Other than creating a photo op for right-wing media of Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gazingly lovingly at and possibly petting the incomplete, ineffective and massively costly border wall it’s not exactly clear what the purpose is of the former president’s trip to McAllen, Texas today.
It comes on the day, however, of a very odd development regarding the U.S.-Mexican border. South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, whose state capital of Pierre is roughly 1,400 miles from the border town of McCallen, Texas, has said she will deploy 50 of her state’s National Guard troops to the southern border. In doing so Noem has some good news for her constituent taxpayers – they won’t have to pay for it.That’s because, in yet another layer of strange in this arrangement, the mission will be funded by the “private donation” of GOP megadonor billionaire Willis Johnson from Tennessee. Johnson is a Vietnam veteran who amassed a fortune in the scrap auto parts business. Neither Noem nor Johnson would say how much money he was donating. It was paid to South Dakota by the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation, a non-profit that donates to churches and the National Rifle Association. Willis Johnson has donated huge sums to GOP candidates over the years, including at least $550,000 to Trump in 2019 and 2020.
“I fought in Vietnam and a lot of my buddies died over there,” Willis Johnson told Talking Points Memo in a Tuesday phone conversation. “And now we’ve got people saying we can’t even protect our own borders. I want to protect America and that’s it.”
The Guard members are being sent in response to Abbott’s plea to augment border security with law enforcement resources from other states, Noem’s office said in a statement. Some 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. The deployment, which is expected to last 30 to 60 days, is for a separate state-led mission to be overseen by Texas officials.
Privately funding a military mission is an affront to civilian oversight of the armed forces, according to military and oversight experts. The move – in which a Republican governor sends troops to a Republican-led state, paid for by a Republican donor – is unprecedented and likely 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.