Does Kristi Noem believe in Freedom, or just freedom? The scandalous truth.

January 20, 2024 1:00 pm
Gov. Kristi Noem speaks Sept. 8, 2023, during a rally at The Monument in Rapid City featuring former President Donald Trump. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

Gov. Kristi Noem speaks Sept. 8, 2023, during a rally at The Monument in Rapid City featuring former President Donald Trump. (Seth Tupper/South Dakota Searchlight)

Gov. Kristi Noem really likes freedom. Not just little freedom. She likes big Freedom, and even bigger FREEDOM.

She reached the apotheosis of her freedom fetish during her recent State of the State address, when she used the word 38 times in 39 minutes. In the published text of the speech, every instance of the word included a capital “F.”

Noem capitalizes the “F” in freedom every time she writes it — not only in published speeches, but also on social media and in her weekly columns. I emailed her spokespeople and asked why, but they didn’t respond. I guess they believe in Freedom from the press.

Left to my own curiosity, I did some digging and discovered something shocking. It could threaten Noem’s Freedom-loving reputation, and maybe even spoil her chance of becoming the running mate for Donald Trump, the nation’s leading serial capitalizer (on his Truth Social platform, he recently dispensed with lower-case letters and posted an entire rant in all-caps).

In fact, this information about Noem is so disturbing that if you’re a Freedom-loving fan of the most Freedom-loving governor in the Freest state in this Free nation, you might want to brace yourself before reading Further (oops, that one was accidental).

The disturbing truth is this: Kristi Noem has not always believed in big “F” Freedom. She formerly espoused only a feckless fondness for small “f” freedom. You might say she’s a flip-flopper. Or a Flip-flopper. Or maybe a flip-Flopper.

As recently as August of 2022, she was routinely tapping the “f” key while typing “freedom” with careless disregard for the “shift” and “caps lock” buttons.

On Aug. 4 of that year, for example, Noem wrote this on Facebook about her then-opponent for governor, Democrat Jamie Smith: “He would destroy the strongest economy in America that we’ve built and take away the freedoms that we’ve protected.”

Fortunately for all of us, Smith only wanted to steal our freedoms and not our Freedoms. Regardless, Noem beat him and protected both.

Noem’s Big “F” Big Bang happened five days later on Aug. 9, 2022. She had just ridden a motorcycle at the annual Sturgis rally, in defiance of freedom-hating party poopers who’d said in prior years that packing hundreds of thousands of people into a small town during a pandemic was a bad idea.

“When the liberal media attacked Sturgis, they turned it into something more — a powerful symbol of FREEDOM!” Noem wrote on Facebook that Fateful day. “So glad to share the Freedom and fresh air with you all yesterday.”

Notably, the air was fresh, but not Fresh, probably on account of the motorcycle exhaust. And it makes sense that fumes were present when Noem suddenly developed a compulsion to capitalize common nouns.

There was some inconsistency after that — most obviously in a weekly column that was published three days after her motorcycle ride and was devoted to that very topic. She wrote “freedom” with a lower-case “f” twice before switching, mid-column, to an upper-case “F” for the final three uses of the word.

Noem eventually imposed a big dose of Big “F” discipline on herself and her staff, and it’s been all big “F” Freedom ever since.

I’ve had plenty of laughs about it, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that it violates a basic rule of writing. Few writing guides capture the essence of the rule as hilariously as the one published online by the Skidmore College Political Science Department.

“Capitalize only words that need to be capitalized,” the guide says. “If you capitalize words just because they are Important, you risk looking like a Pompous Fool.”

Capitalize only words that need to be capitalized. If you capitalize words just because they are Important, you risk looking like a Pompous Fool.

– Writing guide, Skidmore College Political Science Department

In this case, Noem thinks voters are the fools. She believes shouting the word “FREEDOM!” loudly enough will distract them from noticing what a complicated relationship she has with the actual concept.

Because while Noem extols freedom from mask mandates and government regulations, she seems to believe just as fervently in her own freedom from accountability. That freedom allows her to use the state airplane for political events in other states, to spend an inordinate amount of time pursuing her national political ambitions instead of governing South Dakota, and to make herself the star of a taxpayer-funded, national workforce advertising campaign that’s at least partially in service to those ambitions.

In some situations, Noem doesn’t support freedom at all. She doesn’t believe in freedom for women to make their own reproductive choices. She doesn’t believe in freedom for transgender children and their families and doctors to make their own decisions about health care. And she doesn’t believe in freedom of information — like legally designating government emails as public records — when it threatens her grip on power.

But she’ll keep using that big “F,” because consistent commitment to a principle like freedom is hard. Making people believe you care about freedom by capitalizing the first letter of the word is a lot easier, and politically more beneficial.



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Seth Tupper
Seth Tupper

Seth is editor-in-chief of South Dakota Searchlight. He was previously a supervising senior producer for South Dakota Public Broadcasting and a newspaper journalist in Rapid City and Mitchell.