Oregon Lawmaker Fined for Letting Protesters Inside State Capitol

A Republican lawmaker who opened a locked door to let violent far-right protesters into the closed Oregon capitol building during a contentious special session Dec. 21 faces fines and removal from committee assignments.

A far-right demonstrator rushes toward the inner door of the Oregon Capitol on Dec. 21, 2020 as Republican Rep. Mike Nearman walks out after letting him into the building.

SALEM, Ore. (CN) — The Republican lawmaker who opened a locked door to let far-right demonstrators swarm the Oregon Capitol last month will be fined and stripped of his committee assignments, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek announced Monday.

Representative Mike Nearman, R-Independence, breezed through a locked door to the state Capitol Dec. 21, opening it to a crowd of far-right protesters who then assaulted state troopers protecting the building, footage from a security camera shows.

Video of the incident was first reported by the Oregonian/Oregonlive.

Kotek called for Nearman to resign as she announced initial consequences for his actions.

“Representative Nearman put every person in the Capitol in serious danger,” Kotek, D-Portland, said Monday. “As we tragically saw last week during the insurrection at the United States Capitol, the consequences could have been much worse had law enforcement not stepped in so quickly. His actions have created immense fear among legislators and Capitol staff. I believe he should resign immediately because he has already breached the public trust and endangered our ability to safely conduct the people’s business.”

The first consequences Nearman will face include the loss of his committee assignments and a $2,000 fine to cover damage protesters caused in the vestibule of the Capitol after Nearman let them in through a side door.

Kotek added that she will join other House members in filing a conduct complaint with the Legislative Equity Office, accusing Nearman of creating a hostile work environment.

Nearman read a statement aloud on the legislative floor Monday, promising not to repeat his mistakes. He said he will hand in his access badge and provide 24 hours’ notice before he enters the building. 

Legal consequences for Nearman are unclear, according to a spokesman for Oregon State Police.

“When the investigation is complete it will be forwarded to the district attorney for review for possible charges, if any,” Capt. Tim Fox said in an email.

Asked how state troopers, who are responsible for guarding the Capitol, plan to prevent a similar incident in the future, Fox offered even less certainty.

“Any ideas?” he asked.

Protesters at the Capitol Dec. 21 included Joey Gibson, leader of the local far-right group Patriot Prayer, and Chandler Pappas, a Patriot Prayer supporter who has spoken at Proud Boy rallies and was with Aaron “Jay” Danielson when Danielson was shot and killed during an Aug. 29 protest in Portland. 

Both Gibson and Pappas can be seen in the video footage entering the Capitol after Nearman opened the door Dec. 21.

Far-right protesters sprayed police with bear mace or another chemical irritant outside the Capitol building that day and clashed with leftist counter-protesters. They broke the window of another door in their attempt to enter the Capitol. 

Police arrested four people that day, including two far-right protesters who were arrested on charges related to entering the Capitol building. Pappas is facing six counts of assaulting police officers, riot, first-degree burglary and criminal trespass while possessing a gun.

The video, provided under a records request, is from a surveillance camera just inside a side door. It shows far-right protesters waiting outside a glass door. Rep. Nearman strides through an internal door into the frame and opens a second, external door before walking through the crowd of protesters. 

One protester rushes in to grab the internal door before it closes. He and a second man gesture to others outside, encouraging them to enter the building. Several do before state police inside the building run into the frame to shove protesters back out the door. 

After a scuffle, police leave the external door open and the video shows protesters casually walking in and out of the small vestibule between the internal and external door.

A spokesman for Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the video footage “extremely concerning.”

The incident is under investigation by Oregon State Police. After that, Speaker Kotek said her office will decide on consequences that could include a $5,000 fine and expulsion from the Legislature.  

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, noted that the Jan. 6 violent insurrection on Capitol Hill was preceded by similar violence at Oregon’s Capitol and at other statehouses around the country.

“What has particularly shocked me is the fact that members of this Legislature have blatantly encouraged and abetted violence,” Wagner said in a statement. “We should demand that our state Capitol, where we convene empowered by the Oregon Constitution to do the people’s work, is free from violence and intimidation.”

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