After Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native Riley Williams was charged for her role in the Jan. 6 attacks, her lawyers downplayed her actions by saying she went to Washington with nothing but a “cellphone and her fuzzy zebra bag.”
On Thursday, the 23-year-old was sentenced to three years behind bars.
Williams made headlines after federal investigators accused her of aiding the theft of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, as she and other rioters stormed the Capitol Rotunda and pushed up against police officers attempting to stop them.
Those actions led a jury to convict Williams of six counts in November, including civil disorder, resisting and impeding officers, and four misdemeanors.
Williams’ defense team asked a judge to sentence her to just one year in prison, while prosecutors said she should spend at least seven years behind bars.
While defense lawyers portrayed Williams as a “little girl” swept up in the chaos, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed any notion that Williams was too immature to take responsibility for her actions — which included climbing on top of a police vehicle, guiding a swath of rioters toward Pelosi’s office, and telling one person to “put on gloves” before handling the speaker’s computer.
Whether Williams directly handled the device is unclear, but video evidence shows her telling another rioter to “Take that (expletive) laptop,” before a black-gloved hand removes the device.
Jurors deadlocked on a charge of aiding and abetting theft, as well as a charge alleging Williams obstructed an official proceeding.
Following that outcome, a judge ordered Williams into federal custody until her sentencing Thursday.
As her steely-eyed mugshot circulated on social media, Williams became something of an alt-right folk legend after she was booked in Dauphin County Prison in central Pennsylvania in the weeks after the upheaval.
Williams graduated from Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School in 2017 and had no previous criminal history.
She joins a growing cohort of Jan. 6 rioters sentenced to prison for their roles in the 2021 attack, one that left five people dead and the nation’s leaders fearing for their lives behind locked office doors as the crowd attempted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
In the two-plus years since the riot, more than 1,000 people have been arrested and 420 sentenced on federal charges, over half of them to penalties that include jail time.
In addition to presenting an extensive archive of photos and digital communications placing Williams inside the Capitol for nearly 90 minutes that day, prosecutors alleged a plot in which Williams conspired to sell Pelosi’s laptop to Russian security services.
Still, the laptop has yet to be recovered by investigators, who searched Williams’ apartment and car for the missing government device.
Williams, who was a vocal supporter of white nationalist Nick Fuentes and his associated “Groyper” movement, had a digital footprint ripe for investigation.
Court filings show that in the hours after the attacks, Williams posted on the popular instant messaging service Discord that she “took Nancy Polesis (sic) hard drives.”
“I don’t care. Kill me,” she wrote, then purportedly boasting about additional thefts such as Pelosi’s “gravel hammwrd tbing,” an apparent reference to the speaker’s ceremonial gavel.
Williams’ public defender rejected those claims, saying his client had been set up with messages coming from a fake account operated by an abusive ex-boyfriend — the same one who initially tipped the FBI off to Williams’ chat history.
Prosecutors were skeptical, asserting that Williams repeatedly destroyed evidence in the 12 days between the attack and her arrest, deleting messages and videos, resetting her iPhone and switching devices, and using advanced software to wipe her computer.
Those close to Williams said that two years in the spotlight — much of that time on house arrest — have given her time to reflect on her behavior.
In a letter to the court, her fiancé, Ian Hoyt Franz, described her at the time of the riot as “addicted to the internet, seeking attention and affirmation from anyone she could.”
Now, Franz wrote, Riley has refocused her attention on finding God and becoming a good Christian — sentiments echoed by her mother, who wrote in a separate letter that her daughter longs for a “simple life” on a farm with a large family, garden, and stock of animals.
Messages she allegedly wrote on Jan. 6, 2021, expressed a much different view.
“Like theure (sic) gonna arrest me,” Williams said on Discord, according to court filings. Several hours later, she added: “They’ll never take me alive.”