59-1: Oregon state legislature expels Republican for helping to organize breach of the capitol

The breach happened on December 21. The Oregon legislature was in a one-day special session that had been called to pass a raft of diverse legislation, although from what I can tell nothing so controversial that it would obviously inspire a small mob to gather outside the capitol. It may be that Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign had galvanized righty protesters to want to show their strength to legislators at that moment even when the business of the day had nothing to do with the election. Sixteen days later, the same impulse transformed his rally in Washington into a riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The Oregon capitol was closed on December 21 as a precaution against COVID. The state and country were in the midst of the pandemic’s winter wave, the worst stretch of the entire ordeal, and barred public attendance to limit infection. There was even talk of having legislators meet virtually that day, without showing up in person, although that was ultimately nixed because of what it might mean with respect to a quorum. So legislators showed up — and so did protesters, who jeered them from outside.

Although they nearly made it in. At one point, GOP Rep. Mike Nearman left the chamber and opened a door to the capitol, at which point protesters waiting just outside began to file in. They were immediately intercepted by police, who managed to force them back out before they were able to breach the legislative chamber. At least one protester used bear spray on the cops, another premonition of the insurrection two weeks later. Democrats were suspicious about Nearman’s involvement, knowing that he’s a populist Republican who signed a letter supporting Texas’s lawsuit to throw out some of Biden’s electoral votes. How is it that protesters happened to be at the very door that he used to exit the building? Was it really just a coincidence?

It was not. His Republican colleagues withheld judgment for months but last week video emerged of Nearman plotting with protesters beforehand to help them access the building. Just call me on my cell when you get there, he told them — in full view of a camera.

“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass, which I don’t know anything about and if you accuse me of knowing something about, I’ll deny it. But there would be some person’s cell phone which might be” and he recites a phone number beginning with 971.

“But,” he continues, “that was just random numbers that I screened up. That’s not anybody’s actual cell phone. And if you say ‘I am at the west entrance’ during a session in text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there.

“But I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to do with that, and if I did, I wouldn’t say that I did. But anyway, the number that I didn’t say was (he repeats it). So don’t text that number. But a number like that. Make sure you say what exit you’re at too.”

You can watch the clip here. A local news anchor called the number after the video became public. Guess who it belonged to.

Nearman really had plotted with the protesters to help them breach the building. Democrats moved quickly to expel him from the house — and this time, an attempt to hold a Republican responsible for inciting an insurrection wouldn’t break down along party lines. Nearman’s GOP colleagues voted unanimously to oust him yesterday. The final vote was 59-1, with Nearman himself the lone dissenter.

[W]hile Republicans in Congress have resisted major actions in the Capitol siege — recently rejecting a plan for an independent commission — G.O.P. lawmakers in Oregon coalesced in recent days around the idea that Mr. Nearman needed to go. Each of his colleagues joined in a letter this week calling for his resignation.

The House Republican leader, Christine Drazan, said Mr. Nearman had indiscriminately allowed violent protesters into the building. Representative Bill Post, a Republican who said he was one of Mr. Nearman’s closest colleagues, wrote a message explaining that Mr. Nearman had lied to him personally and to other Republican colleagues about whether there was evidence that opening the door had been planned.

“That plan put at risk lawmakers, staff and police officers inside of the building,” Mr. Post wrote.

He’s facing misdemeanor charges for letting the protesters in. Drazan told reporters a few days ago that she believed Nearman’s denials that he hadn’t intended to open the door to them until the video surfaced of him giving them his phone number. As it is, she thinks legislators are lucky that no one ended up being killed. Some of the protesters had rifles.

Here’s Nearman defending his actions to his colleagues after initially lying to them about how opening the door was a total coincidence. The people have a right to the enter the capitol, he claims. If he felt that way, he should have gone to court about it and challenged the COVID regulations instead of taking the law into his own hands. And needless to say, the right to protest doesn’t create a right to menace legislators physically, which is what the crashing of the capitol in Oregon and the crashing of the Capitol in Washington were designed to do. And Nearman surely knew it. Good riddance.