Governor Kristi Noem’s deployment of the South Dakota National Guard to the Texas border cost $1,451,699.59, according to new records obtained by CREW through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. 

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. 

When a state legislator reached out to the South Dakota National Guard about the troubling nature of the deployment and donation, the SDNG replied that they had “no visibility as to rather (sic) or not the Department of Public Safety has ever received donations from public individuals for responses to State Emergency Actions.” An official also advised staff to “stay on their A game” when speaking about the deployment publicly because “people will be asking questions. Our position is we don’t discuss the donation.” Even though the donation may have been unprecedented, this official told staff that they had received a mission “just like every other.”

Multiple South Dakota officials insisted that using the donation was legal according to South Dakota state law. However, as multiple reports suggest Kristi Noem could be a candidate in the 2024 presidential election, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that a major Republican donor gave $1 million to support a political stunt because “he just wanted to help,” and that Noem spent nearly half a million dollars more in state funds.

The documents show plans to deploy the South Dakota National Guard troops to the area of Rio Grande City, Texas, roughly 1,300 miles south of South Dakota’s own southern border.

Header photo by Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons license.

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