Members of breakaway Amish sect charged with federal hate crimes for beard attacks

Authorities raided the compound of a breakaway Amish group on Wednesday morning and arrested seven men on federal hate crime charges in hair-cutting attacks against Amish men and women.

The Associated Press says

Among those arrested were the group’s leader, Sam Mullet, and three of his sons, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

Several members of the group carried out the attacks in September and October by forcefully cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women, authorities have said. Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles. They strongly believe that they must be forgiving in order for God to forgive them, which often means handing out their own punishment and not reporting crimes to law enforcement.

Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn’t order the hair-cutting but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

“They changed the rulings of our church here, and they’re trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we’re not going to do that,” Mullet said.

Seven men were in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday. They include Mullet; his sons Johnny, Lester and Daniel; Levi Miller; Eli Miller; and Emanuel Schrock. The charges carry a penalty of up 10 years in prison.

John Caniglia, at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, notes

The fact that federal charges have been filed is stunning in this Ohio town, as the Amish seek to forgive those who have wronged them. And they seldom, if ever, seek out law enforcement to help settle their problems. […]

The FBI affidavit … says 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 FBI 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.

The troubles between Mullet and mainstream Amish leaders simmered for years. They continued when he ex-communicated eight families who left his community in Bergholz, a tiny community in Jefferson County.

A group of Amish leaders reviewed the decisions and overturned Mullet, according to the affidavit. One of the bishops who was involved in the decision had his beard cut Oct. 4, when some of Mullet’s sons and followers attacked him at his Holmes County home, the affidavit said.

The bishop pleaded with the men not to cut his beard, placing his hands over his head, according to the FBI memo. One of the attackers said the bishop was a Christian and shouldn’t struggle. The bishop said the attackers also were Christians, and they shouldn’t be attacking him.

“We’re not Christians,” one of the men said.

Affidavit in support of a Criminal Complaints against Samuel Mullet, Sr. and six of his followers
Former Amish sect member compares Bergholz Clan to Peoples Temple cult

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 23, 2011.
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