South Dakota National Guard to the Border

The southern one.

WaPo reports the following: South Dakota governor sending National Guard to Mexico border on mission funded by GOP megadonor.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) will deploy up to 50 National Guard troops to the southern U.S. border, her office said Tuesday, with a highly unusual caveat — the mission will be funded by a “private donation” from an out-of-state GOP megadonor billionaire.

The Guard members will deploy in response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s plea to augment border security with law enforcement resources from other states, Noem’s office said in a statement.

It is problematic enough to performatively exploit fifty-ish members of the South Dakotan National Guard. It is, further, concerning that Noem believes (likely, correctly) that stoking xenophobia is a useful political tactic for the building of a national following in the GOP. It is fundamentally disturbing that a private citizen is bankrolling the operation.

It is performative because 50 individuals are not going to make much of a difference. For one thing, it is a veritable drop in the bucket:

About 3,600 service members are already on the border supporting Department of Homeland Security operations, the vast majority of whom are National Guard troops carrying out federal orders, defense officials said.

And it is doubly performative because it is all about governors with national ambitions engaging in sheer symbolism not augmenting existing federal policy:

Abbott’s request, and Noem’s fulfillment, is for a separate state-led mission overseen by Texas officials.

Whether one likes federal policy on this topic or not, this is a federal issue and anything that governors try to do is going to be ancillary at best (indeed, Abbot himself is engaging in his own performative nonsense on this topic, but at least his a border state–not that that excuses him from doing things like seeking to build border walls when his state’s electrical grid needs serious attention).

It is certainly the case that there are real problems at the border–indeed, our immigration system is simply in need of massive reform, but there is no consensus on an approach and so we are stuck with a mess. But for the governor of a state over a thousand miles from the Mexican border to send troops is all about keeping the fires of xenophobia alive, not about efficacy.

In a brief interview, Johnson [the donor] said his donation “100 percent” was meant to fund the border deployment. He declinedto say how much he paid the state, or whether Noem approached him or he acted on his own accord.

“I want to protect America and that’s it,” Johnson said.

But, of course, this is not going to protect America, and there were almost certainly better ways to spend the funds, even as it pertains to border issues, but the whole thing has the effect of further confirming in the minds of some that the border is so insecure that South Dakota had to send troops! And, worse, it takes a billionaire to save us–which also has the effect of reinforcing the notion that the government is unable to act, and so we must turn to plutocrats to fund even military operations. These are not healthy signals and the entire situation, therefore, speaks to the kind of politician Noem is.

Privately funding a military mission is an affront to civilian oversight of the armed forces, said military and oversight experts, describing the move — a Republican governor sending troops to a Republican-led state, paid for by a Republican donor — as likely unprecedented and unethical.

“You certainly don’t want our national security priorities up to the highest bidder,” said Mandy Smithberger, a defense accountability expert at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government watchdog.


The National Guard does not exist to fulfill the political whimsy of billionaires nor for the political stunts of ambitious governors. Such behavior reduces these troops to props and using private funds decreases transparency and accountability.

Of course, by the same token, if there are a large number of voters out there (in South Dakota and the country more broadly) who think that this kind of thing is a good idea (and there are), that is where the real problem exists. It is just unfortunate that she, and others, find that performative, wasteful, and inefficacious actions such as these impress anybody rather than working towards actual solutions to national problems.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kathy says:

    “A city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should find a buyer.” Jugurtha, King of Numidia, in reference to Rome.

  2. Scott says:

    Now I’m not a National Guard expert but I’ve read items about who is covering a Guardsman in case of accident (not the VA), points for benefits and retirement.

    I can also see a Guardsman having questions about legality and orders and such. But given its limited purpose of performative politics, I can easily see 50 South Dakota Guardsmen volunteering for such an assignment.

    It is all very sketchy. And, quite frankly, disrespectful to the Total Force. But I guess the military these days is on the outs with the far right radicals.

  3. CSK says:

    So Johnson (the donor) has in effect hired himself a private army, like a warlord.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    It is fundamentally disturbing that a private citizen is bankrolling the operation.

    Asserting that he will fund the operation. States differ, but based on my time on the legislative budget staff in my state, it is highly unlikely that he can write a check that the governor can deposit somewhere that she can draw on to pay state expenses. Certainly in my state, unless the legislature were to make a supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year, deploying 50 Guard members to Texas would come at the expense of other Guard activities no matter what the governor said about the funding.

  5. Jon says:

    Seems likely that the funding will be more in the form of a campaign donation rather than an actual payment to the state.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    She’s gonna send fifty guys to twiddle their thumbs on a border a thousand miles away and pretend it’s not coming out of taxpayer money. Base Republicans are so easy.

  7. PT says:

    Surely this kind of thing isn’t allowed. Right? Like, in real life? You’re right though, of course, that there are a large number of folks that hear about this kind of thing and are 100% on board. I want to get it but I just don’t.

  8. de stijl says:


    Whenever I get into a scuffle in CK3, I make sure I have “can hire mercenaries if push comes to shove time.” 400 gold at least.

    What exactly are SD NG gonna do on the border beyond observe? They have no operable orders beyond sit on your ass so to make a partisan political statement.

    Afaik, one governor cannot second her NG troops into the feds’ ICE or CBP as support. Zero authority.

    A stupidly inept and destructive and disruptive gesture that requires actual feet on the ground to tell SD NG forces you must stand down and do nothing – your Governor fucked up badly sending you here. It was political theater and you were the conscripted players.