WASHINGTON — A far-right extremist who was "obsessed" with white nationalist Nick Fuentes was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for storming the U.S. Capitol and directing a mob toward the office of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, where another rioter stole a laptop.
In delivering the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson called Riley Williams' actions “utterly reprehensible."
Williams, federal prosecutors argued at trial in November, "led an army" up a set of stairs toward Pelosi's office and was present when rioters swiped the laptop Pelosi, D-Calif., kept in her conference room and used for “all her Zoom meetings."
Video shows rioters in Nancy Pelosi's office on Jan. 6Nov. 16, 202203:55
Williams’ federal public defender, Lori Ulrich, said that while Williams might have “distasteful” beliefs, she was a young woman equipped with only a “cellphone and her fuzzy zebra bag” who even posted at one point that she was “STORMING THE WHITE HOUSE” when she was, in fact, in the legislative branch. Williams, her defense argued, “wanted to be somebody.”
At the hearing ahead of her sentencing, Williams said she is embarrassed watching the actions of the “young and stupid girl” she now sees in all of those videos. She said she is now “a responsible woman” and had been “addicted to the internet since before I can remember.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dalke argued that Williams was not some “impulsive Gen-Z gadfly” or "the Forrest Gump of January 6." Williams “participated in domestic terrorism, plain and simple.” Dalke said.
Williams was ultimately convicted on six counts: felony civil disorder, resisting and impeding certain officers and four misdemeanor charges. The jury deadlocked on a count of obstruction of an official proceeding, as well as on the question of whether Williams aided and abetted the theft of Pelosi’s laptop.
At the sentencing hearing, Jackson, the judge, rejected the defense’s suggestion that Williams' youth, height and gender diminished her guilt.
Jackson said Williams, 23, acted “like a coxswain” when she directed the mob and used her small size as an asset.
“I’ve been told she’s a little girl,” Jackson added, while noting that Williams is the same age as Fuentes and just a few years younger than the youngest member of Congress. Jackson also said Williams is the same gender and about the same height as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Williams apologized before her sentencing, saying she’s embarrassed by the “young and stupid” person she sees in the videos she’d watched of herself at the Capitol. She said she’s now a “responsible young woman” and realized that she had been “addicted to the internet since before I can remember.”
Jackson had ordered Williams remanded after the verdict, saying she had “no confidence whatsoever” that Williams had respect for the rule of law.
Federal prosecutors had sought 87 months, or more than seven years, in federal prison, arguing that such a sentence would hold Williams accountable "for her outsized and chilling participation in — and furtherance of — the chaos and violence" at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Everywhere she went, Williams acted as an accelerant, exacerbating the mayhem. Where others turned back, she pushed forward. 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 the police lines. The officers she faced off with were among those injured,” they wrote in a sentencing memo.
“Then, in the 12 days between the riot and her arrest on January 18, 2021, Williams repeatedly destroyed evidence and tried to evade law enforcement officials: She deleted her social media and communication accounts, instructed others to delete messages and take down videos from the internet, reset her iPhone, switched cellular phones, and used advanced software to wipe her computer,” they wrote.After the storming of Pelosi's office, Williams yelled at officers inside the Capitol rotunda, “F--k you. We’ll remember your f-----g face," and "You’re a traitor. You’re a traitor to this country," prosecutors said. She later bragged that she was "right in front of the police calling them traitors" and that she pushed up against police. Williams spent about 90 minutes inside the building and then climbed on top of a tactical police vehicle when she left, they wrote.
“I’ve been told what I did was wrong by everybody but in my heart and soul I know what we did was patriotic and what is right and anybody who says otherwise should be condemned," Williams wrote to her dad, who traveled with her to Washington on Jan. 14, 2021, prosecutors said.
Williams' attorneys requested a sentence of a year and a day in federal prison.
"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," they wrote. "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."
In a letter to the court, Williams' fiancé said she was "addicted to the internet" before Jan. 6 and "seeking attention and [affirmation] from anyone she could." She became a better Christian, he wrote, and now just wanted to be "a mother, wife, and a servant to God." She wants to home-school her kids, Ian Hoyt Franz wrote, and teach them to be "virtuous, honorable, and loving." She also wants to raise sheep for their wool and cows for milk.
"When Riley is finally done and able to return home I plan on marrying her and starting a life together. Buying some land and getting her those sheep," Franz wrote. "How much more does she have to go through? I don't know how long Riley needs to be away for, but no matter the time me and her family will patiently wait for her release."
Her mother wrote that Williams "longs for a simple life" and that her dream is to have "a home on a large plot of land, a large family, lots of vegetables and fruits growing in a garden, and farm animals to raise for their own consumption."
Williams, her mother wrote, "realized what a blessing it was to be forced off the internet" after she was arrested and "found other interests, such as crocheting."