Charges against leader of renegade Amish beard cutting group defended

The U.S. Justice Department says it plans to introduce evidence at the trial of Amish sect leader Sam Mullet to prove he had total authority over his Ohio community, including disciplining its members with beatings and having sex with other men’s wives to “counsel” them.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports

Mr. Mullet’s lawyer argued earlier this month that the government is including such broad allegations to prejudice the jury, since they are not part of the actual criminal counts.

But the Justice Department said that it will present examples of Mr. Mullet’s powerful influence in the Amish enclave in Bergholz, Ohio, to provide context for its charges that he orchestrated a series of five beard-chopping attacks against other Amish last year.

“The nature and extent of Mullet’s control over the members of the Bergholz community, as well as the methods he has employed to maintain that control, will be crucial to the jury’s comprehension of Mullet’s culpability in the offenses,” government lawyers said last week.

Ed Bryan, Mr. Mullet’s public defender, had asked U.S. District Judge Dan Polster to remove the general allegations from the government’s indictment.


He said those accusations contain no specifics and shouldn’t be allowed because they aren’t mentioned anywhere in the 10 counts of conspiracy, hate crimes, obstructing justice and lying to the FBI filed against Mr. Mullet.

Mr. Bryan said the charges have nothing to do with sexual conduct, corporal punishment or acts of self-deprivation among followers that the FBI says Mr. Mullet used as a means to ensure obedience.

He accused the government of a “blatant attempt” to smear Mr. Mullet’s character and portray him as a cult leader in the eyes of a jury.

Justice Department lawyers countered that the allegations of control are supported by other witnesses and by Mr. Mullet himself, who they said “compared his role in the Bergholz community with that of the president of the United States” when interviewed by the FBI after his arrest Nov. 23.

Bergholz Clan

Mullet’s group has been referred to in the media as the ‘Bergholz Clan.’ That is not the group’s formal name, but rather a reference to its location: Bergholz, Jefferson County, Ohio.

A former member of the group says Sam Mullet moved with some 120 fellow Amish to Bergholz some 15 years ago.

The man has compared the sect to the Peoples Temple cult, whose leader Jim Jones in 1978 led his followers into mass murder/suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

Beard-Cutting Attacks

The clan’s attacks — in which the beards and hair of men and hair of women were cut — are believed to be part of a a feud over church discipline. Cutting off someone’s hair is considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.

According to the initial hate crimes indictment and an earlier FBI search-warrant affidavit, Mullet and his followers were motivated by revenge.

The documents say Mullet was angry that other Amish bishops refused to accept his excommunication of members who had chosen to leave Mullet’s group.

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This post was last updated: May. 22, 2012