Governor Kristi Noem is pimping out South Dakota’s soldiers for hire to the highest radical bidder. She’s letting Tennessee car parts billionaire Willis Johnson, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the party of insurrection and who met Noem at a Tennessee political fundraising event, spot the cash to send South Dakota National Guard troops out on a Mexican border photo op for South Dakota’s aspiring Presidential candidate:
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Tuesday she will use a donation from a Republican donor to fund a deployment of up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.
…Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation made the donation directly to the state, [spokesboy Ian] Fury said. Willis Johnson, a Tennessee-based billionaire, is the founder of an online used-car auction called Copart. He regularly makes large contributions to Republicans, including $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee last year [Stephen Groves, “GOP Donor to Fund Cost of Sending South Dakota National Guard Troops to Texas,” AP via Military Times, 2021.06.29].
Johnson says his purchase of troops is an expression of his patriotic duty to take his country back from an “idiot” President:
“I fought in Vietnam and a lot of my buddies died over there,” Willis Johnson told TPM in a Tuesday phone conversation. “And now we’ve got people saying we can’t even protect our own borders.”
“This President would rather help other countries than help America,” he added.
…“God gave America to us and God can take it away,” Johnson added. “If our people don’t protect it, then I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
…Johnson told TPM that he had reached out to Noem about financing the deployment because Noem “stood up for America.”
…Johnson went on to call Biden an “idiot,” saying that the President “just wants to do everything that Trump didn’t try to do — he doesn’t care if it’s right or wrong.”
…“People don’t respect nothing unless they work for it,” Johnson said, referring to the Biden administration’s policies.
“You’ve gotta work for what you got, and you’ve gotta respect what other people has — but not shooting and killing and lying and raping and doing other kinds of stuff because they’ve got free money,” he added
“It’s just chaos with this President, and he don’t care,” Johnson added [Josh Kovensky, “Auto Scrap Billionaire Who Paid to Send National Guard to Southern Border Sounds Off on Why He Did It,” Talking Points Memo, 2021.06.29].
Johnson appears to be saying that if you aren’t happy with government policy and you are “really, really rich,” you should be able to buy military resources to implement your own policy, outside the regular processes of public appropriation and oversight. We the People are supposed to foot the bill collectively for soldiers and police to ensure that the state’s force of arms is always deployed in the public interest and not in the service of any private party or partisan minority. Letting private money grease the wheels for a military deployment sets a terrible precedent. What’s next: will Johnson and other wealthy Republicans buy National Guard time to send troops to break up protests against pipelines? Will they pay to ship even more Guards to the border so they aren’t available to respond to the next right-wing insurrection at the Capitol?
I’m not the only observer alarmed at this privatization of our military forces:
“We’re flabbergasted,” said Mandy Smithberger, a national security accountability expert with the non-profit watchdog Project on Government Oversight. “Our military and Guard should be used for advancing our national security and safety, and it’s extremely troubling to see the Guard’s actions being dictated and supported by a private donor. It sets a troubling precedent and risks further politicizing our forces.”
South Dakota State Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, was similarly concerned that an individual donor is paying for the deployment. “SD National Guard members signed up to serve our state and country, not to generate airtime for our Governor on Fox News or to be mercenaries for some wealthy donor,” he tweeted. “Our National Guardsmen and women are not professional soldiers for hire” [W.J. Hennigan, “Billionaire GOP Donor Bankrolls National Guard Border Deployment,” Time, 2021.06.29].
At least one Republican legislator shares Senator Nesiba’s concern:
“It seems to me like our National Guard soldiers are hired mercenaries and whoever is willing to pay a certain amount of money, they are going to be sent off to go and do… Who knows what,” said State Rep. Aaron Aylward (R-Harrisburg) [AP and Austin Goss, “Private Donor Paying for S.D. Nat’l Guard’s Mission to Border,” KSFY, 2021.06.29].
Supporting the troops does not mean buying their time and trouble to carry out rogue national policy. It means exactly the opposite: resisting the privatization and politicization of soldiers so they answer solely to the will of the people, not the will of a handful of rich campaign donors.