In January, footage emerged showing that far-right rioters who stormed the Oregon Capitol weeks before the insurrection in D.C. had help getting in: Namely, GOP Rep. Mike Nearman, who opened a locked door for them. Nearman was criminally charged in April, but steadfastly refused to resign – even when new video released last week showed him coaching the rioters ahead of time.
Now, the Oregon House has taken the unprecedented step of expelling him.
On Thursday, Nearman, 57, became the first lawmaker to be kicked out of the state House thanks to a nearly unanimous vote. Nearman himself cast the sole “no” in the 59-1 tally.
“This is potentially the most serious and historic vote any of us will ever take in our career as legislators,” Democratic state Rep. Julie Fahey said during debate before the vote Thursday night, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Nearman’s ouster is the latest clash between state parties and members tied to extremist movements, particularly in the Northwest. In late 2019, Washington Republican state Rep. Matt Shea was expelled from the GOP caucus after an investigation found he had “participated in an act of domestic terrorism” by helping an armed militia’s plot. In Idaho, GOP lawmakers are battling far-right members for control of the party, the Associated Press reported this week.
Nearman, who was elected to his fourth term last year to represent rural Polk County outside Salem, was inside the state House on Dec. 21 as a group of far-right protesters gathered outside, waving Trump flags and signs challenging the former president’s election loss. The scene devolved into violence as the crowd tried to break into the Capitol. A video showed one demonstrator attacking a journalist and one man hitting officers with bear spray.
Once the mob got inside the building, they roamed the halls for nearly an hour, chanted for the arrest of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. Police eventually cleared the group out of the building and arrested at least four people.
In January, surveillance video published by the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting showed that Nearman was the one who let the mob inside. Recordings show him casually walking out of the building through a locked door and swinging it open, allowing a clear entry for the rioters.
Though Nearman said he did not condone the violence that day, he argued that the building should be open to the public, rather than closed under pandemic restrictions. But House GOP Minority Leader Christine Drazan supported a criminal investigation into his involvement in the breach.
Nearman was stripped of his committee assignments and faced calls to resign for months. In April, Marion County District Attorney Paige E. Clarkson announced two misdemeanor charges against Nearman for “knowingly” letting in rioters, putting state lawmakers in danger.
Then, on Friday, Oregon legislators learned that Nearman was even more deeply involved in the Dec. 21 riots. A video published by OPB showed Nearman speaking to a room of people, offering out his phone number and advising them on how he could help them breach the state Capitol.
“So, we’re talking about setting up ‘Operation Hall Pass,’ which I don’t know anything about and if you accuse me of knowing anything about it, I will deny it,” Nearman says in the video, before suggesting the group could gather outside the Capitol and text a phone number to signal they were ready to enter the building. Nearman then gave the group his cellphone number several times, though he claimed that they were “just random numbers.”
“If you say, ‘I’m at the West entrance’ during the session and text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there,” he said.
After that revelation, Oregon Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek introduced a resolution on Monday to expel Nearman, claiming the lawmaker “engaged in disorderly behavior.”
Republican House members again urged Nearman to resign, with some expressing disappointment that he had apparently lied about his involvement in the incident. Drazan, the minority leader, told OPB that she believes Nearman’s actions could have gotten people killed in the Capitol if police hadn’t quickly.
“Mike told us that there is NO further evidence and certainly not any that would show premeditation,” Republican Rep. Bill Post wrote on his website. “I asked ‘is there ANY further video or other evidence?’ He said ‘no.’ That is the crux of the problem: he lied. To me personally and to the House Republican caucus. This pains me to no end to reveal. He is my friend.”
During the vote Thursday evening, House Democrats offered Nearman unlimited time to speak. He spent his brief remarks arguing that the Capitol building should have been open last December.
“You’re considering expelling a member, for the first time in history, because he thinks that people should have access to their Capitol, especially during session,” Nearman said, OPB reported. “After this session, we’re all going to go out to dinner or stop at the grocery store, or maybe tomorrow we’ll shop and buy clothes or get our oil change, because all these places are open, but not this building.”
All 22 GOP House members other than Nearman voted to expel the lawmaker. His seat will remain vacant until the party assigns someone to serve out the rest of the term, which ends next year.
Following the vote, Kotek said in a statement that lawmakers should be held to the “highest possible standard” and that removing Nearman was imperative.
“The facts are clear that Mr. Nearman unapologetically coordinated and planned a breach of the Oregon Capitol,” Kotek said. “His actions were blatant and deliberate, and he has shown no remorse for jeopardizing the safety of every person in the Capitol that day. Given the extraordinary circumstances, this was the only reasonable path forward.”