SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem announced on Twitter Monday that she would be sending up to 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the Texas/Mexico border. On Tuesday, it was announced by her office that the deployment will be funded by a private donation from a Tennessee billionaire and major Republican donor, Willis Johnson.
Wednesday, KELOLAND News confirmed from lawmaker Reynold Nesiba that the donation would total $1 million. South Dakota’s initial deployment is expected to last between 30 and 60 days. Officials are working to finalize the details of the mission.
KELOLAND News reached out to Johnson to ask about the donation.
“It was 100% me,” said Johnson, claiming that his donation had not been solicited, and that he had taken the full initiative to reach out to Noem’s office and offer his money to send the National Guard to the border.
Johnson says he made the donation because he doesn’t like what’s going on in America.
“Human trafficking and drugs coming across the border — the President don’t care about that, and illegals coming in,” he said. “I love to have foreign people coming to America,” he clarified, “but not illegally.”
Asked why he picked South Dakota to donate to, Johnson says he chose the state because it’s not as big of a state as Texas or Florida, and he believed it could use the money.
“I thought, you know, I’ll call Kristi Noem and I gave her a call and told her what I’d do,” he said.
Johnson declined to say how much his donation was saying: “I haven’t told anybody that — George Soros gives a lot of money to the Democrats and he never says, and I don’t think I have to on the Republican side. I’m a hard-core Republican.”
Johnson says he’s helped a lot of politicians get into office, but that this is the first time he’s funded a National Guard deployment.
Johnson says he didn’t donate to Nebraska or Iowa, who’s Governors have also announced they will be sending personnel to Texas, because they didn’t stand up.
“Kristi Noem stood up first,” he said. “The people who follow, I don’t care.” Asked if he had reached out to the Governor of his own state of Tennessee, Johnson said he has not. “He waits, he procrastinates — he didn’t say what he was gonna do.”
Asked about the comparison of a privately funded National Guard deployment to the hiring of mercenaries, Johnson spoke of his military service in Vietnam and his business success.
“You know what; I was 18, I was gonna give my life to this country, and if I can give my life to this country and come back from Vietnam and build a big public company — America’s gave me a lot and I was gonna give my life, I can dang sure give my money,” Johnson said.
That point of view, that Johnson could give his money to send the Guard due to his military service, was pushed back on by Tim Schorn, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of South Dakota who spent three years on active duty in the U.S. Army and another 21 years in the South Dakota National Guard.
“I find that all completely irrelevant,” says Schorn. “He is a person who is using his money for his own political agenda and buying the service of others.”
Schorn says if Johnson wants to give money to South Dakota, there are better ways to do it.
“This is not the way to support South Dakota. Invest your money. Invest your money in affordable housing. Invest your money in infrastructure. Invest your money in industry. Don’t buy our troops to fulfill your political agenda,” he says.
As for the issue as a whole, Schorn sees it as a political maneuver to position Noem for campaigning in 2024.
“I think that she’s very much looking ahead to post-2022, looking ahead to 2024, and this is a way to kind of solidify her bona-fides on immigration, on law and order, and this makes her more appealing to a Republican base that is going to be very important in primaries,” Schorn said.
As for Noem herself, the Governor posted a three-minute long video to Twitter defending her decision to send the National Guard, attacking President Biden and addressing the private donation.
“[The National Guard troops will] help Texas law enforcement fight the effects of the border crisis,” says Noem in the video. “This crisis is a matter of national security.”
This statement is another that was addressed by Schorn.
“Texas has more than enough law enforcement to address the issue,” he says. “They have the Federal Border Patrol there and other federal law enforcement agencies, so I think Governor Noem’s argument fails when you look at all of that — if it’s truly just a law enforcement issue, the state of Texas has more than enough resources available. If it’s a national security issue, there are tens-of-thousands of American troops on bases in Texas.”
“The Biden administration has failed to secure the border from illegal entry,” says Noem on Twitter. “As a result, thousands of illegal aliens are coming into our country without consequence and without any plan to send them back. Illegal drugs are pouring over our border. They’re devastating our communities right here in South Dakota, and the tragedy of human trafficking, of men, women and children, it’s unfolding before our eyes.”
Schorn says that if Noem wants to address these issues, she should address them here in South Dakota.
“Sex trafficking, drug trafficking, immigrants being used illegally as labor doesn’t start and stop at the border; it occurs within every state. So if Governor Noem wants to address that, issue, she could just as easily address it in South Dakota,” Schorn said.
“I know there’s been some questions about the private donation that is paying for this deployment,” continues Noem on her Twitter post. “On several occasions, our state has partnered with private citizens on projects that are important to South Dakota.”
Schorn says these sorts of partnerships, particularly with out-of-state individuals, concern him. “[Johnson] knew that given Governor Noem’s political agenda and stances that he could use her, or that they could work as a team, to accomplish a particular political goal — she has the authority, I have the money; we’ll do what we want with that,” Schorn said.