FILE – Mike Nearman surveillance

In this image taken from Oregon State Capitol surveillance footage, Oregon Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, can be seen opening a door for a group of Trump supporters on December 21, 2020 where his fellow state lawmakers were gathered for a special legislative session. 

(The Center Square) – A member of the Oregon Legislature faces further calls to resign after a video appears to show him coaching protesters that broke into the Oregon capitol last December.

At 8:29 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 21, capitol surveillance footage showed state Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Polk County, opening the west side door of the Oregon Capitol to a mob of Trump supporters protesting COVID restrictions who forced their way into the building. Nearman's colleagues gathered in the building at the time for a special legislative session to pass housing and pandemic relief bills.

The day saw two reporters and several police officers assaulted by the mob. Six men at the scene were arrested on charges ranging from breaking and entering to assault. One has since relocated to Arizona before his trial on July 13.

Nearman was stripped of his committee assignments and billed for damages to the building. He was charged last month with two misdemeanors by the Marion County District Attorney's office later. His first hearing is set for June 29.

The video in question was posted on December 16, 2020, to a YouTube channel called "The Black Conservative Preacher," as first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting. It shows Nearman speaking to an audience about getting ahold of lawmakers at the Oregon state capitol. In the video, he reiterates that the Capitol is closed during the COVID pandemic. 

"Yes, the Capitol is closed," Nearman responds. "And so you can't come into the Capitol."

Nearman tells the audience they have no choice but to enter the Capitol itself. He suggests they should call a cellphone number for help, repeating the exact digits several times. 

"There might be some person's number which might be [his cell phone number], but that is just random numbers," Nearman said. "That's not anybody's actual cell phone. And if you say, 'I'm at the West entrance' during the session and text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you're standing there.'"

The cellphone number's voicemail greeting includes Nearman's voice, and he identifies himself in full. The Center Square did not hear back from Nearman for comment.

Nearman repeats the same digits in the video to unidentified audience members. He also mentions something called "Operation Hall Pass" and makes it clear to the audience they should disclose their location when they get to the Oregon capitol.

"I didn't really say a number," Nearman said. "But if I were to say a number it might have been something like [gives number again]. You'd have to say what entrance you're at. But that's not really going to happen. So don't worry about that. Nobody said anything."

Nearman also worked as a senior fellow at the conservative Freedom Foundation think tank. Speaking with The Center Square, the foundation's Oregon director, Jason Dudash, said the video took place at the foundation's office in Salem. He says the foundation did not approve the event.

"The Freedom Foundation had no knowledge of Mr. Nearman's involvement leading up to or on the Dec. 21 breach of the Oregon Capitol," Dudash said. "Although Mr. Nearman's meeting with a group of citizens learning about the legislative process took place on Freedom Foundation premises, it occurred after hours and was not a Freedom Foundation-sponsored or sanctioned event."

Nearman resigned from the Freedom Foundation on Monday, June 7, Freedom Foundation officials confirmed to The Center Square.

Nearman has faced calls to resign from his Democratic colleagues and numerous progressive groups. He has denied any wronging and has not signaled he will step down. The Polk County Republican was scheduled to speak at a gun rally in Salem's Riverfront Park on May 1 alongside far-right groups such as the Proud Boys who have been tied to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. capitol. He is one of three GOP state lawmakers petitioning the repeal of a gun control bill allowing cities like Salem to create "gun-free zones" restricting such events.

On Friday, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, repeated her calls for Nearman's resignation and floated the idea of his expulsion from the chamber for the first time. Others like state Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, have called for Nearman to be expelled since the year began and expressed frustration about the duration of the police investigation into him.

On Monday, Kotek announced a special House committee of three Democrats and three Republicans will meet this week to decide if Nearman violated House rules and what actions could be taken against him.

"This is an unprecedented situation facing the Legislature," Kotek said in a statement. "It is beyond a workplace conduct issue and must be treated as such."

In a joint letter released on Monday, all House Republicans called for Nearman's resignation, breaking their silence since January. It's unclear whether they support expulsion.

Expulsion from the Oregon House would require a vote by a two-thirds majority of the chamber or 40 votes. Currently, Democrats control the chamber by a 37-23 majority or three votes short of expelling Nearman along party lines. They would have to convince three of their Republican colleagues to vote with them if Nearman was to be expelled. 

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.