A Montana state legislator opened a can of worms with a remark he made on Friday during a gathering of state Republican party members in Helena. Then he doubled down on it Saturday to a reporter.

The gathering was a standard political one meant to kick off the election season and offer training for party members and candidates. Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who served for a term as Montana’s representative in the U.S. House, delivered a speech at the event Friday. After Zinke’s speech, State Rep. Rodney Garcia of Billings voiced his concern about socialists “entering our government” and socialists “everywhere” in Billings. Then he took his concern to the next level – he stated that the U.S. Constitution gives permission to shoot socialists or put them in jail. Um, what?

Naturally, Zinke did as most politicians do. He responded with a non-answer. Garcia explained, “They’re enemies of the free state. What do we do with our enemies in war? In Vietnam, [Afghanistan], all those. What did we do?” Zinke gave a non-answer by saying, “You know, Montana’s a great state.” He pivoted to talk about his work as Interior Secretary to open satellite offices in the western United States. Garcia was left to say, “We have to do something.”

Saturday Garcia spoke with a reporter with the Billings Gazette. He was asked by Holly Michels to clarify his remarks from Friday.

“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,” Garcia said.

Garcia could not to point to where in the Constitution it says socialists could be shot or jailed.

Asked to clarify if he thought it was fair to shoot or jail a socialist, including those who live in Montana, Garcia said yes.

“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?”

Asked if that was an appropriate response to his opponent from the last election cycle, Garcia said “according to the Constitution, I’m telling you.”

Garcia’s Democrat opponent from the last election cycle, Amelia Marquez is a transgender democratic socialist. She’s a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Marquez said Saturday she is associated with the Montana Democratic Party and is an eastern member-at-large with the party’s executive board. She said she is also a democratic socialist and her political views align with those of Sanders.

Marquez said Saturday after being told about Garcia’s statements she wished the state legislator would spend more time talking to his constituents about their needs.

“I wish Rep. Garcia would continue to focus on the issues rather than this constant worry over things that are somewhat ludicrous,” Marquez said.

The Montana Republican Party put out a statement disassociating themselves with Garcia’s remarks. It should be noted that at the time of Garcia’s remarks, many in the audience laughed.

“The Montana Republican Party wholeheartedly condemns the comment that was made and under no circumstance is violence against someone with opposing political views acceptable,” said Spenser Merwin, the MT GOP executive director. “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.”

And the Democrats had something to say about it all, too.

“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. Now he’s publicly calling for people to be shot,” said party chair Robyn Driscoll, adding she thinks candidates who were at the event should condemn Garcia.

Garcia couldn’t cite anywhere in the Constitution that supports his idea of shooting or jailing socialists because, of course, there is no such thing. Americans enjoy the freedom of speech and the freedom to believe in any political philosophy. Like it or not, allowing socialists to exist among us is a part of that. Garcia, though, is correct in being alarmed about the rise in popularity of socialism. Look no further than the Democrat primary for president this cycle. Bernie Sanders is leading the pack or running neck in neck to the more moderate Joe Biden in early voting states. Bernie is having a moment at just the right time to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire which is scaring the living daylights out of the middle moderates in the party.

Elizabeth Warren isn’t quite bold enough to call herself a socialist but she is on board with many of Bernie’s policy ideas. AOC and her sister Squad members proudly align themselves as democratic socialists, an oxymoron I have never understood. I guess the “democratic” in front of the socialist is supposed to soften the description. Young people, Generation Z, are embracing socialism over capitalism at an alarming rate. The stigma of the word is fading fast.

While many of us can sympathize with Garcia’s concerns, it doesn’t help that he uses such outlandish hyperbole to make his point.