NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, June 11th, 2021

Accountability! Oregon Legislature expels extremist, militant Republican Mike Nearman

This is a his­toric, impor­tant, and much need­ed step for­ward in the effort to counter mil­i­tant right wing extrem­ism in the Pacif­ic North­west:

The Ore­gon House vot­ed 59–1 Thurs­day to expel Rep. Mike Near­man, the first time it has eject­ed a sit­ting representative.

Law­mak­ers removed Near­man because he let far-right demon­stra­tors, some of whom were armed, into the Capi­tol on Decem­ber 21st while law­mak­ers were hold­ing a spe­cial ses­sion. The Capi­tol was closed to the pub­lic due to the pan­dem­ic and remains so.

That means his seat rep­re­sent­ing a rur­al dis­trict west of Salem will like­ly sit vacant for the remain­der of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, which must wrap up by June 27th.

Near­man was the only one to vote against his removal, hav­ing lost the sup­port of every sin­gle one of his Repub­li­can col­leagues, who decid­ed he was a liability.

“The Ore­gon House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has tak­en the unprece­dent­ed step of expelling one of its mem­bers,” said House Speak­er Tina Kotek, a Demo­c­rat.

“Elect­ed lead­ers must be held to the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard. The facts are clear that Mr. Near­man unapolo­get­i­cal­ly coor­di­nat­ed and planned a breach of the Ore­gon State Capi­tol. 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. Safe­ty – for the pub­lic, build­ing employ­ees, leg­is­la­tors and their staff – con­tin­ues to be my top pri­or­i­ty in man­ag­ing this extra­or­di­nary session.”

Top House Repub­li­can Chris­tine Drazan offered a sim­i­lar response to the vote, using the words “high­er stan­dard” instead of “high­est pos­si­ble standard”.

“The expul­sion of a mem­ber for dis­or­der­ly con­duct is an extra­or­di­nary vote that changes the cham­ber, the Leg­is­la­ture and our state,” Drazan said.

“Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Near­man took cred­it for his prin­ci­ples with­out tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for the con­se­quences of his actions. His plan to let peo­ple into the Capi­tol end­ed with vio­lence, prop­er­ty destruc­tion and injured cops.”

“This dis­re­gard for the rule of law leads us deep­er into civ­il unrest and divi­sion. If we want to turn our state around we must hold our­selves account­able to a high­er stan­dard as we work to lead and serve the greater good.”

Video footage from the 21st depicts Near­man open­ing the door to the closed, locked Capi­tol to allow an armed band of mil­i­tant right wing extrem­ists into the build­ing. It was some­thing that Near­man had planned on doing in advance:

Last week, a video from ear­li­er in Decem­ber sur­faced which showed Near­man instruct­ing view­ers how they should wait out­side an entrance to the Capi­tol and text his cell phone.

Then, “some­body might exit that door while you’re stand­ing there,” Near­man said, a plan he dubbed “Oper­a­tion Hall Pass.”

In an inter­view Mon­day with a con­ser­v­a­tive radio host, Near­man said the group he instruct­ed on how to text him when they arrived out­side a door at the Capi­tol were “most­ly blue-haired old ladies.”

That did not accu­rate­ly describe the group that showed up at the Capi­tol and entered the door Near­man opened.

Rather, the demon­stra­tors includ­ed the right-wing, Van­cou­ver-based group Patri­ot Prayer known for street brawls, peo­ple wear­ing cloth­ing with Three Per­centers mili­tia logos and a Con­fed­er­ate flag hat and peo­ple armed with rifles and wear­ing mil­i­tary gear.

Mike Nearman lets violent extremists into the Oregon State Capitol

Mike Near­man lets vio­lent extrem­ists into the Ore­gon State Capi­tol (From video footage pro­vid­ed by the Legislature)

“Oper­a­tion Hall Pass” was a suc­cess, at least in that it enabled mem­bers of the Three Per­centers to get inside of the build­ing, threat­en­ing the safe­ty of Ore­gon state leg­is­la­tors and their staff. Due to the inter­ven­tion of the Ore­gon State Police, the vio­lent mob was for­tu­nate­ly stopped from going very far. (In the video, you can see the police rush­ing to the open door to block the way forward.)

Near­man then lied to his col­leagues when asked about his involvement.

“Mike told us that there is no fur­ther evi­dence and cer­tain­ly not any that would show pre­med­i­ta­tion,” Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bill Post (25th-Dis­trict: Keiz­er) said in a state­ment. “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.”

Near­man was giv­en unlim­it­ed time by the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty to speak against his expul­sion. He offered only brief remarks, reit­er­at­ing that he thinks the Capi­tol should be open to the pub­lic, and declin­ing to apol­o­gize for his actions.

The onset of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic in the spring of 2020 prompt­ed the clo­sure of most pub­lic build­ings in Ore­gon and many oth­er places. Since then, build­ing access has become some­thing of an obses­sion for many Repub­li­cans, even though leg­isla­tive pro­ceed­ings remain acces­si­ble through elec­tron­ic means.

The sci­ence shows that large gath­er­ings of peo­ple can eas­i­ly become super­spread­er events that allow COVID-19 to be rapid­ly and effec­tive­ly trans­mit­ted. That is why build­ings like the Capi­tol were closed to all except those who work there. New­er vari­ants of COVID-19 are even more trans­mis­si­ble than the first per­mu­ta­tion of the virus, which makes adher­ence to phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and mask­ing pro­to­cols all the more impor­tant for the unvaccinated.

Mike Near­man’s expul­sion is a water­shed moment for the Pacif­ic North­west. It is the first time that a right wing extrem­ist has been kicked out of a state leg­is­la­ture in our region. Matt Shea should have been the first last bien­ni­um, but sad­ly, Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­cans refused to join Democ­rats in mov­ing to oust him. Ore­gon House Repub­li­cans are to be com­mend­ed for com­ing togeth­er and decid­ing that Near­man had to go. That took dis­ci­pline and unity.

Oth­er extrem­ists, like Wash­ing­ton’s Robert Suther­land, remain in the Pacif­ic North­west­’s leg­is­la­tures and con­tin­ue to under­mine democ­ra­cy and the rule of law. The work to hold them account­able must continue.

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