By Gary Dickson, State News Reporter
MITCHELL, SD – Emotions have been running high across the country lately as people, organized by far- right conservative organizations and egged on by white nationalist groups, have been protesting various states’ coronavirus lockdown orders. The state capitols of Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and California have all been the sites of marches and demonstrations. In Michigan, protesters carrying assault rifles got into the capitol building in Lansing and occupied the gallery area.
Now it looks like its South Dakota’s turn. Today, marchers and protesters assembled in front of the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell to make their voices heard about South Dakota’s coronavirus lockdown decree. Not nearly as large as the protests in the other more populous states, this one was attended by about 20 people. But what the marchers lacked in numbers they made up with spirit, chants and songs.
No protest should be without signs, and this one was no different. One sign said, “Let Me Go Outside, I Want to Die in Fresh Air!”. Another, held by a marcher wearing a face mask and a hazmat suit, said “Covid-19 Is A Hoax”. One more declared, “I Need A Haircut!”. A couple of marchers waved American flags while another waved a confederate one. Several marchers carried assault rifles and at least one man was spotted carrying a shotgun.
The protesters said they were going to try to prevent the state lawmakers from getting into the building and conducting the legislative session.
“If we can at least interrupt the session for even a few hours, I’ll be really happy,” said a protester named Dave who wouldn’t give his last name. “Just Dave.” He said.
About 40 yards away there was a woman shouting into a bullhorn for Governor Kristi Noem to come out and talk to them. “Come out of you tasseled dome, governor,” the woman shouted. “Come down here and talk to your people!” The woman, Bethany Sacks, was accompanied by her 17-year-old son, Nigel. She said they were from Fort Wayne, Indiana and were hoping to possibly get arrested for rioting.
The crowd stood calmly in front of the Corn Palace doors with Mitchell Police Officers and members of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department looking on from the back. The protester named Dave said that members of the Proud Boys were in town. “But I heard that they met up with a few of the Uff-Da Boys from Dell Rapids and wandered off somewhere,” he said. “They left their cars at the Burger King out on the edge of town and are walking. But they somehow got lost and they can’t even find their way back to their cars. I talked to Ole from the Uff-Da Boys on my cellphone, and he said his fellas are starting to get kinda owly and if somebody don’t come get them, they might all start calling each other names and stuff.”
About 4 o’clock a reporter from the Mitchell Daily Republic strolled up to where Dave and another protester were leaning against the building talking and wondering why the state legislators hadn’t tried to get into the building. “And we haven’t heard a thing from Governor Noem!” said the other protester. The reporter informed them and others within earshot that the Corn Palace wasn’t the state capitol building, that it was in Pierre along with Governor Noem. The reporter also told them that the legislature wasn’t in session now and wouldn’t be in session again until January of next year, unless the governor decides to call a special session to deal with money problems. Lastly, the reporter told the protesters that South Dakota didn’t have a coronavirus lockdown order to speak of. He said the governor didn’t have much of a plan at all to deal with covid-19 and pretty much decided not to do anything about it except volunteer some of the state’s citizens to be guinea pigs for a vaccine that only President Trump thought would work.
“Well, if that don’t beat all,” Dave said. “I was just sure this building was the state capitol. I mean, just look at it! It’s made of corn and it’s got towers and everything. Well, I guess we’ll have to wait until another time to be disrupters.”
Word seemed to make its way through the assembled protesters that they had been barking up the wrong tree. People started to leave individually and in small groups. Their shoulders were stooped and they dragged their signs and assault rifles along the ground as they made their way back to their cars. After about 15 minutes the entire group of protesters had dispersed for wherever their homes were.
And on some isolated street corner in Mitchell two groups of men – the once Proud Boys and the Uff-Da Boys from Dell Rapids — were calling each other names and having a pushing contest.