SPRINGFIELD — Allegations that Republican state Rep. Chris Miller helped incite the Jan. 6 insurrection were “unfounded,” the Legislature’s watchdog found after conducting an investigation.
Whether comments the downstate cattle farmer made in Washington, D.C., that day represented conduct unbecoming a legislator was “a closer question,” Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope conceded.
But while she found Miller’s remarks at a rally “intemperate,” “distasteful and not excusable,” Pope said she could not label them “conduct unbecoming” a legislator – given the tenor of remarks being made by other legislators across the nation at the time.
“While my office recognizes the importance of free speech, it also recognizes there are limits to the types of speech that benefit from protection,” Pope wrote in an email to Miller. “My hope is that you will not exceed those limits in the future.”
Calling Pope’s opinion on the U.S. Capitol insurrection “a complete exoneration,” Illinois Republicans are now calling on Democrats to remove from the record a resolution condemning Miller, dubbing it “false and slanderous.”
Democratic state Rep. Bob Morgan, who introduced the resolution, says the Illinois House “clearly stands by” its condemnation.
The Sun-Times obtained a copy of the email Pope sent to Miller last Saturday.
In it, Pope wrote that allegations Miller was a “primary instigator or participant” in the insurrection were “unfounded.”
Those allegations stem from comments Miller made in a Facebook live broadcast during a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6.
Miller told rally-goers that supporters of then President Donald Trump were “engaged in a great cultural war to see which worldview will survive. Whether we will remain a free people under free market capitalism or whether they will put us under the tyranny of socialism and communism and dangerous Democrat terrorists.”
The Republican from downstate Oakland is married to U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, a freshman Republican who was quoted at the same Jan. 6 rally saying that “Hitler was right on one thing” – a reference to winning over the minds of youths that she later apologized for after harsh criticism.
Following the Millers’ statements, Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association President Kristina Zahorik asked the legislative inspector general to investigate state Rep. Chris Miller’s actions that day.
And in March, in a partisan vote, the Illinois House condemned state Rep. Chris Miller, accusing him of standing “with the insurrectionists” and helping to incite the Jan. 6 riot.
In her email, Pope wrote that state Rep. Chris Miller’s comments on that day were “distasteful and not excusable,” but she was “unable to find it constituted ‘conduct unbecoming [a legislator]’” in the context of the “climate that existed” in January 2021.
She added that “many legislators have engaged in similar speech” at both the state and federal level and that in an interview with Miller he promised to “lower the temperature” of his future remarks.
Miller’s statements at the U.S. Capitol came under greater scrutiny after a photograph of his truck was posted on social media, showing a decal of the logo of the Three-Percenters, a far-right militia group that aims to overthrow the U.S. government.
At the time Miller said he had never been a member of the group and he had received the sticker from a family friend who told him it “represented patriotism and love of country.”
Pope noted that a legislator seeking the “overthrow of his or her own government” would be engaging in unbecoming conduct, but she was “satisfied” Miller did not “hold such beliefs.”
“In fact, you removed the decal from your truck once you understood how the symbol was being interpreted,” she wrote.
Pope told the Sun-Times she was prohibited from commenting on her investigation or its findings.
Miller said in a statement Wednesday that Pope had “exonerated me of all of the accusations brought against me.”
“So, as it stands right now, I am being condemned for simply having different political views than the far-left radicals who control the process in Springfield,” Miller said.
“It is absolutely offensive and incredibly unstatesmanlike for the majority party to adjourn without pulling House Resolution 132 out of the record,” he said. “It is my hope, Speaker Welch and the majority party in the House will grow a conscience and do the right thing and remove this harmful and baseless resolution out of the record.”
The email clearing Miller led to a dust-up on the House floor Monday evening.
State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, said the investigation had led to a “complete exoneration” of Miller and that jumping to a condemnation had been “reckless and irresponsible.”
“I would ask that the sponsor, Rep. Morgan, do the right and respectful thing by a fellow representative and remove this false and slanderous resolution from the record,” Wilhour said.
In an interview with the Sun-Times Wednesday, Morgan said his resolution was “very carefully drafted by me and adopted by the General Assembly” and that the House “clearly stands by those comments.”
The Deerfield Democrat said he “respected” Pope and her investigation, but he added that the definition of conduct unbecoming of a legislator was “clearly something that the General Assembly has to determine for itself” and that Miller’s conduct was “very clearly” unbecoming.