The youngest Pennsylvanian charged in connection with the Capitol riot was sentenced Tuesday to 14 days in jail, becoming one of only three defendants from the state to face incarceration so far.
Leonard Pearson “Pearce” Ridge IV was 19 and a recent graduate from Neshaminy High School in Bucks County when he headed to Washington to join the crowd protesting President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
“I think we’re going to try to block the session of Congress,” he told a friend on Snapchat on his way to the Jan. 6 rally. In video he shot and later shared from inside the chaos unfolding in the Capitol, a voice can be heard yelling: “America first, bitch!”
Ridge, now 20, struck a markedly more conciliatory tone at his sentencing Tuesday in Washington.
“If I could do it over again, I would have never entered that building or done any of the things I did that day,” he told U.S. District Judge John E. Boasberg, choking back tears.
His sentence comes as the Department of Justice nears the end of the first year of what it has described as the largest investigation in its history. In all, more than 60 Pennsylvanians, including 17 from Philadelphia and its suburbs, are among the more than 700 arrested so far.
The state is home to both Ridge, one of the youngest defendants charged so far, and 81-year-old Gary Wickersham of West Chester, the oldest, who was sentenced last month to 90 days’ house arrest and three years’ probation.
In sentencing Ridge, Boasberg acknowledged his young age and that “teenage bravado” may have fueled his social media postings during and after the riot, which left scores of Capitol police officers injured.
But he described Ridge’s Snapchat bluster as concerning, saying it suggested he had headed to Washington intent upon disrupting the peaceful transfer of power.
“There are perhaps people who attended the rally who were swept up in the crowd, or swept up in the moment,” the judge said. “But that is not true for you, given your previous statements.”
Still, the sentence — which included one year of probation, 100 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine — could have been worse.
Of the seven Pennsylvanians to face sentencing so far for their roles in the insurrection, two have faced jail terms of a month or longer. All of them, like Ridge, pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, while those facing more serious charges of organizing the attack or assaulting officers are still awaiting trial.
In Ridge’s case, prosecutors had asked the court to jail him for 45 days, saying that while his actions that day were relatively minor compared with other defendants accused of assaulting police officers or conspiring to obstruct Congress, they were still significant.
“A riot cannot occur without rioters, and each rioter’s actions — from the most mundane to the most violent — contributed, directly and indirectly, to the violence and destruction of that day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Justin Friedman wrote in court filings preceding Tuesday’s hearing.
Ridge pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor count of entering a restricted area, six months after he was arrested based on tips from some of his high school classmates.
He admitted to spending nearly 40 minutes inside the building that day, shooting videos of himself after entering the Capitol via the Upper West Terrace and then milling among the unruly crowds.
“I just made history,” he boasted to a friend on Snapchat in the days after. “I hate to say it but like the time for us to fight is here.”
But his lawyer, Carina Laguzzi, noted Tuesday that while Ridge boasted in the social media messages of fighting with police, being teargassed and Maced five times, and breaking down doors to the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, security footage from the Capitol that day suggests that none of that was true.
Instead, she said, Ridge was welcomed into the building by a Capitol police officer who just told him not to break anything on his way in. She said he milled about the building shooting video and left as soon as he encountered a crowd of people pushing against officers firing tear gas in one of the buildings’ hallways.
She blamed mob mentality, political radicalization spurred on by social media, “global outrage over the pandemic,” and President Donald Trump for sweeping her client into the frenzy.
“He really did not understand that walking into the Capitol building would be such an egregious act,” she said. “And while many are calling for incarceration of all of the people involved in the case, it is important to see the situation for what it is. He was extremely young.”
Ridge, meanwhile, told the court that he had only become active in politics in the months before the riot and got caught up in the fervor of his support for Trump, the first president he had actively supported in his lifetime.
Now, he said, he’s dealing with the consequences. He has deferred attending college, citing the pandemic and the charges that had been hanging over his head.
“I’d just like to say I’m sorry for my actions and my conduct on that day,” he told the judge Tuesday. “I didn’t realize the impact that it could have on our country.”