WASHINGTON — Prosecutors say Anthony Williams of Michigan joined the mob that stormed the US Capitol. With federal charges pending a year later, Williams filed a request in court shortly after 2 p.m. on Thursday asking for permission to leave the country for a 10-day trip to Jamaica.
Two hours later, the judge delivered her ruling: Absolutely not.
In a one-paragraph order laced with disbelief that Williams would make such a request at all under the circumstances, US District Chief Judge Beryl Howell explained that Williams’ request not only was inappropriate given the status of his case but also that his timing was terrible.
“This Court will not commemorate the one-year anniversary of this attack on the Capitol by granting defendant's request for non-essential foreign travel when he is awaiting judgment for his actions on that day,” Howell wrote.
When and how people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection can travel has been a fraught issue in these cases before. In February, Jenny Cudd of Texas asked for permission to go on a work-related bonding retreat to Mexico. The ask was not unheard of; it’s common for judges to allow defendants facing nonviolent offenses to travel if they’re complying with their pretrial release conditions. But Cudd’s request, the fact that the prosecutor didn’t oppose it, and the judge’s approval made her a lightning rod for criticism that the Justice Department and judges were treating alleged Capitol rioters with kid gloves.
When Florida couple Dana Winn and Rachael Pert asked to appear by video for their December sentencing instead of traveling from their home state to Washington, DC, US District Judge Trevor McFadden rejected the request.
“Defendants found the means to travel to Washington, D.C. to commit the crime to which they have pled guilty,” McFadden wrote at the time. “Defendants can therefore find the means to return to Washington, D.C. to be held accountable for this crime.”
Williams is facing a five-count indictment, including one felony charge for obstructing an official proceeding. According to his charging papers, the FBI received a tip that he had posted on Facebook about being at the Capitol on Jan. 6. After getting access to the account through a search warrant, the government alleged that it found videos and photos that showed him inside. In one video, the person identified as Williams talks about storming the building and pushing back against police officers. “We took this fucking building,” he says in the video. The FBI also pulled messages that he had allegedly posted, including, “Was proudest day of my life lol felt like the founding fathers were smiling down on us in that room.”
Those words partly doomed Williams’ effort to get to Jamaica. He had been allowed to go home after he was charged and arrested in March. In his travel request, his lawyer wrote that he had been in a romantic relationship for “more than a year” and was hoping to meet his girlfriend’s family, who live in Negril, located in the western part of the country. He would leave in late January, stay for 10 days, and work at a local nonprofit during the visit.
The pretrial services officer, who supervises Williams’ compliance with his pretrial release conditions, didn’t oppose the trip, but the prosecutor did.
Howell began her order by recapping the request: “Defendant, while on pretrial release and facing charges including a serious felony offense, stemming from his alleged actions on January 6, 2021, wishes to leave the Michigan winter to spend ten days in the warmer climes of Jamaica to meet the family of a woman with whom defendant has been in a committed relationship for ‘more than a year.’”
She continued: “Although such a meeting may be an important step in defendant's personal relationship, defendant surrendered his entitlement to unfettered international travel when, also ‘more than a year’ ago, on December 30, 2020, he allegedly announced his intent to ‘Storm the Swamp,’ and one week later, on January 6, 2021, followed through by joining a mob at the Capitol that, in his words, ‘took [that] fucking building,’ an event he allegedly viewed as the ‘proudest day of [his] life.’”
The judge concluded with the denial, invoking the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack.
Williams is due to appear before Howell again on Jan. 21 for a hearing on the status of his case. His lawyer declined to comment.