On Dec. 21, then-state Rep. Mike Nearman followed through on a scheme he’d been working on for nearly a week.
After texting about his plans in advance with at least one ally, participating in an encrypted social media group dedicated specifically to his “Operation Hall Pass” concept, and telling supporters how to send him status updates, Nearman, a Republican, allowed armed demonstrators into the locked state Capitol.
According to an Oregon State Police investigation obtained by OPB via public records request, Nearman texted with at least two supporters the morning of Dec. 21, instructing each to show up to a specific entrance at the state Capitol as lawmakers convened for a special session. Less than 20 minutes later, he opened that locked entrance for a crowd that immediately clashed with police.
Other preparations for the incursion, apparently conducted via the encrypted messaging app Telegram, were not available to OSP, though police noted that surveillance footage of the House chamber suggests Nearman was using his phone extensively in the minutes before allowing demonstrators inside.
The newly released documents change none of the revelations that propelled Nearman from a longtime conservative state lawmaker to the first person ever expelled from the Oregon Legislature. But investigative reports detailing interviews, search warrant findings, and social media posts offer a clearer picture of Nearman’s interactions with supporters in the days before he allowed the Capitol breach, showing more extensive preparation by the disgraced lawmaker than was previously known.
‘Just an idea I had’
To date, the best picture the public has had of Nearman’s planning ahead of the Dec. 21 incursion comes from a video that was shot five days before the breach, but which only got wide circulation in early June.
In the Dec. 16 video, live streamed by a Portland man named Quincy Franklin, Nearman addressed a group called the Oregon Citizens’ Lobby from the offices of the conservative Freedom Foundation in Salem. After discussing his contention that the public was being illegally shut out of the Capitol due to COVID-19, the Polk County Republican coyly explained his idea.
“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass,” Nearman said, offering no clue of who the “we” he mentioned might include.
“There might be some person’s number which might be [Nearman’s cell phone number], but that is just random numbers... that’s not anybody’s actual cell phone,” Nearman said in the video. “And 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.”
Once released, that footage became a turning point in Nearman’s political career. House Republicans, who had previously contented themselves with the notion that Nearman might have mistakenly allowed protesters into the Capitol, immediately turned against him.
But evidence from Nearman’s text and email history shows he had laid more groundwork for his “Operation Hall Pass.” The same day he spoke to the group in Salem, Nearman emailed with a person named Rob Taylor. While an investigatory report doesn’t make clear where Taylor lives, that’s the name of a gun rights activist and conservative radio host in Bandon, a Southern Oregon coastal community.
After Taylor sent an email asking Nearman if the public would be allowed into the state Capitol for the upcoming special session, Nearman responded: “Yes. Have you heard of the Oregon Hall Pass program? Citizens text what entrance they are at to a secret phone number and someone lets them in.”
When Taylor said that he hadn’t heard of the program, but was interested, Nearman replied: “Well, it’s just an idea I had.”
Two days later, Taylor followed up with Nearman, letting the lawmaker know that he would not be attending a rally outside the Capitol as lawmakers convened, but suggesting that Joey Gibson, leader of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, could text Nearman instead.
“Let’s say I have a good friend, Joey Gibson, who would be interested in texting a number letting the person on the other end know which door he was standing by,” Taylor wrote. “If Joey is too high profile, then I have a very well trusted local patriot who would be willing to text that number.”
“Good,” Nearman wrote back, before inviting Taylor to join an “Operation Hall Pass” group set up on the Telegram app, and asking him to invite others. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
A flurry of texts
The preparation wasn’t in vain. As lawmakers met on the morning of Dec. 21, Oregon state troopers were in constant communication. They reported a crowd gathering on the west side of the Capitol, some armed and wearing body armor.
At some point after 8 a.m. that day, two people climbed a construction fence blocking the Capitol’s front doors, according to police. Elsewhere, a woman clambered halfway into an open window, but was halted by police.
Nearman, meanwhile, was on his phone. Text message records police obtained with a March search warrant show the lawmaker gave instructions to at least two people that morning.
The first was Terrie Stafford, a Molalla woman who has since been elected to the Molalla River School Board.
Stafford had been present days before, when Nearman gave out his number and instructions about his plans to the Oregon Citizens’ Lobby. Now she was at the Capitol to assist Franklin, the conservative activist who’d live streamed that meeting.
“We are here. Which door shall we go to,” Stafford texted Nearman at 8:16 a.m., after introducing herself.
“Just west of the main entrance,” Nearman responded seconds later, as he sat in the House chamber. “Wherr they have a monitor. Do they have a person there.”
Stafford responded, in a text that included typos: “We hsve people at the ftont entrance. I don’t know one from the next.”
“Ok,” Nearman replied.
Franklin, the livestreamer who posts videos under the moniker “The Black Conservative Preacher,” also texted Nearman around the same time.
“Mike this is Quincy. What door we do come in,” Franklin texted.
Nearman responded right away: “West door. Just to the side of the main entrance.”
Minutes later, after voting “no” on House rules to enforce COVID-19 safety guidelines, security footage shows Nearman walked out of the chamber, down the stairs and out the door he’d directed Stafford and Franklin toward.
At the time, three people were gathered near the door — none of them Stafford or Franklin. As Nearman exited, they quickly rushed inside, gaining a foothold that the larger crowd would use to enter the building.
After a clash with police, at least one person in the crowd used bear mace on officers. The group, some armed, then advanced deeper into the building. They were held off by officers just before reaching the Capitol rotunda, and left after police made arrests.
Later in the day, some in the crowd vandalized the building and assaulted journalists.
Franklin and Stafford were part of the group that made its way into the Capitol, they told police in subsequent interviews. Both suggested they were unclear on whether or not they were allowed in the Capitol, and had only shown up to witness legislation being passed.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Stafford said someone told her to text Nearman’s number that morning. She said she couldn’t remember who, and that she did not pass Nearman’s instruction for which door to gather at to anyone else.
“Honestly, I’m directionally challenged,” Stafford said, reiterating her belief the Capitol should have remained open to the public. “All I know is someone said ‘text this number’ and I texted it.”
Franklin did not respond to a request from OPB to discuss his texts with Nearman that day.
While police got email and text records from Nearman via a search warrant, the encrypted nature of the Telegram app stopped officials from accessing records from the “Oregon Hall Pass” group Nearman had been using to coordinate plans.
That means that the full extent of planning that went into the Dec. 21 breach might never be known. The Oregon State Police investigation, however, offers suggestions that more people were clued in.
One piece of evidence police looked into was livestream footage from David Medina, a Sherwood man who would go on to attend the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The footage was obtained via an FBI search warrant, the report suggests.
According to a report by OSP Detective Jennifer Johnson, Medina says in the video: “There is a legislator that is going to let us go in. … I heard from multiple people.” At another point in the video, Johnson wrote, a woman in the crowd mentioned Nearman by name as a person who might allow demonstrators into the Capitol.
Though Nearman’s involvement in the Dec. 21 incursion wasn’t widely known for weeks, his communications suggest fallout was fairly immediate within the Capitol.
Hours after the incident, a Nearman supporter named Eric Leibman emailed him with the subject line “RE: How did it go storming the castle today?” according to police.
Nearman responded: “I got in a little more trouble than I would have liked to. The State Police are looking at criminal charges against me.”
Leibman asked whether Nearman might get help from conservative talk show personalities like Lars Larson, who went on to conduct several sympathetic interviews with Nearman in the following months.
“No, I think that the OSP is over their head with me,” Nearman wrote back. “They’ve backed off.”
Based on the OSP investigation, Marion County prosecutors eventually brought two misdemeanor charges against Nearman. Despite initially vowing to take the case to trial, he pleaded guilty last month to first-degree official misconduct.
Police also uncovered texts between Nearman and a fellow Republican, Rep. E. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, from Dec. 22. In the exchange, Reschke appeared confused by Nearman’s actions. According to the Oregon State Police, Reschke asked: “What’s your goal? Where does this lead...you hope it leads?”
“Representative Nearman replied to the message by asking him to call if it’s easier to talk,” the report says.
In an interview with state police, Reschke explained he didn’t understand Nearman’s motivations, and said he believed Nearman “was remorseful that he went out that door and that in looking back he would have picked a different door,” the report says. Reschke also said that the investigation into Nearman was “a political witch hunt.”
Reschke did not respond to an inquiry about his texts with Nearman. Exactly three months after his interview with police, however, Reschke joined other lawmakers in voting to expel Nearman by a 59-1 vote.