SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Glenn and Cara Geist were sitting in their suburban backyard again, waiting for rioters with her dad's old .22 hunting rifle, when they decided that was it. The last straw. They were done with Minnesota.
"It felt like when I got my ass kicked coming home every day from junior high school. It wasn't a good feeling," Glenn said. "We were sitting outside again, and looked at each other and said, 'You know what? It's time to go.'"
The Geists are a few of the handful of people who have self-deported from states around the nation to move to South Dakota specifically for political reasons, including its lack of COVID-19 restrictions.
They make up a small but notable group to local real estate agents, who have never quite seen their type before. Gregg Gohl, co-owner at Hegg Realtors in Sioux Falls, said he can think of about 15 buyers who have specifically moved to South Dakota for political reasons.
"It’s certainly not a huge chunk of our business but just unique because we haven’t seen it before," he said.
Cara is a massage therapist and nurse. Glenn retired from working in credit collections. Married for 30 years, they had lived in their house in the Twin Cities suburb of Andover, Minn., for 30 years. They had planned to move at some point, but hadn't decided when. South Dakota had been on their short list, as well as North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Snowbirds they are not.
But increasingly they found themselves living in a state where they felt politically powerless. First there were the COVID-19 restrictions, which Cara described as opportunities pounced on by people greedy for power and control — people such as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
“This is what you don’t understand living in this state," she said. "You don’t understand how it’s been in the states with lockdowns. When I say our rights are being violated at every level, I am not lying, I am not exaggerating.”
Those restrictions included a statewide masking mandate. Both Geists describe masks as devices meant to erode their personal freedoms, despite the advice by public health officials who say wearing them works to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I won’t wear one, period. I won’t. Because they don’t work, and I’m not a sheep," Glenn said. "I’m not here to make you feel better, OK? I’m here to take care of me."
Their concerns about living in Minnesota grew as they watched the protests and unrest after the May death of George Floyd, a Black man, due to the actions of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Floyd's death sparked a nationwide protest against police violence and racial injustice. But the Geists, watching from their Andover home, saw rioters, saw state and local officials refusing to act, saw calls to defund the police as a horror. "The have lost their minds completely," Cara said.
"I have a life goal now of never setting a foot, or even setting a tire, within the city limits of Minneapolis," Glenn said.
They made a quick reconnaissance trip to look for houses in South Dakota on the Fourth of July. By mid-September, they were moved into their Sioux Falls home, and were cataloging which stores required masks and which ones did not.
'Free in South Dakota'
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has celebrated South Dakota's relatively hot housing market as the fruit of her hands-off approach to handling the pandemic.
But there are several strong factors at play beyond her decisions: record-low interest rates and a shortage of available homes — partly driven by pandemic-related supply chain issues — that make this a sellers market.
Still, the Geists are not alone. Buyers from all over the U.S. are buying South Dakota homes sight unseen, said the Geist's real estate agent, Krista Marx with Hegg Realtors.
So how is the freedom and the political climate in South Dakota? Both Geists reveled in their new hometown as they talked about Sioux Falls' amenities and its lack of traffic. Glenn posts regularly on his Twitter account, named "Free in South Dakota," to scoff at COVID-19 concerns and decisions by officials.
But not every place allows them to do what they want. Cara recently went to a local emergency room with a heart murmur, only to walk into a standoff.
Masks were required in the hospital. Glenn wouldn't wear one. ("I'm a healthy person, I don't have to wear a mask," Glenn explained).
Cara told him to wait in the car, so he did, without a mask, his freedom intact.
“At that point, that wasn’t a battle I wanted to fight," she said. "I was scared to death because my heart was not being right.”
Glenn dismissed the whole matter with a wave of his hand.
“It wasn’t like there was anything I was going to do for her in there, other than hold her hand," he said. "At that point, I just may as well wait and let them do what they’re going to do."