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Kristi Noem doubled down on dog-killing to win over MAGA — now her story is backfiring in her face

Kristi Noem doubled down on dog-killing to win over MAGA — now her story is backfiring in her face
Kristi Noem doubled down on dog-killing to win over MAGA — now her story is backfiring in her face


Squint hard enough and perhaps one can see how Gov. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., thought it was a winning political move to brag about murdering a puppy. It’s the same trolling strategy used by MAGA Republicans like Donald Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas: Say something extremely evil, stupid, or both. Draw the inevitable liberal outrage or mockery. Play the victim, claiming that it’s more proof the “elites” hate the common sense working folk of MAGA. Then sit back and watch the dollars and followers roll in. 

For Noem, however, her tale of shooting her dog Cricket is not working out quite as planned. Sure, she got the predictable outrage and disgust from Democrats. But she also seems to have alienated the very Trump supporters she was trying to impress with her bloodthirsty tale. Fox News let their displeasure be known by doing a round-up story of conservative social media influencers denouncing Noem, often with quite harsh language. “Did she just intentionally end her career?” asked trollish podcaster Tim Poole. Other high-profile right-wingers blasted Noem as an “Absolute Psycho” and called for her to be “criminally charged for animal abuse.” Even the notorious right-wing troll Catturd — who has 2.4 million Twitter followers because he acts as vile as his name suggests — drew a line at killing your child’s beloved pet. 

Noem, however, still seems to think she can win over Republican voters by doubling and tripling down on her tale of executing a 14-month-old Wirehaired Pointer because it got confused and killed some chickens, instead of the pheasants she was training it to hunt. On Friday, she bragged about “the media gasping” at her “politically INcorrect” dog murder while hawking her new book. By Sunday she seemed to grasp that even Republicans were grossed out. She released a longer statement, trying to recast her choice as “hard and painful,” claiming, “I have never passed on my responsibilities to anyone else to handle.” 

This, too, is unlikely to work, for one simple reason: Noem forgot the first rule of fascist Fight Club – you never show your true face to outsiders.

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Noem was right that her story perfectly illustrates the sadistic ethos of the MAGA movement. Killing a dog for being inconvenient follows the same logic as forcing women to give birth or shooting Black Lives Matter protesters or setting up concentration camps to imprison refugees from Central America. (All policy ideas Trump has proposed or enacted.) In every case, the MAGA view is straightforward: absolute submission from those deemed “lesser” than you, or maximum punishment. 

A reminder to the rest of MAGA: Always pretend your malice serves a higher cause. 

Where Noem failed, however, is in saying the quiet part out loud. Most fascists, including Trump, understand that you don’t just come out and say that you embrace violence against those who can’t fight back. Instead, the MAGA trick is to reframe your intended victims as a threat, so you can pretend your cruelty is self-defense. The scared migrants fleeing political violence are recast as “invaders” coming to rape and murder Americans. The teen rape victim is reimagined as a murderous trollop who loves to kill babies. LGBTQ people who want rights are accused of being “groomers.” Protesters being beaten up by police are accused of being dangerous “thugs.” And so on. 

Trump, of course, is all about this victim-posturing to justify violence. His rallies have morphed into near-religious celebrations of political violence, complete with celebrating the January 6 insurrectionists as heroes. But Trump always makes sure to frame this violence as self-protection. As Charles Homan of the New York Times Magazine detailed over the weekend, Trump’s speeches are stuffed full of warnings about the “radical left” — a group he claims includes President Joe Biden and all Democrats — who “lie and steal and cheat on elections and will do anything possible — they’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America.”

This is the classic fascist two-step: Project your own ugly urges onto your intended victims, and redefine your unprovoked violence as “security.” It goes back to the Nazis, at least, who never admitted they targeted Jews because they were a small and relatively defenseless minority. Instead, Nazis spread propaganda claiming Jews were engaged in a sprawling conspiracy to destroy German civilization. The Holocaust was rationalized as safeguarding Germany, instead of what it actually was, a genocide. 

Noem isn’t totally unaware of how this is supposed to work. She does try to paint her dog, the victim, as “dangerous to anyone she came in contact with.” But she fails at demonizing the dead dog. First, she recounts how her kids asked about the dog, suggesting they were not, in fact, afraid of their pet. She then admits that she saw the dog as “less than worthless” and “untrainable,” suggesting her real motive was annoyance instead of fear. 

But it’s unlikely she could ever put a positive spin on dog murder. It’s one thing for right-wing propagandists to paint migrants or LGBTQ people or college professors or leftist protesters as a menace. Their audience has little contact with those people, making it a lot easier to make up stories about how dangerous they are. But dogs? Most people, regardless of party, are quite familiar with dogs. Quite a few have dogs as pets. Most people like dogs, seeing them as sweet animals who just want to please their masters. Most people know that the dog probably only followed her murderer to the gravel pit because, as is the canine habit, she trusted her owner. 

There are definitely some MAGA men who are defending Noem. Unsurprisingly, they come from the small subset of MAGA world that is sick of their community’s own victim-tripping and want to move towards a bolder, less apologetic sadism. But while it’s more honest to own their desire to crush those who are smaller or more vulnerable for the sheer perverse glee of it, most fascists know it’s politically smarter to at least front like you’re not a straight-up sociopath.

It was always unlikely that Trump was going to pick Noem for his running mate — he’s too misogynist to allow a woman to be in line for the presidency — but even though he no doubt privately thought this was an awesome story, Trump has a sense when someone (other than himself, that is) is just too weird to sell to the public at large. So this likely ends Noem’s chances. And it functions as a reminder to the rest of MAGA: Always pretend your malice serves a higher cause.

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