Shortly before 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 21, as his fellow lawmakers met upstairs, state Rep. Mike Nearman walked casually out of the Oregon Capitol.
Video surveillance footage shows Nearman did not break stride as he passed far-right demonstrators gathered immediately outside the door, demanding entrance to a building closed to the public because of COVID-19. Nor did Nearman take any steps to stop those demonstrators as they held ajar the door he had just opened and immediately began signaling others to crowd inside.
In short, the footage obtained by OPB Friday morning shows clearly what House Speaker Tina Kotek and others have described in recent days: Nearman appearing to — blatantly, purposefully — allow an incursion into the state Capitol.
A hectic and potentially dangerous scene unfolded almost immediately after Nearman slipped out of the north side of the building. State troopers and Salem police officers, learning of the breach, immediately crowded the hallway, pushing back people who had begun to make their way into the working home of both the legislature and Gov. Kate Brown. After nearly 10 minutes of jostling, and with the crowd forced out of the building, police retreated after being hit with what they later described as “bear mace.”
Footage shows demonstrators hesitating after police fell back, apparently uncertain it was safe for them to proceed inside. Joey Gibson, the leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, is among those captured taking halting steps into the Capitol before retreating.
Eventually, though, demonstrators — some in military gear, some bearing the Confederate flag, many unmasked — made it deeper into the Capitol on Dec. 21, engaging in a standoff with police in a vestibule just off the building’s stately rotunda for nearly an hour. They chanted things like “enemies of the state,” and “arrest Kate Brown.”
Two demonstrators were arrested by the time police in riot gear finally cleared people from the building.
“A serious break of public trust”
Nearman may also face consequences.
The Republican from Independence is the subject of a criminal investigation, and he faces possible legislative discipline for his role in allowing a breach of the state Capitol that unnerved many lawmakers and has led to calls for increased security in the statehouse. Legislative leaders, all Democrats, could strip him of his legislative committee assignments — therefore diminishing his ability to have input — or file a formal workplace complaint that would lead to an investigation and potential sanctions by a House committee.
“OSP has confirmed and informed us that Rep. Mike Nearman did open a door to allow demonstrators into the building,” Kotek said Thursday. “This was a serious, serious breach of public trust. His actions put staff and legislators and law enforcement in danger.”
Nearman has not said much about his role. Asked about the matter Thursday, Nearman asked who had told OPB there was surveillance footage of him allowing people into the building. He otherwise declined to discuss the matter, repeating: “I don’t have anything to say.”
According to one source with knowledge of the matter, after exiting the building on the north side, Nearman immediately walked around the Capitol and used his ID to enter on the south side. By then, police were already wrestling demonstrators out of the Capitol.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, has not addressed Nearman’s conduct, despite repeated requests for comment by OPB.
The Dec. 21 demonstration outside the Capitol was billed by Patriot Prayer and other right-wing groups as a “flash mob.” The collected crowd had a variety of demands, from being allowed into the closed-off Capitol to an easing of state restrictions on businesses and schools meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 to the re-election of President Trump.
Chandler Pappas, a member of Patriot Prayer, was arrested Monday on accusations he maced officers at the rally.
Similar scenes have played out in front of the Capitol since, including a violent Jan. 6 rally that was declared an unlawful assembly by state police. That event did not result in damage to the statehouse.