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Woman described as ‘among the worst’ Jan. 6 rioters gets three-year sentence

Riley J. Williams was sentenced to three years in prison for her association with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.  (Dan Gleiter/Patriot-News)
By Paul Duggan Washington Post

A Pennsylvania woman who was accused – but not convicted – of aiding in the theft of a computer from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for a half-dozen other crimes after a prosecutor described her as “among the worst” of the rioters that day.

Riley J. Williams, 24, who was found guilty of six offenses Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., apologized at her sentencing for being “disrespectful, hateful and angry at innocent people” during the Jan. 6 mayhem. Back then, she said, she was “a young and stupid girl” who “was addicted to the internet” and believed lies by President Donald Trump and his supporters about Trump being denied reelection because of massive fraud.

“There’s no justification or excuse for my behavior,” she told Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Echoing a defense attorney, who said Williams had been “manipulated” by Trump and others into storming the Capitol, Williams said in court, “I stand before you as a responsible woman who admits she made a mistake.”

Jurors in her trial said they could not unanimously agree on whether Williams was culpable in the theft of a laptop computer from a conference room in Pelosi’s suite or for obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. Those two charges have since been dismissed at the request of prosecutors, meaning Williams will not face a second trial.

She was convicted of civil disorder, impeding police officers, trespassing on restricted grounds, illegally demonstrating in the Capitol and two counts of disorderly conduct.

“I look forward to putting this behavior behind me and restarting my life,” Williams said Thursday, referring to her actions during the riot, when she joined a mob of Trump supporters in attacking the Capitol while a joint session of Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

Clad that January day in black tights and a brown jacket and carrying a fuzzy, zebra-striped handbag slung over a shoulder, the slightly built Williams, 22 at the time, sought out rioters in the building who were equipped with tactical vests, shields, goggles and helmets, and organized them to attack police security lines, prosecutors said.

“Everywhere she went” in the Capitol, she “acted as an accelerant, exacerbating the mayhem,” Michael M. Gordon and Samuel S. Dalke, both assistant U.S. attorneys, said in a sentencing memo filed in court. Addressing the judge Thursday, Dalke said Williams “organized and led a violent army of rioters … directing monstrous violence around her.”

“When others turned back, she pushed forward,” the prosecutors wrote. “When officers blocked her path, she recruited other rioters, especially larger men wearing helmets and body armor, gathered them together, and pushed them forward like a human battering ram, using the mob as a weapon to break through police lines.”

Describing Williams as “among the worst of the January 6th rioters,” Dalke said Thursday that she “acted as a rudder to a seemingly rudderless mob” and that she “should go to jail for at least five years.”

Jackson, who called Williams’s conduct “utterly reprehensible,” ridiculed the defense argument that Williams’ young age, small size and casual attire on Jan. 6 made her less culpable than other rioters, especially burly men in military gear.

“You can see her pointing and directing others in videos and photographs … like a coxswain on a crew team,” said the judge, who recited a long list of notable people in politics, athletics, the legal profession and the arts, all similar to Williams in age and physical stature. “She’s not some little waif blowing in the wind,” Jackson said. “She poured fuel on the fire.”

The three-year sentence will include the four months that Williams has been in jail since the November guilty verdicts. Before that, she had been on home detention.

Defense attorney Lori J. Ulrich, who asked Jackson to sentence Williams to a year and a day behind bars, argued her client has been targeted as a scapegoat for “powerful men,” including Trump, who have yet to be called to account for the riot.

“She’s a defendant, but also a follower who was fooled and tricked into believing there was a plot to remove President Trump from office,” Ulrich told the judge. She said Trump “to this day still claims the election was stolen,” yet “he is still a free man, wining and dining.” Although Trump was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, “his fingerprints are all over this.”

Among the nearly 1,000 people arrested so far in connection with the Capitol riot, Williams gained notoriety for what prosecutors said was her role in the theft of a laptop that Pelosi, D-Calif., used in conducting meetings with U.S. and foreign officials.

Video images used as evidence in Williams’s two-week trial show that when she arrived in Pelosi’s suite, rioters already were there, and one man had his hands on the laptop, which was open on a conference table. Prosecutors said Williams can be heard yelling demands to take the laptop and saying, “Dude, put on gloves.”

After deliberating for the equivalent of three full days, the jury said it could not reach unanimous agreement whether those statements made her culpable in the theft.

“A sentence of 12 months and 1 day is reflective of the seriousness of Ms. Williams’ conduct of January 6th and provides just punishment for what she did on that day,” defense attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo. “It also is reflective of Ms. Williams’ characteristics – particularly her youth and lack of appropriate parental guidance, and takes into account that she has no criminal history.”

Williams traveled to Washington from her home in central Pennsylvania on the day of the Capitol riot, authorities said. In the trial, prosecutors described her as a zealous election denier who orchestrated violence inside the building, while Ulrich depicted her as a naive young woman who made an error in judgment by joining the mob.

On Thursday, in arguing that Williams and others like her are being forced to take the fall for Trump and his closest election-denying allies, Ulrich called up an image of Voltaire on a courtroom video screen along with a quote from the 18th-century French philosopher: “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”