A Pennsylvania woman who joined a mob in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite on Jan. 6, 2021, was convicted Monday for impeding police officers trying to defend the Capitol.
After three days of deliberation, jurors convicted Riley Williams, 23, of six charges, including two felonies: participating in a civil disorder and impeding officers who tried to clear the Capitol Rotunda. But the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on two of the central charges in the case: whether Williams “aided and abetted” in the theft of a laptop from Pelosi’s office that the speaker used to make Zoom calls amid the Covid pandemic, and obstruction of Congress’ Jan. 6 proceeding — a felony that carries a 20-year maximum penalty.
Prosecutors must now decide whether to retry Williams on the two unresolved charges. Her sentence will be issued in February.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Williams immediately remanded to federal prison, agreeing with prosecutors that she presents a flight risk if released while awaiting sentencing. Williams was “packed and ready to flee” after Jan. 6, Jackson noted, and had a sophisticated understanding about how to cover her tracks. Her actions toward police on Jan. 6, Jackson said, eroded any confidence the judge had in Williams’ ability to obey court orders while released. Prosecutors noted that Williams faces a multi-year sentence, likely to be enhanced by her efforts to delete messages and cover up her conduct.
“She was profane. She was obnoxious. She was threatening,” Jackson said. “She organized others to forcibly resist.”
Williams, who remained stoic as her verdict was read, turned visibly distraught when she realized Jackson was going to send her to jail immediately. She smiled and thanked her defense attorney, Lori Ulrich, who called to her, “You won,” as she was led away — a reference to the two stalled counts.
The verdict closes a significant chapter in the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 investigation. Williams was among the first defendants charged and arrested for breaching the Capitol, and is the first convicted by a jury after breaking into Pelosi’s office. She is also the first woman convicted by a federal jury for Jan. 6-related offenses.
Prosecutors described Williams as a “Groyper” — a term for acolytes of white nationalist Nick Fuentes, who spent weeks prodding listeners to his podcast to oppose the transfer of power to Joe Biden. Williams wore an “I’m with Groyper” shirt during the Jan. 6 riot and sent Groyper-associated memes to her friends mocking Democrats for cowering amid the violence at the Capitol. One of Williams’ ex-boyfriends testified during the trial that she had become obsessed with Fuentes’ podcast in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.
The trial featured the most vivid video evidence yet of the rioters who ransacked Pelosi’s office suite, including multiple conference rooms, staff offices and Pelosi’s personal office itself. Rioters reveled as they spilled folders onto the floor, mocked the selection in her small candy dish and suggested stealing a pair of pink boxing gloves Pelosi kept on a side table. As they rioted, prosecutors emphasized, some of Pelosi’s staffers remained barricaded in a nearby office, unsure what awaited them on the other side of the door.
A top Pelosi aide, Jamie Fleet, testified about the fear his colleagues felt while they were trapped, and discussed his own harrowing experience on the House floor as he prepared to do battle with a mob trying to bash its way into the chamber. Prosecutors pointed to Fleet’s testimony as they rebutted claims by Williams’ defense attorney that she was caught up in a “fantasy” world in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.
For Fleet and his colleagues, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon said in his closing argument, Jan. 6 was “very, very real.”
Williams’ lawyers portrayed her as a naive “girl,” with no knowledge of Congress’ proceedings and no intent to harm Pelosi or anyone else in the Capitol, and who initially believed she had breached the White House. Williams lied to friends about stealing items from Pelosi’s office, like a gavel and a laptop, defense attorney Lori Ulrich said, deciding to inflate her involvement in events, only to reverse course when she realized she was in serious legal trouble.
Ulrich said jurors could convict Williams on two misdemeanor counts for disorderly conduct and parading in the Capitol.
“She should only be convicted for what she did,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich urged jurors to contrast Williams — who entered the Capitol unarmed, wearing fuzzy boots and carrying a zebra print backpack — with those who came wearing body armor and wielding weapons. She showed a picture of members of the Oath Keepers wearing military-style clothing and helmets, describing them as “prepared to do something bad.”
But prosecutors said Williams didn’t need to show up armed to commit the crimes she’s charged with. Rather, she jumped at the chance to join the mob breaching the Capitol, urged rioters to “take that fucking laptop” from Pelosi’s office, and counseled one to “put on gloves” as he tried to remove it.
Later, she joined a melee in the rotunda, turning her back on police and pushing against them. Videos suggest she also urged others in the crowd to lock arms and band together to push back against the police line. An officer involved in the skirmish described it for jurors earlier in the trial and recalled her pushing against him.
In addition, prosecutors sought to dismantle another defense argument: that Williams had no intent to enter the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election when she traveled to D.C. Gordon emphasized that it didn’t matter whether she had planned to go into the Capitol prior to the riot breaking out.
“When the opportunity to enter the Capitol arose, she took it,” Gordon said. “That’s all that matters.”