Prosecutors began the trial of Riley Williams — a small 23-year-old Pennsylvania woman who stormed into the Capitol and entered Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on January 6, 2021 — with a plea to the jurors: Don’t be fooled by her appearance.
“She doesn’t look like someone who would fight through tear gas and…physically attack the police who got in her way,” said Assistant US Attorney Michael Gordon. “Appearances are deceiving.”
According to Gordon, Williams was previously at the forefront of the rioters who broke into the building and filmed them shattering a window in the Senate wing leading into the wider breach. She stormed in and sent other rioters to Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office where she encouraged attendees to bring a laptop — one the speaker used for conference calls.
Later, Gordon said, Williams directly clashed with the police, using taller men in body armor as a buffer to push against the police lines and bragging to friends about the tactics she used to counter the police’s attempts to break into the building. to frustrate eviction. Despite posting repeatedly on social media about the day’s events, she later deleted her social media accounts and posts and considered fleeing before turning herself in to police. She also used industrial software to wipe her computer.
Williams’ decision to enter the Capitol followed weeks of obsession over the election results, prosecutors said, fueled by her consumption of podcasts fueling false claims that the election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump.
“She hated former Vice President Mike Pence,” Gordon said. “She hated Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi even more.”
The case is one of the most unusual among the 900 people prosecuted so far for their role in the mob attack on the Capitol. Williams was indicted soon after Jan. 6, and a video appeared on the Capitol grounds with a distinctive zebra-print bag that helped law enforcement track her movements in the voluminous video made of the riot.
Prosecutors have charged Williams with eight charges, including participation in a “civil disorder” and obstruction of Congress’ Jan. 6 proceedings — a crime carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years — and complicity in the theft of Pelosi’s laptop.
Her trial began on the date of the first national election since the one prosecutors say she tried to avoid, and it came amid furore over mounting threats against members of Congress — and Pelosi herself. A top assistant to Pelosi, Jamie Fleet, is expect to testify on the events of the day and the effect of the riots on congressional operations.
Williams’ attorney Lori Ulrich said there was little doubt that Williams acted improperly and that the government’s video of her actions contains disturbing elements of the riot. But she encouraged jurors to have a different view of her client: “A girl who wants to be someone.”
Williams, she said, was little more than “a girl” in “fluffy boots and a green T-shirt” who exaggerated her actions on social media. Williams had traveled to Washington with her father and two other people to attend Trump’s Jan. 6 meeting and was separated from them before joining the march to the Capitol, her attorney said.
“She wasn’t out to hurt Nancy Pelosi,” Ulrich said. “She wasn’t out to hurt anyone.”
Ulrich stressed that prosecutors have not charged Williams for stealing Pelosi’s laptop — only for “helping and inciting” others, a charge she said exaggerated what Williams actually did in Pelosi’s office. She never entered the House or Senate chambers, and when she entered the building herself, she posted on social media that she had stormed the “White House.”
The case against Williams, Ulrich said, boiled down to “Let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.”
One of the issues that will surface during the trial is Williams’ intense interest in the Groypers, the name given to followers of white nationalist podcaster Nick Fuentes, a prominent purveyor of claims that the 2020 election was stolen. . Williams shared memes on Jan. 6 about her actions that indicated she was motivated by those messages, and her green T-shirt she wore during the riot read “I’m with Groyper.”