Who Is Karen Marshall? The Montana GOP Leader "Would Have Shot" This Reporter For Being So Persistent
On a local radio program this week, Montana Republican leader Karen Marshall said that she "would have shot" the reporter who was assaulted by Rep. Greg Gianforte at a campaign event in May. The vice president of programs for Gallatin County Republican Women, reportedly said on the radio show Voices of Montana on Thursday that she was there when Rep. Gianforte allegedly "body slammed" Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, and she further alleged that the situation was "a set up."
"He just pushed a little too far," Marshall said on the radio program. "If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him." Montana is a "stand your ground" state, which means that it has fairly loose parameters, relative to other states, for forceful self-defense.
Not all states have stand your ground laws, and those that do are not uniform. One alternative to stand your ground laws, for example, limits the places that force is permissible in self-defense (called the Castle doctrine, which generally requires individuals to be protecting their property before using force). Other similar laws require an attempt to retreat from a situation prior to resorting to physical force.
However, Montana law does not require the person employing force to be on their personally-owned property. They need only be somewhere where they are legally allowed to be. In this case, in theory, that might be the location where Rep. Gianforte's campaign was taking place, for example.
The law, as it's written, is rather clear:
A person who is lawfully in a place or location and who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement assistance prior to using force.
Of course, Marshall's comments were hypothetical because she couldn't actually be a stand-in for the representative. Further, the way the law is written makes it appear that she would have had to prove that she felt like she was in serious danger before choosing to shoot a journalist for essentially bothering her. That could be rather difficult to prove, considering that the nature of reporting often requires journalists to repeatedly reach out to sources, sometimes over and over again.
Montana's self-defense laws also do not necessarily make forceful self-defense a free-for-all. As the Associated Press recounts, a Montana man made an unsuccessful claim of the stand your ground argument in 2014 after he fatally shot a teenager who trespassed into his garage. He was, instead, reportedly convicted of "deliberate homicide."
But still, Marshall's comments are alarming for a number of reasons, not the least of those being that a person who works in politics would feel comfortable vouching for potential violence against journalists. Free speech has been an on-going hot-button issue in recent political conversations, and vitriolic attacks on the media have been made with extremely high frequency, especially during the Trump campaign and since President Donald Trump assumed office this year.
Through a spokesperson, Rep. Gianforte told the Helena Independent Record that he "disagrees with [Marshall's] remarks, repudiates them" and is primarily concerned with serving his constituents. Bustle reached out to Marshall, but she was not immediately available for comment.
Marshall's comments are bold beyond reasons related to self-defense laws or conversations about free speech. Practically, they seem odd because Rep. Gianforte was actually charged with a misdemeanor following his assault of Jacobs, and he pleaded guilty to it. He was sentenced to anger management courses and community service. Rep. Gianforte also reportedly paid Jacobs several thousand dollars in restitution.