American Tribalism Alive and Well in South Dakota

Travel!! With Covid sending us home from work for over two years (!!!), work-related travel also came to a complete stop. A short trip across the state to the Black Hills last week for a conference speaking engagement was my first work trip since February, 2020. Given I hadn’t spent any birding time in the Black Hills for quite some time, I took an extra day and a half on my own and had a great time in Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Spearfish Canyon, and other great spots in the Hills.

However, not all was well in the Hills! Ever since the 2016 election, the Black Hills really has become a magnet for the far right. Hill City, Keystone, Sturgis and other little towns in the area are…bad…to the point that I treat them as drive through areas to get to the hikes, fishing, and birding that I want to do. Each has entire STORES devoted to far-right wing paraphernalia (think Donald Trump dressed as Rambo, shooting Nancy Pelosi…THAT kind of paraphernalia).

I have had the magnet below on the tailgate of my Tacoma for a couple of years. Well, I should say I’ve had a COPY of this magnet during that time, because this is my 3rd copy after the first 2 were taken off by the lovely citizens of South Dakota. While photographing American Dippers at Roughlock Falls this weekend, there were many ATVs moving around the area…many flying Trump flags, or Don’t Tread On Me flags. I assume it was one of them that added the “Don’t” in permanent sharpie on the back of my tailgate.

“Helpful” addition to the messages on the magnet on my tailgate.

Not an uncommon incident in South Dakota, where “midwestern nice” is far too often complete bullshit. Since 2016, it’s almost become acceptable to trash Democratic or liberal political signs, vandalize vehicles like this, or verbally accost people wearing (gasp!) messages of tolerance and equality. What the hell is it about American tribalism…for SO many people to lead their lives based on an “us vs. them” mentality, where the only thing that seems to give people satisfaction is tearing down others?

Add it to the list…having my political yard signs stomped on, having them plucked up and thrown in the trash, dealing with people flipping me off and yelling because of the magnet above (really!??!?!)…just another day in South Dakota, where evidently a message of equality and kindness is offensive to folks. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions what that means about people in the state.

3 comments on “American Tribalism Alive and Well in South Dakota

  1. Tom Hoffman

    Not sure why I received this email, but maybe because I use Terry Sohl’s website with the wonderful photos available to us bird carvers and watchers. I live in a gated community south of Hot Springs, and prior to 2016 I really enjoyed most of my neighbors; walking, hiking, fishing, hunting, etc. After 2016 things really changed. It still boggles my mind to figure out why most of these neighbors “worship” Trump. These are mostly retired, educated people who literally have been brain washed and won’t admit it. One city you failed to include in you Hills venture to witness our wonderful political situation is Custer. When in Custer the other day, there were hundreds of out of state visitors. And what do they see when they walk the side walks and browse in stores ? More worshiping of Trump; flags, t-shirts, hats, ect. I was embarrassed to admit I lived in SD.

    May god help us!

  2. Eric Lambie

    Hey, I just got back from driving from Yellowstone to Minneapolis with my family. Coincidentally, we stayed overnight in Hot Springs, SD. Since my 15 year old son was keen to do some rockhounding, I picked up an Estwing hammer at the local hardware store and left him beside our rental car while I walked across the street to talk to my wife, who was looking at the local real estate listings. When we came back to the car (maybe 2 minutes had gone by), he was very upset because two different people had confronted him, threatening to call the police if he hadn’t cleared the area within 5 minutes! He’s probably lucky he wasn’t shot. And I thought the Dakotas had reached their all time low when all of my school friends voted for Reagan in the 80s…. Nice post about agate hunting near Kadoka. Wish I had seen that before we drove straight through on our way to Sioux Falls, ha ha. We did find a few bits of fossilized wood in the Battle Creek stream bed anyhow.

    1. DakotaBirder

      Thanks Eric…Buffalo Gap National Grasslands can be pretty cool! Not exactly the most advertised or well known spot though.

      We’ve done that trip a number of times! Driving to Yellowstone, stopping the Black Hills and elsewhere on the way back. I do admit I enjoy the Hills less in the last several years, given how far right things have swung, and how NASTY it is. It’s like after 2016 there was suddenly permission to be “yourself”, which in far too many people’s cases, is hateful.

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