PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem did not back down from inflammatory remarks about Georgia's Democratic senators, suggesting during a news conference in Pierre, S.D., on Thursday, Jan. 21, that the public should "examine" the newly elected Georgia senators "and their belief system."

A reporter asked Noem at the conclusion of the news conference at the statehouse if she had any "regrets" for calling "communist" Sens. Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia, and Raphael Warnock, who preaches at the same Atlanta church once led by the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

Noem, who made those comments only days after calling for a tempering of rhetoric in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump mob's storming of the U.S. Capitol, also referred disparagingly earlier this month to Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia, as a "smooth-talking preacher."

On Thursday, Noem did not appear apologetic for using her position to spread incendiary remarks.

"I think that when we look at that situation, with those two individuals, we need to look at their history and what they've said and what they've chosen not to say in the past and examine them and their belief system and see if that lines up with America's values," Noem said.

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Noem's remarks come less than a week after the country celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the slain civil rights leader. It has been frequently noted that "communist" was also a term weaponized against Black civil rights leaders, including King.

Noem's criticism appears rooted in debunked claims from the two Georgia Republicans' ultimately losing campaigns. In November, Sen. Kelly Loeffler drew condemnation for attempts to associate Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, with communism, citing a visit a quarter-century ago by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to a Harlem church where Warnock served as youth pastor.

Warnock is not a communist and has been a member of the Democratic Party. FactCheck.org, backed by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, called Loeffler's attack ad "misleading."

Similarly, the Associated Press labeled "flatly false" a claim made in October by former Republican Sen. David Perdue's campaign that Ossoff, his opponent in a January runoff race, was endorsed by the Communist Party. In fact, three years earlier, the Communist Party USA's Facebook page posted a story from a socialist publication showing Ossoff leading in a 2017 House race against Republican Karen Handel.

A Communist Party USA board member in 2020 confirmed the party did not endorse Ossoff, noting he's a Democrat.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are seen in a combination of file photographs as they campaign on election day in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff election, in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 5. REUTERS/Mike Segar, Brian Snyder
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are seen in a combination of file photographs as they campaign on election day in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff election, in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia, on Jan. 5. REUTERS/Mike Segar, Brian Snyder

Noem's remarks come amid her push in the state to enhance "civics" and history education in South Dakota, topics she has suggested are inadequately taught in public schools. She's also blamed civic literacy (or the lack thereof) as the "root cause" of the insurrection at the Capitol.

Asked if President Donald Trump's rhetoric incited his loyalists to storm the Capitol earlier this month and briefly delay the counting of the Electoral College vote certifying Joe Biden's presidential win, she acknowledged "what happened on Jan. 6 was horrible and should never happen again," but she stopped short of chastising Trump, who has been removed from social media after months of making false claims about election fraud in his loss to Biden.

"I'm not an expert in predicting how historians will view something," Noem observed.

Noem, an avid outdoorswoman, attended Wednesday's presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., with a daughter and posted photos to social media of the events, including one of her wearing hunting gloves. Temperatures hovered around 40 degrees with a biting wind on Inauguration Day in Washington.

Earlier on Thursday, at a news conference, South Dakota's Democratic leadership said they'd yet to hear congratulations from their Republican colleagues about Biden's victory.

"It was a big difference what I experienced four years ago, with various meeting rooms (in the Capitol) with TVs on," said Sioux Falls Sen. Reynold Nesiba. "There was no acknowledgment anywhere," he added, until Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert commented on the new president Wednesday evening in an address to legislators.

"Not much was said at all in the House," said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith. "But I didn't expect much."

Contact Vondracek at cvondracek@forumcomm.com, or follow him on Twitter: @ChrisVondracek.