Part-time Governor and full-time Presidential campaigner Kristi Noem flew to Texas again yesterday, this time for the predictable generalissimo photo opportunity with the 48 South Dakota National Guard troops whom she has deployed to observe and report immigrants approaching the United States border from Mexico. AP’s Stephen Groves got pictures of Noem hiding her eyes under her USA-flagged camouflage cap while playing Dukakis in an armored vehicle and standing around listening to soldiers who gesture and point in front of the Rio Grande and the border fence. Noem herself, once again unconcerned about supposed “security reasons” for hiding information about the deployment, tweeted a photo from the border showing soldiers’ names and faces and indicated that her deployment of South Dakota’s Rent-a-Guard hasn’t stopped border crossings:
Chatting with the press for eight minutes, Noem said that fenced and patrolled area behind her is an “open border.” She claimed that the deployment of South Dakota Guard members to this border serves South Dakota’s interest by checking the influx of drugs and human trafficking, even though we know that the vast majority of illegal drug trade comes through legal ports of entry and the mail and the vast majority of human trafficking comes from domestic sources (Sturgis Rally starts next Friday).
Noem said it is “in the interest of South Dakota to have our laws be enforced.” When asked how the Guards are doing that if they aren’t trained in law enforcement, Noem admitted the Guards aren’t actually enforcing laws; they are observing, locating individuals approaching the border, and notifying Border Patrol. The Guards also point family units to Border Patrol which can connect those immigrants with NGOs. Noem indicated South Dakota’s Guards could be moved to busier zones and deputized to do actual law enforcement.
Noem said “coyotes” are making money bringing children in and that Guard members want to stay and do more. Noem said Texas wants the Guards to stay longer as well. Noem said she was skeptical about a longer commitment until she visited the border and saw law enforcement “overwhelmed”; she said she will evaluate extending the deployment.
Asked by AP’s Groves if she would accept another private donation to fund an extended deployment, Noem snapped at the reporter that she’d “appreciate it if you’d write the truth.” Noem said she decided to send the Guards to Texas “weeks before that donation came in…. The decision was not tied to the funding whatsoever.” When Groves reiterated his actual question of whether Noem would accept further private donations, Noem said “I wouldn’t use it to fund the deployment because that’s not what’s funding the deployment.” That statement contradicts the statements from Noem’s office and from Tennessee billionaire Willis Johnson in June that Johnson’s million-dollar donation would fund the deployment:
Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said the governor decided to fund the deployment with a private donation “to help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers,” but declined to provide estimates on the cost of the deployment, citing “security reasons” [Stephen Groves, “GOP Donor to Fund Cost of Sending South Dakota National Guard Troops to Texas,” AP via Military Times, 2021.06.29].
The auto scrap billionaire who is funding South Dakota’s deployment of national guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border told TPM in an interview that he was making the contribution because “this President would rather help other countries than help America.”
“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.
…Johnson told TPM that he had reached out to Noem about financing the deployment because Noem “stood up for America” [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].
Noem said her office has received “many many phone calls from people who… want to help fund it.” So, yes, it appears South Dakota will happily take your donations for further National Guard deployments.
Another reporter asked if Texas Governor Greg Abbott expressed any embarrassment that Texas lacks the resources to handle this problem itself? Noem said no, Abbott has a plan and is “stepping up big time” to provide resources.
A reporter noted that South Dakota has actually seen drug use decrease during the pandemic and thus asked if Noem if she really sees illegal drugs as the main issue motivating this deployment or if she’s just looking ahead to the 2024 election. Noem didn’t mention her electioneering; she just took credit for reducing drug use in South Dakota and asserted again that our drugs are coming across the U.S.–Mexico border. The reporter noted her frequent presence in early-primary state Iowa; Noem said “Iowa’s next door, so I’m there all the time. I was, like, there, twice last week, I think.” The reporter asked if anything from yesterday’s visit would be used in “promotional materials.” With a smile, Noem said, “I don’t believe so, that would—this is all official business, this is what I do, I do my job, I support my troops, they—I want—a lot of times you can’t speak to something unless you see it with your eyes and you understand the reality of what’s happening. I make decisions that impact people’s lives every day, and I don’t ever want to put them in a situation that I’m not confident that they can step up, serve, complete, and come home safely.”
Asked for a top list of drugs creating problems in South Dakota, Noem said meth is the biggest problem, along with heroin and fentanyl. “But we also have trafficking—human trafficking that happens quite a bit.” Noem reminded reporters that South Dakota has nine Indian reservations “and I don’t have any jurisdiction what happens on those reservations.” Noem said Mexican cartels have a presence on a couple of our reservations from which drugs end up filtered throughout the Midwest.
Asked if she could recount previous visits to check on the troops, Noem noted that she visited our Guards in Washington, D.C., when they were deployed for Inauguration security. She indicated that her travel to oversee our Guards has been limited due to covid—”I’m trying to be responsible in my approach”—although a review of her travels at the height of the pandemic indicates little concern for coronavirus safety protocols when she wanted to make campaign appearances.
To the final question, about budget, Noem said she needs to go home (true!) and put pencil to paper to figure out the state’s capacity to fund a continuing deployment Noem said she plans to ask Texas if it could reimburse us for some of the cost.