Rioter charged in Pelosi laptop theft sentenced to prison

·4 min read

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Pennsylvania woman linked to a far-right extremist movement was sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for storming the U.S. Capitol, where she invaded then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office with other rioters.

Riley June Williams, 23, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was charged but not convicted of helping steal a laptop from Pelosi’s office suite during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

A federal jury convicted Williams in November of six charges, including a felony count of civil disorder, after a two-week trial. But it deadlocked on two other counts, including “aiding and abetting" the laptop's theft.

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Jurors also deadlocked on a charge of obstructing an official proceeding, the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory. Then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress evacuated the House and Senate chambers when rioters attacked the Capitol.

Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to sentence Williams to seven years and three months in prison.

“Everywhere she went, Williams acted as an accelerant, exacerbating the mayhem. Where others turned back, she pushed forward,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Defense lawyers requested a term of imprisonment of one year and one day for Williams, who was 22 in January 2021.

“In some respects, she is starkly different from the average January 6th defendant – particularly given her youth and that she is a female,” they wrote. “In other ways she is similar to many of other January 6th defendants with no prior criminal record, that were caught up with the mob that day, acting on impulse and without thought to the consequences of their actions.”

Jackson also sentenced Williams to three years of supervised release after her prison term and ordered her to pay $2,000 in restitution, according to the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia.

Williams was an ardent supporter of the white nationalist “Groyper” movement led by internet personality Nick Fuentes, according to prosecutors. They said Williams was “obsessed" with Fuentes and fixated on baseless claims — amplified by Fuentes — that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Williams' attorneys argued that her political beliefs shouldn't be a factor in her sentencing. They said the First Amendment protects her interest in Fuentes and his “Groyper Army” of followers.

Fuentes has used his online platform to spew antisemitic and white supremacist rhetoric. In November, former President Trump dined at his Mar-a-Lago club with Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who is now known as Ye.

Other Fuentes followers have been charged with Jan. 6-related crimes, including former UCLA student Christian Secor, who waved a flag associated with Fuentes’ movement when he entered the Capitol. Secor was sentenced last year to three years and six months in prison.

Williams wore a green “I’m with Groyper” T-shirt when she traveled to Washington, D.C., with her father and his friends on Jan. 6. They attended Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally before heading to the Capitol. Williams entered the building through the Senate Wing Door two minutes after other rioters breached the entrance.

Williams used men wearing helmets and body armor like a “human battering ram,” pushing them forward to break through police lines inside the Capitol, prosecutors said. Entering Pelosi's main conference room, she stole a gavel and encouraged another rioter to take a laptop from atop a table, according to prosecutors.

“As the other rioter later manipulated the laptop and its cords, Williams filmed the theft that she had just commanded and encouraged, and further instructed the rioter, 'Dude, put on gloves!'” prosecutors wrote.

Williams then went to the Rotunda, where she shouted insults at police and urged other rioters to join her in pushing against officers.

Williams spent roughly 90 minutes in the Capitol. After leaving, she climbed on the roof of a parked police car.

Williams destroyed evidence before her arrest, deleting her social media accounts, resetting her iPhone and using software to wipe her computer, according to prosecutors.

Williams bragged online that she stole Pelosi’s gavel, laptop and hard drives and that she “gave the electronic devices, or attempted to give them, to unspecified Russian individuals,” prosecutors said in a June 2022 court filing.

“To date, neither the laptop nor the gavel has been recovered,” they added.

A witness described as a former romantic partner of Williams told the FBI that she intended to send the stolen laptop or hard drive to a friend in Russia who planned to sell it to Russia’s foreign intelligence service. But the witness said Williams kept the device or destroyed it when the transfer fell through, according to the FBI.

When the FBI questioned her, Williams denied stealing the laptop. She accused an ex-boyfriend of fabricating the allegation.

Williams was taken into custody after the jury convicted her on Nov. 21.

Approximately 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. More than 400 have been sentenced, with over half of them receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to 10 years.

Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press