Renegade Amish group charged with hate crimes in beard-cutting attacks

Twelve members of a renegade Amish group were charged with hate crimes in the bizarre beard-cutting attacks on other members of the sect in eastern Ohio, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

The New York Daily News reports

Samuel Mullet and 11 members of his group also face charges of conspiracy, assault and tampering with evidence in the case that has drawn worldwide attention to the insular community.

Mullet and six of his followers were jailed in late November and five additional suspects were arrested this week.

The rebel Amish leader told the AP after his arrest in November that the attacks were to send a message to other Amish about how they treat his followers. […]

Prosecutors say Mullet and his followers forcibly cut women’s hair and men’s beards and hair using battery-powered clippers or scissors in five attacks between September and November. The Amish believe the Bible instructs them to grow their hair after marriage.

They also allegedly injured people who tried to protect or rescue the victims from the offensive attacks and then conspired to conceal evidence.

In addition to the widely reported assaults, prosecutors say that the men placed over-the-counter medication in one of the victim’s drinks meant to sicken him.

The Associated Press says

The indictment also charges four of Mullet’s children, a son-in-law, three nephews, the spouses of a niece and nephew and a member of the Mullet community in Bergholz.

Mullet and six of the suspects have been held without bond since their arrests in FBI raids Nov. 23 at the Mullet compound near Steubenville in eastern Ohio.

The five new suspects will be issued summonses to appear for arraignment, said U.S. attorney’s spokesman Mike Tobin.

The indictment alleges a pair of previously unreported assaults in the Bergholz area. […]

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 was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

The others charged previously are Mullet’s sons Johnny, Daniel and Lester Mullet; son-in-law Emanuel Schrock; nephew Eli Miller; and community member Levi Miller.

Newly charged are Mullet’s daughter Linda Schrock; nephews Lester and Raymond Miller; Anna Miller, the wife of another nephew; and a niece’s husband, Freeman Burkholder. Court documents didn’t list attorneys for the five new suspects.

Reuters notes

The actions of the group were considered especially egregious because once married, Amish men typically do not trim their beards and Amish women do not cut their hair for religious and cultural reasons.

“For nearly 500 years, people have come to this land so that they could pray however and to whomever they wished,” Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement.

“Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country,” he added.

According to Courthouse News Service

Each defendant faces five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy, but hate crime charges could spell a life sentence.

The maximum penalty for the obstruction charge is 20 years in prison. Obstruction charges carry 20-year sentences.

The Plain dealer says

An expert on Amish culture said Mullet’s community operated beyond what is considered the norm for Amish communities.

“Given what we know, the technical definition of a cult would probably fit here,” said Steven Nolt, a history professor at Goshen University in Goshen, Ind. […]

The incidents have garnered international publicity and have become a source of embarrassment and consternation to the Amish community, which numbers about 260,000 in North America.

According to the 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 small community in Bergholz, Ohio.

The victims of the attacks included Amish bishops who decided that Mullet’s excommunication of the former members was not justified by Amish teachings. […]

Nolt, the Goshen University professor, said it would be fair to say that while Mullet and his followers dressed and called themselves Amish, the actions they are accused of would prove otherwise.

“They were really out there,” Nolt said. “None of it makes sense in any kind of Amish frame.”

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 member 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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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 21, 2011.
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