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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 17, 2018

Waterloo man charged with sending threatening tweets to Sen. Joni Ernst

By Trish Mehaffey, The Gazette | Aug 25, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Waterloo man was charged in federal court Thursday for sending threatening tweets last week to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst on two of her Twitter accounts.

Joseph Hilton Dierks, 33, was charged in U.S. District Court with transmitting a communication containing a threat in interstate commerce.

U.S. Chief Magistrate C.J. Williams granted the prosecutor’s request to hold Dierks in custody pending a detention hearing set for Monday.

The tweets from Dierks’ account to Ernst’s Twitter accounts came Aug. 13 to 16, when the senator had public appearances in Iowa.

Most of the tweets, according to the criminal complaint, include slurs and curse words, some are nonsensical, and others are threatening — “I want u to die, sorry, not sorry” and “U were almost a widow tell ur husband I said.”

Dierks also posted clips from YouTube, including a movie about a man who has to kill his wife because she’s a terrorist, with Dierks tweeting, “I just want u to know I’d put a bullet in your head if u were my wife not that I’ll ever have one,” the affidavit shows.

FBI Special Agent Scott Irwin said in the affidavit that Waterloo police contacted Dierks Aug. 15 at his home, and he admitted to sending the messages. The officer told Dierks to stop sending threatening tweets to Ernst or he would face criminal charges.

Dierks told him the tweets weren’t “legitimate threats. I just play funny. I’ll definitely tone it down.”

After police left, Irwin said, Dierks then posted more tweets about the police coming to his house and said his remarks were taken out of context. He also called Ernst more slurs and threatened her again. Dierks continued to send tweets to Ernst on Aug. 16.

Irwin and another special agent interviewed Dierks outside his workplace in downtown Waterloo on Aug. 18. Dierks claimed he had been sending tweets to Ernst since she was elected because he needed help getting a waiver to enlist in the military.

He told the agents he needed the waiver because of his criminal history and age.

Dierks said he wanted to get Ernst’s attention but didn’t feel his messages were threatening, Irwin said in the affidavit.

Dierks also said more than once that he understood Ernst could perceive his tweets as threats, Irwin said.

Dierks said he first started sending “sweet tweets” to Ernst, but she never “liked” those tweets.

Dierks has a current protection order against him in state court for harassment of two adults and a child and pleaded guilty to sending threatening text messages to relatives in May 2016, according to court records.

Dierks’ criminal history includes charges for drunken driving, possession of marijuana and carrying weapons, according to Iowa Courts Online.

another threat

In another case involving Ernst, an Omaha man, Robert Simet, 64, was charged in July in U.S. District Court in Iowa’s Southern District with threatening Ernst because he believed she was part of ISIS, and he told others he might kill her at an event that was to be held in Pacific Junction in southwest Iowa.

U.S. Magistrate Helen C. Adams released Simet on July 18 pending trial under special conditions, which are sealed.  His trial date has not been set.

An affidavit said Simet was identified as the suspect by employees and others at Loess Hills Harley-Davidson in Pacific Junction. Ernst was scheduled to speak at the shop and lead a motorcycle ride to Hamburg.

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