WATERLOO — An escalating pattern of rants against women, African-Americans and the government has lead to a six-year prison sentence for a Waterloo man convicted of threatening Sen. Joni Ernst over Twitter.
Under the sentence handed down by Judge Linda Reade on Wednesday, 34-year-old Joseph Hilton Dierks will have to serve three years of supervised release following prison and have his computer and electronic communications monitored by probation officials.
“This is a serious offense,” Reade said during sentencing in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids. “In this day and age, threats and rants by people like Mr. Dierks have to be taken seriously.”
Authorities said Dierks sent Ernst threatening tweets through the Twitter social media platform in August 2017.
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The messages spurred the United States Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., to contact Waterloo police and officers in Red Oak, where Ernst was at the time. Waterloo officers went to Dierks’ home, and he promised to “tone it down,” but within 24 hours he began tweeting new threats to Ernst, authorities said.
During a November 2017 jury trial, Dierks’ defense attorney argued the messages weren’t threats but were an attempt to get Ernst’s attention because Dierks had wanted her to sign off on an age waiver that would allow him to join the military. In addition to being a senator, Ernst is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.
A jury found him guilty of three counts of sending threatening communications, one for each threat.
Federal sentencing guidelines placed the maximum sentence at just over four years, but Reade said a longer sentence was warranted because of the number of threats and the fact the threats were directed at a high-level government official, as well as his history. Dierks has convictions for leaving threatening voicemails for an ex-girlfriend in 2005, carrying a pistol and ammunition in 2013 and being ejected from treatment in 2015 because of hostile behavior.
In addition to the three threats that were part of the trial, Reade found nine other uncharged threats were made against Ernst over Twitter.
She ordered his six years of federal prison time run consecutive with any sentence he receives for state harassment charges in which he is accused of threatening a cousin and the cousin’s wife.
Reade also noted in a monitored phone call with his mother while he while he was detained, Dierks said he had no intention of complying with supervision following his release, stated he would ask marshals for ear plugs so he wouldn’t have to listen to the judge and ranted against prosecutors, the judge and African-American staff at the jail. And Reade described a video Dierks allegedly recorded, peering out a window at a neighbor while making thrusting motions with a knife and talking about harming the neighbor.
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