Montana State GOP Lawmaker Faces Backlash for Saying Constitution Calls for Socialists to Be Shot or Jailed

A Montana state Republican lawmaker is facing backlash from his own party after he claimed that the U.S. Constitution calls for self-identified socialists to be shot or imprisoned.

State Rep. Rodney Garcia, from House District 52 on the South Side, made the statement during a GOP event in Helena on Friday, which served to prepare members and candidates for the upcoming election season.

Following remarks by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Garcia told the crowd that he was uneasy about the prospect of socialists "entering our government," before saying that the Constitution allows citizens to either place them in jail or shoot them, according to the Billings Gazette.

The Montana Republican Party quickly moved to condemn Garcia's statement. "Under no circumstance is violence against someone with opposing political views acceptable," said Spenser Merwin, the executive director of the state's GOP Party. "It's disappointing that this isolated incident took away from the weekend's events which showcased the strength of our statewide candidates and the importance of the upcoming election."

Montana Democratic Party chair Robyn Driscoll also denounced his remarks. "Rodney Garcia has brazenly flaunted his conviction for a domestic dispute, called single moms deadbeats, and was only elected because he created an illegal campaign cash scam," she told the Gazette. "Now he's publicly calling for people to be shot."

However, despite his party's objections, Garcia defended his point of view on Saturday. "They're enemies of the free state," he said. "What do we do with our enemies in war? In Vietnam, (Afghanistan), all those. What did we do?"

"I agree with my Constitution. That's what makes us free. We're not a democracy, we're a Republic Constitution," Garcia added.

Newsweek reached out to Garcia for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Despite Garcia's assertions, Anthony Johnstone, a law professor at the University of Montana, told the Washington Post that the Constitution does not allow for a socialist to be jailed or shot. "Nothing in the Constitution of the United States authorizes the government to punish socialists or anyone else on the basis of their political beliefs," he said, adding that the state's Constitution "expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of political beliefs."

Johnstone suggested that Garcia may have misinterpreted the Treason Clause in Article III of the Constitution by wrongly believing that it justifies punishments imposed on political opponents. They "were careful to define treason narrowly so it could not be used for merely political purposes," he explained.

Montana RNC
Workers sets up the Montana kiosk on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum before the start of the Republican National Convention August 24, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Chip Somodevilla/Getty