hire.  Noem told the press the deal was “wonderful” and that she got the call about the donation from Willis just as she was pondering over how to pay for the deployment of the Guard to the Mexico-U.S. border.

South Dakota Democratic lawmakers, who are a small minority in the state government, have called on the governor to return the money to Willis and cancel the deployment of the South Dakota National Guard on the southern border. “Privatized deployments set a dangerous precedent for further political use of our National Guard,” they stated in a letter to Noem.

News of the Noem attack on democracy flew under the radar this week with all the attention on Supreme Court decisions, voting rights, infrastructure, and the investigations of the insurrection on Jan. 6. Noem’s actions, however, are evidence that the right-wing insurrection against the U.S. Constitution did not end on Jan. 6 but continues. Noem is clearly a leader of ongoing right-wing subversion in this country.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.