GREENVILLE — The FBI has charged a Greer man in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol after a special agent testified Tuesday that a tipster pointed out a string of messages he sent to family members boasting about the attack and claiming he stole items from Capitol Police.
William Robert Norwood III, 37, faces four charges related to the riot, including theft of government property for allegedly stealing an officer's helmet and tactical vest, which an FBI agent said were later found in a storage trailer in Greenville.
Norwood also faces charges of obstruction of Congress, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.
After a lengthy bond hearing at the Federal Courthouse in Greenville on March 2, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin McDonald ordered Norwood be kept in detention.
Norwood was arrested late at night on Feb. 25 by tactical teams of officers at his home on Locust Hill Road in Greer.
The investigation began with a tip on Jan. 16. The tipster said a relative had received texts from Norwood in which he "claimed to have assaulted federal officers on Jan. 6."
FBI special agents in South Carolina interviewed the tipster on Jan. 19. The tipster said Norwood had claimed to do "terrible things" inside the U.S. Capitol, including assaulting law enforcement. FBI agents obtained Norwood's telephone number and took screenshots of the text messages from Norwood.
In those messages, Norwood — who goes by "Robbie" — wrote on Jan. 5: "I'm dressing in all black. I'll look just like ANTIFA. I'll get away with anything."
Later, on Jan. 7, the morning after the Capitol attack, Norwood wrote: "It worked... I got away with things that others were shot or arrested for." Also on Jan. 7, Norwood texted: "The cop shot a female Trump supporter. Then allowed 'ANTIFA Trump supporters' to assault him. I was one of them. I was there. I took his [expletive]."
Norwood’s attorney, Benjamin T. Stepp, told the court the group chat included Norwood, his mother, father and sister. Norwood also texted the group chat a photo of himself wearing what appears to be a U.S. Capitol Police tactical vest.
FBI Special Agent Tanya Evanina said the vest includes markings for the Capitol Police. The FBI also found a drink coaster from inside the Capitol building. Norwood said he pocketed the coaster while inside the building. Norwood also told the court he briefly entered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office but left quickly after he said he overhead someone in the office say he was going to steal a computer.
In the group texts, Norwood claimed he helped assault Capitol police and stole their protective gear. When another member of the group chat criticized him, he replied, “The cops who acted s***** got exactly what they deserved ... The ones who were cool, got help.”
But Norwood recanted parts of that story when he was interviewed by the FBI a few days later, according to charging documents.
During that interview in the FBI’s Greenville field office, Norwood said he traveled with his wife to Washington, D.C., to attend President Donald Trump’s rally on the day of the riot. He said he got separated from his wife as they approached the Capitol building and admitted to agents that he entered the building and reached the Capitol Rotunda. He claimed he tried to turn back and leave but couldn't because of the crowd.
On March 2, Norwood took the stand himself and tried to explain his actions. Cuffed at the wrists and ankles, he wore an orange jail jumpsuit and had the same beard as shown in a Jan. 6 photo from the Washington Monument the FBI obtained from the group chat.
He told the court he listened to Trump's speech at the Ellipse that morning and then walked with the crowd to the Capitol.
He said he got caught in a melee of people pushing and shoving that surged past police barricades, under a tent set up for the inauguration, and up the steps toward the Capitol. He said police were shooting pepper balls and spray, and he was hit in the face. His glasses were knocked off. He poured water on his face to soothe the sting but others pushed him along toward the entrance.
"I had no choice," he said.
But once inside, he said he wandered around for a half-hour and tried to find an exit. At one point he headed toward the House balcony, he said. At another, he said he went into an office and "turns out it's Nancy (Pelosi)'s office."
Norwood told the FBI he didn’t assault any police officers. Instead, he said, he helped protect police from other rioters, at one point forming a human chain to safeguard certain officers. Norwood said he only claimed to have assaulted police in order to “sound tough,” the FBI said.
Norwood said he didn’t take the police vest and helmet off of an officer, as he had claimed in the group chat. Instead, he said, he and others who stormed the Capitol got the gear from an equipment pile that was lying on the west side of the Capitol building.
Norwood said he left the police vest and helmet in the Hampton Inn hotel room where he stayed that night, according to charging documents.
Norwood told the court he lied about the vest and helmet to agents who questioned him on Jan. 22 in Greenville but reiterated other claims he made about assisting police inside the Capitol rather than assaulting them.
"I wasn't there to hurt anyone," he said.
He said he made the claims in the group chat about assaulting an officer to get a rise out of his sister as part of a longstanding political argument.
"It's not true," he said of the assault. "But I said it."
His sister, Traci Dubois, told the court she and her brother differ greatly in their ideologies and politics. She said she wasn't surprised to learn he was going to Washington on Jan. 6. She also said she was interviewed by the FBI about her brother's actions and the messages, which she said was a text group chat she created.
"I don't think he's violent," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Max Cauthen of Greenville told the court their main concern was that Norwood was a danger to law enforcement. He and Evanina spelled out how they believed Norwood grew suspicious of an FBI tail before his arrest Feb. 25 and parked his car at a Dollar General near his house and walked the rest of the way, then sped off in his wife's Jeep Cherokee with the headlights off after dark.
A surveillance team tailed him but Evanina said he lost them on Wade Hampton Boulevard when he made a U-turn and went into a private storage facility. Later that night, agents reported that he returned home and again turned his headlights off before he pulled into his driveway.
Norwood said he was trying to evade his father-in-law, who owned the home and told him after Jan. 6 that he couldn't stay there anymore.
Norwood said he grew suspicious that night when he noticed two county police cruisers parked at the Dollar General.
"They might be here for me," he said he told his wife.
At least three tactical teams of FBI and joint task force officers announced themselves from the front yard by a megaphone at about 11:45 p.m. Norwood said he put his empty hands through the door first and came outside. He said he previously removed all weapons from his home because he knew the FBI would come for him at some point.
The FBI found an AR-15 and ammo in his storage trailer and a Glock on the floorboard of his truck. He doesn't have any prior convictions.
McDonald ordered him held on detention, saying he was concerned that he had not been truthful to the FBI at first, had boasted about his Capitol exploits and that his court testimony wasn't “entirely credible.”
“I am concerned with his own texting, his own words to his family, including his mother, that he had assaulted an officer,” McDonald said.
Stepp, Norwood’s attorney, said his client has admitted to and would most likely be found guilty of the charges, including theft, but argued Norwood wasn’t a flight risk and the maximum penalty at this point for the charges would likely be a year in jail.
Stepp said it is also likely the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia would intervene and issue some sort of bond or monitoring for Norwood like it has for multiple other high-profile defendants in the Capitol riot.