The Republican party of Montana has rebuked a state legislator who insists the US constitution says socialists should be jailed or shot.
According to the Billings Gazette, in responding to a speech in Helena on Friday by former US interior secretary Ryan Zinke, Billings state representative Rodney Garcia said “he was concerned about socialists ‘entering our government’ and socialists ‘everywhere’ in Billings, before saying the constitution says to either shoot socialists or put them in jail”.
According to the paper, Zinke, who served in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2018, replied: “You know, Montana’s a great state.”
Garcia said: “We have to do something.”
Zinke did not continue the exchange, the Gazette reported.
As the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a Democratic socialist, has surged in the Democratic primary, Donald Trump has focused much of his political messaging on the supposed dangers of socialism.
In his Super Bowl interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, for example, the president said: “I think of communism when I think of Bernie … I think of Bernie sort of as a socialist but far beyond a socialist.”
He also claimed Sanders got married in Moscow. Sanders has called his 10-day visit to Soviet Russia in 1988 “a very strange honeymoon”.
Garcia’s Democratic opponent in the last election cycle was Amelia Marquez, a trans Sanders supporter who describes herself as a democratic socialist. She told the Gazette she wished “Garcia would continue to focus on the issues rather than this constant worry over things that are somewhat ludicrous”.
Asked by the Gazette to clarify his remarks, Garcia was unrepentant.
“So actually in the constitution of the United States [if] they are found guilty of being a socialist member you either go to prison or are shot,” he said.
The Gazette said Garcia, who said socialism was “very dangerous” for Montana, could not say where the constitution says socialists should be shot or jailed, but repeated that he thought it should happen.
“They’re enemies of the free state,” Garcia said. “What do we do with our enemies in war? In Vietnam, (Afghanistan), all those. What did we do?”
In a statement, the Montana Republican party said it “wholeheartedly condemns the comment that was made and under no circumstance is violence against someone with opposing political views acceptable”.
The Washington Post asked Anthony Johnstone, a law professor at the University of Montana, to analyse Garcia’s claim.
“Nothing in the constitution of the United States authorises the government to punish socialists or anyone else on the basis of their political beliefs,” he said, adding that political speech is protected under the first amendment and the state constitution of Montana, which state representatives swear to uphold, “expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of political beliefs”.