Tennessee junk billionaire Willis Johnson gave Governor Kristi Noem a million dollars to send the National Guard to the southern border to get What-a-Burger and give Noem another excuse to campaign in Texas. Johnson’s gift, then unethical and now illegal, covered about two thirds of the total cost of this wasteful and harmful stunt, says Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington:
The deployment, which was funded in large part by a $1 million donation from billionaire GOP donor Willis Johnson, immediately raised legal and ethical concerns by seemingly offering a private donor unprecedented control over the National Guard’s deployment. The rest of the deployment was likely covered by a state emergency fund. The costs covered salaries for 48 national guard officers, equipment including 11 humvees, flights to Texas and lodging.
Governor Noem sent the South Dakota National Guard to Texas to support “Operation Lone Star,” an initiative started by Texas Governor Greg Abbot purportedly meant to stop cartels and smugglers, but that has largely resulted in thousands of asylum seekers and migrants being arrested for trespassing on private property. Some Texas National Guard have called the operation “aimless, political and oversized” and were stationed over 80 miles away from the border to protect ranches owned by the wealthy and politically connected. South Dakota National Guard troops were deployed to the state for 70 days—meaning that the state spent more than $20,000 a day to support a public relations stunt [Lauren White, “Kristi Noem’s Border Stunt Cost $1.5 Million,” CREW, 2022.05.05].
$20,000 a day—wow! Kristi’s private video studio doesn’t cost anywhere near that amount to operate, and she gets much better public relations from all those live sit-downs with Fox News.
Noem continues to throw Guard resources into border posturing by signing South Dakota onto the “American Governors’ Border Strike Force,” which smells like a vague ploy by 26 Republican governors to set up their own shadow military. Let’s hope her continued photo-opping of our National Guard doesn’t leave us shorthanded when we need them to respond to tornados, floods, and other real problems in South Dakota.