The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rioters stormed the Oregon Capitol in December. Video shows a Republican lawmaker let them in.

Video appeared to show state Rep. Mike Nearman (R-Independence) open the door to the Oregon Capitol on Dec. 21 as protesters were trying to break in. (Video: Oregon State Legislature)

Weeks before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, another right-wing group stormed the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., trying to break into the building while legislators met for a special session on Dec. 21.

The Capitol’s locked doors kept the crowd at bay — until Republican state Rep. Mike Nearman coolly walked through an exit and held the doors open as far-right demonstrators raced inside. Despite the efforts of police to keep them out, dozens of rioters eventually streamed into the building, attacking officers, damaging property and unsettling legislators.

On Monday, after surveillance video showing Nearman’s role in the incursion became public, his colleagues stripped his committee assignments, restricted his access to the Capitol building, and fined him for the damage caused by the crowd after he opened the door.

The video, published by the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting last week, has also sparked wide calls for Nearman’s resignation.

“I believe he should resign immediately,” Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, said in a statement on Monday. “He has already breached the public trust and endangered our ability to safely conduct the people’s business.”

Nearman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night. Few Republicans have publicly criticized Nearman, but Oregon House Republican Leader Christine Drazan on Sunday said she supports a criminal investigation of the incident, the Oregonian reported.

“If the investigation finds that actions taken were criminal, legislators are not above the law and will be held responsible,” Drazan said.

Nearman, 56, represents a district near Polk County, Ore., about 60 miles southwest of Portland, and is one of the most conservative members of the state legislature. He has been a vocal opponent of the state’s coronavirus restrictions, and sued the Democratic governor over her emergency orders. He also backed a Texas-based lawsuit challenging the presidential election results. Nearman was sworn into his fourth term on Monday, after winning reelection in November.

The Oregon legislature met on Dec. 21 to consider Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal to distribute $800 million in coronavirus relief. As lawmakers began their morning meetings, right-wing protesters gathered outside around 8 a.m. for a “flash mob rally.”

The protesters held signs challenging the November election results and opposing coronavirus restrictions. They waved Trump flags, yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and American flags.

Rioters later tried to bust through the Capitol building’s doors, leaving the glass cracked. Video captured outside shows at least one man repeatedly attacking journalists reporting on the protest. Police said at least one man sprayed officers with “bear spray.” Many others shoved police and defied orders to stay out of the Capitol building and remain peaceful.

Once they made their way into the Capitol, the intruders chanted, “Enemies of the state,” and “Arrest Kate Brown” for nearly an hour before police finally cleared the area, OPB reported. Police arrested five people and charged them with crimes ranging from trespassing to assault.

Police began investigating Nearman’s role in the incident after they discovered the surveillance footage, OPB reported. The extent of his actions was made public last week when the video was released. Citing advice from his attorney, Nearman has declined to comment to local media.

Weeks later, the Dec. 21 surveillance footage of rioters striking police, spraying officers with chemicals and trying to force their way into the state Capitol looks eerily similar, though smaller in scale, to the attempted insurrection in Washington on Wednesday.

On Monday, Kotek stripped Nearman’s committee assignments and commission appointments, significantly hampering the Republican’s ability to influence policymaking during the upcoming legislative session. She also sent him an invoice for $2,000 to fix damage to the Capitol building’s vestibule, she said in a statement.

Other Democrats joined Kotek in filing a formal conduct complaint accusing Nearman of creating a “hostile work environment in the Capitol,” the speaker added.

Following outcry over the weekend, Nearman on Monday agreed to abide by a number of safety precautions laid out in a letter he read on the state House floor.

“I, Rep. Mike Nearman, voluntarily agree to the following interim safety measures,” he said. “I will not allow any unauthorized personnel into the Capitol.”

Nearman also agreed to give up his access badge that allowed him 24-hour access to the state Capitol building and vowed to provide a full-day’s notice before entering the Capitol building for any reason until an investigation into his conduct concludes.

Oregon State Police are investigating Nearman’s actions, the Oregonian reported, and the legislature’s Legislative Equity Office could also pursue potential disciplinary actions against the Republican lawmaker.