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GOP lawmaker charged with ‘knowingly’ letting rioters breach the Oregon Capitol

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/2/2021 Lateshia Beachum
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: In this Dec. 21 photo, pro-Trump and anti-mask demonstrators hold a rally outside the Oregon Capitol as legislators meet for an emergency session in Salem, Ore. © Andrew Selsky/AP In this Dec. 21 photo, pro-Trump and anti-mask demonstrators hold a rally outside the Oregon Capitol as legislators meet for an emergency session in Salem, Ore.

As far-right demonstrators gathered outside the Oregon Capitol in December in the hope of ending coronavirus restrictions, state Rep. Mike Nearman (R) appeared to deliberately allow entry to two men trying to breach the building as he was leaving.

Without hesitation, two rioters on Dec. 21 rushed inside the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., held doors open and signaled for others to come in before police arrived to cut off the security breach, according to surveillance video obtained by the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Nearman, 57, now faces criminal charges for his role in allegedly allowing the rioters to breach the Oregon Capitol, Marion County District Attorney Paige E. Clarkson announced Friday. The GOP lawmaker has been charged with misdemeanor counts of first-degree official misconduct and second-degree criminal trespass, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Nearman — who was stripped of his committee assignments and has faced calls to resign in recent months — “unlawfully and knowingly” opened the door for the far-right group “with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another.”

“Rep. Nearman put every person in the Capitol in serious danger and created fear among Capitol staff and legislators,” tweeted Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) on Friday. “I called on him to resign in January and renew my call in light of today’s charges.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that at least three of the men who took part at the far-right demonstration in Salem made the trip to the U.S. Capitol weeks later for the insurrection on Jan. 6.

Nearman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday. In a statement in January, the Republican said he was the victim of “mob justice” and repeated his belief that the statehouse should be open.

“I don’t condone violence nor participate in it,” Nearman said in his January statement.

Although few Oregon Republicans have commented on the matter, the Oregonian reported that state House GOP Leader Christine Drazan said she supports a criminal investigation of the episode.

In a statement to The Washington Post on Saturday, Drazan said she trusts that the judicial process will be fair and objective.

“State legislators are the voices of their community,” Drazan said. “They are not above the law.”

As The Post’s Katie Shepherd reported, Nearman, who represents a district near Polk County, about 60 miles outside Portland, is one of the most conservative members of the state legislature. Now in his fourth term, Nearman remains one of the most vocal opponents of the state’s coronavirus restrictions and has even sued Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) over her emergency orders.

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

Around 8 a.m. on Dec. 21, right-wing protesters gathered outside the statehouse as the legislature met to consider the governor’s proposal to distribute $800 million of coronavirus relief.

The scene grew violent when rioters tried to break through the Oregon Capitol’s doors, and journalists covering the demonstration were repeatedly attacked. Law enforcement officers were pushed and reportedly sprayed twice with “bear spray.”

After the first intruders entered through the door opened by Nearman, dozens more eventually streamed into the building and attacked officers and damaged property, according to surveillance video.

The far-right demonstrators were inside the building for nearly an hour before police cleared the area, OPB reported. Police arrested at least five people on an array of charges.

Nearman’s role in letting the rioters breach the building came to light after the surveillance video was made public in January. In response, Kotek said she stripped him of his committee responsibilities, and the legislature reportedly sent him an invoice for more than $2,700 to repair the damage caused during the breach. Although he has regularly appeared in Oregon House floor sessions, Nearman agreed to turn in his Capitol access badge and now must provide 24 hours notice before entering the statehouse.

The GOP lawmaker, citing the advice of his attorney, has declined to comment about the riot to local media. In January, he agreed to abide by state House safety precautions in a letter he read on the 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 is scheduled to appear in Marion County Court on May 11, court records show. Documents indicated that his failure to appear will result in a warrant being issued for his arrest.

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