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Guilty verdict in Amish hate crime case

Sixteen men and women were convicted after a series of hair- and beard- cutting attacks

Kim Schmitz

Features Editor

The trials of Samuel Mullet and his followers concluded last week with a guilty verdict. Mullet and a group of 15 others were accused of carrying out hate crimes against fellow Amish, including cutting their beards and hair, which have religious  importance for the community. Mullet was found guilty of arranging the crimes, and his followers were found guilty for committing them.

In 1995, Mullet, a former member of an Amish community in Bergholz, Ohio, chose to create his own conservative Amish sect, after being excommunicated from his former religious community. He quickly acquired a group of followers, currently consisting of about 18 families. They have operated under Mullet’s leadership ever since,  in complete exile from other Amish in the area. Some have even dubbed them a “cult” group.

Religious disputes continued to be an issue, however. Mullet and his former peers could never come to an agreement on communal concerns. In 2011, the conflict escalated to the point of violence after other Amish sects accused Mullet of being too “strict” with his followers. In retaliation, 15 members of Mullet’s group allegedly attacked the Amish men of Bergholz in the middle of the night. Three of the assailants were Mullet’s children.

Amish men begin to grow out their beards when they get married. They are a symbol of honor and pride within the community. Similarly, women cease cutting their hair when they get married, and keep it tied back in a bun. The acts committed against the Amish were seen as a shameful violation of religious integrity. Embarrassed and ridiculed, one victim said that he would rather be beaten than have his hair or beard cut    David McConnell, an anthropology professor at the college, is an expert on the Amish and has followed the story closely. “Most of the Amish that I’ve talked to really have distanced themselves from Sam Mullet and his group,” he said. Much higher on their list of priorities is the non-Amish population, “where there is a tendency to paint the Amish with a single brush, to view them as a monolithic group,” according to McConnell. He points out the problem that other Ohioans will perceive this outlier group as a non-distinct denomination within the religion. The Amish, however,  do not recognize Mullet and his followers as such.

Mullet’s leadership techniques have been described as questionable. His followers testified that he beat male members of the group and imprisoned them in chicken cages. Others testified that he had sex with female followers “to cleanse them of the devil,” as stated in the FBI affidavit.

Sentencing for Mullet and the others is scheduled for sometime around January 2013.

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