A Montana lawmaker who falsely claimed last week that the Constitution allows socialists to be jailed or shot is doubling down on his comments, even as GOP leadership are calling for his resignation.
Representative Rodney Garcia, a Republican from Billings, said at a party gathering in Helena on Friday that he was worried about a socialist invasion in the government. He later repeated his fears to a Billings Gazette reporter after the event, stating again, without evidence, that ‘‘in the Constitution of the United States, [if you] are found guilty of being a socialist member you either go to prison or are shot.’’
The Constitution does not say that.
Garcia’s remarks were swiftly rebuked by the executive director of the Montana Republican Party over the weekend. On Monday, the Montana House leadership wrote the lawmaker a letter asking him to resign over his ‘‘inflammatory and deeply disturbing comments.’’
‘‘Your reckless and un-American remarks are beneath that of a public official and do not represent the values of the Republican Party, Montana House of Representatives or the people of our great state,’’ House Speaker Greg Hertz, Speaker Pro Tempore E. Wylie Galt, and House majority leader Brad Tschida wrote in the letter. ‘‘Your actions have irreparably undermined the body in which you serve and irrevocably broken the trust of those you were elected to represent. We believe it is clear that you can no longer effectively discharge the duties of the office you hold; therefore, it is our request that you submit your resignation with immediate effect.’’
Garcia responded to the letter by saying that the ‘‘only way I would give my resignation is if God asked me to,’’ the Associated Press reported.
Garcia told the AP he would not resign from the House, but he does not plan to return, either. On Friday, Garcia filed to run for state Senate, he said.
‘‘They can ask me to step down, but, no, I don’t think so,’’ Garcia told the AP. ‘‘I’m going to run for the Senate, and I’m going to win. People are going to have to eat their words.’’
Anthony Johnstone, a law professor at the University of Montana, told The Washington Post that ‘‘nothing in the Constitution of the United States authorizes the government to punish socialists or anyone else on the basis of their political beliefs.’’ In fact, the First Amendment prohibits punishing political speech, and the Constitution of Montana ‘‘expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of political beliefs,’’ Johnstone said. All state lawmakers swear an oath to uphold those doctrines.
People often misunderstand the Treason Clause in Article III of the Constitution, interpreting it to justify punishment of political opponents, Johnstone said. The framers, he said, ‘‘were careful to define treason narrowly so it could not be used for merely political purposes.’’
In his interview with the Billings Gazette, Garcia said it was fair to shoot or jail socialists in Montana and across the country because they are enemies.
‘‘They’re enemies of the free state,’’ Garcia told the newspaper. ‘‘What do we do with our enemies in war? In Vietnam, [Afghanistan], all those. What did we do?’’
President Trump and other Republicans across the country have used the term ‘‘socialism’’ to stir fear among their supporters when speaking about Democratic candidates running for the White House, as well as other elected officials. Some Democratic Party front-runners in the 2020 presidential race have been campaigning on programs that would give the federal government more control, but only one, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, associates himself with ‘‘socialism.’’ Sanders, who has served as an independent in his own state, has said he is a democratic socialist.
Socialism is an economic philosophy that advocates collective public ownership of the means of production in a society that would lead to less corporate power and more wealth distribution. Democratic socialists believe socialism should be achieved democratically and slowly replace the free markets of capitalism.
Garcia told the Billings Gazette that based on Facebook advertising he has seen, he believes there is an influx of socialism in Montana that is ‘‘very dangerous.’’
‘‘They’re teaching that to kids,’’ Garcia told the newspaper. ‘‘Thank God my grandkids know it’s wrong because I teach them. And it’s a very dangerous situation.’’
In his statement, Spenser Merwin, executive director of the Montana Republican Party, criticized Garcia’s remarks.
‘‘Under no circumstance is violence against someone with opposing political views acceptable,’’ Merwin said.
Garcia said that the Republican leaders who are publicly condemning his words said nothing to him privately on Friday, reported the AP.
‘‘I’m getting my head so big from people saying, ‘Thank you, Rodney, for bringing this up,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘If people don’t want me in the Senate, they can say: ‘Well, I’m not going to vote for ya.’ That’s their prerogative.’’
Garcia told the Associated Press he had received some threats over his controversial comments.
‘‘They can’t come up to me and talk to me, but they want to shoot me,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘That’s fine, but if you miss, I won’t.’’