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Oregon house expels Republican who helped far-right rioters enter capitol

Oregon house expels Republican who helped far-right rioters enter capitol
A far-right demonstrator waves a Trump flag in front of the state capitol building in Salem, Oregon, on 21 December, the same day Mike Nearman opened a door for agitators. Photograph: Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Reuters

A Republican politician who on Thursday became the first representative ever expelled from the Oregon state house said the people he covertly let into the state capitol in December were “mostly blue-haired old ladies”.

In fact they were far-right agitators, among them members of Patriot Prayer, a far-right group often involved in street violence, and people toting guns and Confederate flags and wearing militia regalia. Some attacked law enforcement officers with bear spray. Outside, reporters were assaulted and doors broken. Police struggled to force the rioters back.

Widely seen CCTV footage from 21 December, when the state legislature was in special session and closed to the public, showed Republican Mike Nearman opening a door for agitators there to protest against coronavirus-related public health measures.

In January, the Oregon house speaker, Tina Kotek, called for Nearman’s resignation, for putting “every person in the capitol in serious danger”.

Referring to the 6 January riot in Washington DC by supporters of Donald Trump, she added: “As we tragically saw … during the insurrection at the United States Capitol, the consequences [in Oregon] could have been much worse.”

Representatives of both parties called for Nearman to quit. Then, this month, new video surfaced in which Nearman described how the covert entry would work – and how he would deny knowledge if confronted.

“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass,” he said, “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 cellphone.”

Nearman then gave out his number, claiming “that was just random numbers that I screened up. That’s not anybody’s actual cellphone. And if you say ‘I am at the west entrance’ during a session in [a] 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 [the number first mentioned]. So don’t text that number. But a number like that. Make sure you say what exit you’re at too.”

In an interview on rightwing radio, Nearman said he had been speaking to the Oregon Citizens Lobby, which he said was “mostly blue-haired old ladies” but which local media called “right-leaning”.

Nearman claimed to have been being “flippant” as he described his scheme, but also said he didn’t agree with closing the capitol and was willing to pay the price for his actions.

That price includes charges of official misconduct and criminal trespass on which Nearman was arraigned in May, the same month he told conservative radio he had “a really bad case of Covid and I’m kind of on the mend a little bit”. Another hearing is scheduled.

On Thursday, Nearman was ejected from the state House by a vote of 59-1. His seat will probably remain empty until the end of the session, later this month.

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