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Amish sect members plead not guilty in beard-cutting case


ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday January 12, 2012

Twelve members of an Amish splinter group in Ohio pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges stemming from a spate of beard- and hair-cutting assaults last fall on other Amish.

Reuters says

The 10 men and two women were indicted on seven counts, including federal hate crime charges, for their part in the unusual attacks, which began in September 2011 and generated fear in the tight-knit Amish community.

The assaults were considered especially egregious because the beard is a symbol of a man’s identity among the Amish and women in the community do not cut their hair for biblical reasons.

According to the Associated Press

U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster refused a defense appeal to release on bond the suspected ringleader, Samuel Mullet Sr., 66, and his son, Johnny Mullet, 37, both of Bergholz, near Steubenville in eastern Ohio.

A feud over church discipline allegedly led to five attacks in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut, which is considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.

The seven-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, assault and evidence tampering in what prosecutors say were hate crimes motivated by religious differences. [...]

The government said in a court filing before the arraignment that Mullet could not be trusted to appear in court when ordered and sending officers to his farm compound to get him could lead to “the risk of tragic consequences.”

Because the compound doesn’t have electricity, release with electronic monitoring wasn’t an option, the judge said.

He set a March 19 trial date.

‘Bergholz Clan’

A former member of the group says Sam Mullet moved with some 120 fellow Amish to Bergholz, Ohio, some 15 years ago. Some media reports have referred to the group as the ‘Bergholz Clan.’

The former members has compared the sect to the Peoples Temple cult, whose leader was Jim Jones. In 1978, the cult ended in a mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

“I’m not surprised if I have to call the sheriff some day and say there are a lot of dead people lying around here. That would not be a surprise to me nor would it be a surprise to the sheriff of that county,” the man told a local TV station.

According to the FBI affidavit Mullet ran his 800-acre sect in Bergholz, a tiny community in Jefferson County, with an iron hand.

He took the married women from the sect into his home “so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy,” the affidavit said.

He also forced members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop on his property and allowed some members to beat others who appeared to disobey Mullet’s rule.

According to the Associated Press Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 — second only to Pennsylvania — with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.

Read the Indictment PDF file

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