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Oregon House Republicans Disavow Their Party’s Position On Capitol Attack

The Oregon Legislature gathers in this February 2017 file photo.

The extraordinary statement is just the latest backlash the Oregon Republican Party has received in recent days for a Jan. 19 resolution.

Republicans in the Oregon House on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of distancing themselves from their state party, after party officials passed a resolution labeling the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol a “‘false flag’ operation.’”

A statement signed by all 23 House Republicans noted that “there is no credible evidence to support false flag claims.” It suggested the state party’s Jan. 19 resolution that said the Capitol attack might have been “designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans,” has become a distraction.

“Oregon is in crisis,” the statement said. “Vaccines are not going to our most vulnerable, our students are still not in a safe classroom setting, main street businesses are in a tailspin, our health data is a mess and here we are, talking about a political party resolution.”

The statement goes on to reiterate that the caucus is concerned with addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic first and foremost. “The election is over,” it said. “It is time to govern.”

Later Wednesday, state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, issued his own statement splitting with the state party on the matter.

“I have not seen any credible evidence to suggest that the riot at the United States Capitol was a ‘false flag,’ and I do not support the Oregon Republican Party’s resolution,” Knopp said. “I find it disheartening that while Oregonians are struggling, these political distractions get in the way of helping them recover.”

Little remarked on at first, the Oregon GOP’s resolution has received increasing scrutiny in recent days, landing the state party attention from national outlets for officially endorsing a conspiracy theory. Many of those reports have led with the “false flag” claims, as well as the party’s contention that the attack was a way to set up a “sham impeachment” against Trump for inciting violence and to allow Democrats to assume “total power.”

But the resolution’s actual purpose was somewhat different: to castigate 10 Republicans in Congress for voting to support that impeachment.

The resolution was approved not by Republican lawmakers, but by officials who sit on the executive committee of the Oregon Republican Party. According to party bylaws, that 22-person group is made up largely of top party officials and chairs and vice-chairs from the state’s five congressional districts.

But the executive committee is also supposed to include one Republican member of the House. It was not immediately clear Wednesday who that member is, or whether they voted on the Jan. 19 resolution.

At least one Republican, state Rep. Bill Post of Keizer, had criticized his party’s position before the Wednesday release.

“Press releases condemning Republican Representatives from other states does nothing to win seats in here in the Oregon House or Senate…..nor does it help Republicans win the Governor’s seat in 2022,” Post wrote on his personal blog Tuesday. “Let’s get our focus off of the national news and on to the state of Oregon.”

At the same time, one member of the state party committee has a close working relationship with one House Republican. The party’s secretary, Becky Mitts, is chief of staff to Republican Rep. Mike Nearman, according to her LinkedIn profile. Nearman has recently come under fire, after surveillance footage revealed he allowed far-right demonstrators to breach the locked state Capitol building on Dec. 21.

Despite the backlash from lawmakers, the state party is standing by its resolution. Party Chair Bill Currier issued a statement to OPB on Wednesday evening, saying he agrees legislators should be focused on local matters.

But Currier added that it is “the state party’s job to speak out” about its concerns over national events.

“We have a difference of opinion over whether ‘credible’ evidence is emerging regarding potential false flag occurrences on Jan 6th,” Currier said. “We are continuing to monitor news reports, the FBI statements, and other eyewitness sources until we have all the facts.”

Wednesday’s statement from House Republican lawmakers is just the latest criticism the Oregon GOP has gotten in recent days.

The Northwest office of the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement about the resolution Tuesday, specifically addressing part of the document that linked to a Wikipedia article referencing the Reichstag fire, a 1933 arson attack on Germany’s parliament building that helped Adolf Hitler consolidate power.

Oregon GOP Condemns Betrayal by the Ten House Republicans Who Voted to Impeach President Trump pic.twitter.com/sL2pjAXT8u

— Oregon GOP (@Oregon_GOP) January 19, 2021

The Anti-Defamation League called the comparison “offensive” and “absurd.”

“The violence at the US Capitol on January 6th was a large-scale physical assault on our nation’s democratic values and institutions perpetrated by right-wing conspiracy theorists, extremists, and supporters of former President Trump. That is a fact,” the ADL wrote.

The civil rights organization also said Oregon Republicans were misusing history when referencing the Reichstag fire to “advance a baseless conspiracy theory.”

“Such a comparison cheapens one of the most significant moments leading up to Holocaust and is extremely inappropriate,” the organization wrote.

Beyond the absurd assertion that the violence at the Capitol was a “false flag”, the offensive comparison to the 1933 burning of the Reichstag is a gross misuse of history & cheapens a significant moment leading up to the Holocaust.We urge @Oregon_GOP to rescind its resolution. https://t.co/GuxqLsk2xh

— ADL Pacific NW (@ADLPNW) January 26, 2021

While most federal Republican representatives did not support the effort to impeach Trump, the Northwest did have some notable exceptions. Washington state Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse were among the 10 who supported impeachment.

Oregon’s Republican Party compared them to Revolutionary War traitor Gen. Benedict Arnold. But the state party did have kind words for freshman Rep. Cliff Bentz, who represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District and supported challenges to the 2020 presidential election results.

The GOP also said Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader was accurate in comparing the second impeachment effort against Trump to a “lynching.” Schrader later retracted that statement and voted in favor of impeachment.

Ryan Haas has been with Oregon Public Broadcasting since 2013. His work has won numerous awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations for the podcast "Bundyville." Prior to working at OPB, Haas worked at newspapers in Illinois, Florida, Oregon and the Caribbean.
Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.