Amish charged in hair-cutting attacks seek to avoid oaths, cult label

Members of a fringe Amish group charged with committing hate crimes against fellow Amish have requested words including “cult,” “splinter” and “rogue” be banned from their upcoming trial in U.S. District Court, according to court documents filed Monday.

The Plain Dealer reporter Brandon Blackwell says

They also requested that any Amish called to testify “affirm the truthfulness” of their testimony rather than swear an oath.

The filing says swearing an oath “would offend the witness’ religious outlook,” their lawyers wrote in a filing.

The Associated Press notes

The defendants include members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group.


Last fall, several members of the group living in Bergholz, a village of 700 residents about 80 miles southeast of Cleveland, forcibly cut the beards and hair of men and the hair of women, acts considered deeply offensive in Amish culture, and then took photos to shame them, authorities said.

Prosecutors describe the attacks as hate crimes prompted by a feud over church discipline.

The defendants say the attacks were internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. They denied the charges and rejected plea bargain offers and could face lengthy prison terms if convicted.

Sixteen people have been charged in the attacks.

‘Cult’

The hate crimes indictment and an earlier FBI search-warrant affidavit say the beard cutting attacks came about because Mullet was angry that other Amish bishops refused to accept his excommunication of members who had chosen to leave his group.

AP said that 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.

A former member of Mullet’s group says Mullet moved with some 120 fellow Amish to Bergholz, Ohio, some 15 years ago.

He has compared the group, sometimes referred to in the media as the Bergholz clan, to the Peoples Temple cult.

The FBI Affidavit also quotes two witnesses, both former members of the group, who state that Samuel Mullet, Sr. controls all aspects of the lives of Bergholz clan members.

The U.S. Justice Department has said it plans to introduce evidence at Sam Mullet’s trial 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 term ‘cult’ can be defined either sociologically or theologically. Sociology concerns itself with behavior, while theology concerns itself with doctrine. Not much is known about what some media outlets have referred to as Mullet’s ‘Bergholz Clan.’

The Plain Dealer says that

According to the trial brief filed Monday by prosecutors, Mullet forced women to have sex with him so they could learn to please their husbands better.

Community members would sleep for days at a time in filthy chicken coops and were supposed to obey not only his interpretation of the Bible but also all of his orders and directives. Mullet is also accused of allowing “the community to engage in practices of self-deprivation and corporal punishment” to prove their loyalty to him.

The defendants also requested in motions filed Monday that mention of sexual conduct, self-deprivation and corporal punishment allegations be prohibited during the trial.

According to the Associated Press

Mullet previously said 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 him 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 late last year.

A previous report details the reasons behind the beard- and hair cutting attacks, and also addresses alleged abuses within Samuel Mullet’s so-called Bergholz Clan.
Read the updated indictment

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014