When it is not lying about the 2020 election, creating laws to solve problems that do not exist, or doing other dishonest and awful things, the Republican party is focused on the border. Trump obsessed about his wall—but it is a
“absentia monumentum, to make up a phrase. Now that Joe Biden is President, some Republican leaders have decided to take immigration policy and border control into their own hands by deploying law enforcement to border states. As this is being written, Florida, Nebraska and Iowa have committed to this. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has decided to one-up these states: she wants to deploy up to 50 National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.
While using National Guard troops in law enforcement roles might strike some as illegal, this is apparently within the law if the troops are acting under the command of a state governor. Matters change if the National Guard is acting under federal authority. As such, Noem can legally send the Guard to serve in law enforcement roles. Biden cannot, which answers the question asked by some conservatives about why Joe is not sending the Guard or federal troops to enforce laws on the border. The answer is that it would be illegal for him to do so.
While Noem and her fellows seem to be simply engaged in political theatre to impress their base, this situation does raise some important concerns. A very unusual aspect of Noem’s plan is that she has announced that a donation from Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation will fund the deployment. Willis Johnson is a billionaire who regularly contributes to Republicans, including a sizable donation to Trump’s losing campaign. Normally, if a Guard unit from one state is deployed in another, the federal government pays for it. Guard deployments within a state are usually paid for by state funds. The private funding of a National Guard deployment seems to be an historic first and one that is worrisome.
On the one hand, this could be defended. As Noem argued, private funding for military operations would save the taxpayers money. As noted above, deploying the Guard in this manner would normally be paid for by federal money, although a state could decide to pay instead. Since the federal government is controlled by the Democrats, they are unlikely to fund this Republican political theater—so Noem is “saving” the taxpayers of her state money by getting private funding for her political theater. While I obviously think that Noem should not be sending the troops, the idea of using private funding does have some appeal and an interesting moral case can be made that the wealthy who want or benefit from troop deployments should bear the cost of these deployments. Imagine, for example, if the Iraq War had been privately funded rather than paid for with taxpayer money. So Noem might be on to something here. Not something new, though.
On the other hand, there are obvious concerns about private money being used to fund military operations by state forces. Soldiers who act on the behest of private citizens who pay them are, obviously, acting as mercenaries. Now, in the case of Noem the soldiers would be acting under the orders of their legitimate commander; but her orders would seem to be at the behest of a private citizen who is paying for her to order the Guard to conduct operations on American soil. That is, she is ordering them to act as mercenaries. I want to stress that I am not accusing the Guard soldiers of being mercenaries themselves—they are being put into a morally problematic situation by a leader who should not be doing that to honorable men and women. The moral failure is on her, not them.
Another concern is the precedent this sets. While the wealthy have operated private armies in America in the past and used their influence to get federal and state forces to enforce their will, this seems to be the first case of private money being used to fund a National Guard operation for clear political purposes. This raises the worry that this precedent will be followed by other billionaires and corporations: it has been established that a Republican governor will accept private money to fund military operations by state forces to advance their political goals and ambitions. This is, to say the least, an exceptionally dangerous precedent. To anticipate a straw man attack, I would have no moral objection to a private donor assisting in providing funds to the National Guard in response to a natural disaster. As an example, if Bill Gates wanted to buy the Florida National Guard equipment critical to their response to a destructive hurricane and no one was up to political machinations to misuse the Guard, then that would be morally acceptable. But using private money to fund military operations for political goals, gain and ambitions is dangerous and wrong.