Twelve charged in Amish beard-cutting attacks

Federal prosecutors have expanded their case against members of a
breakaway Amish sect for their roles in shaving the hair and beards of
people considered to be their religious enemies.

An indictment
issued in December in U.S. District Court in Cleveland lists 12
suspects, including the sect's leader, Samuel Mullet, 66. The FBI
originally arrested Mullet and six other men November 23 when
authorities feared that more attacks were imminent.

Among the five
additional people implicated December 20 are two women: Linda Shrock,
who is Mullet's daughter, and Anna Miller, who is married to one of
Mullet's nephews. All but one of the 12 are related directly or through
marriage to Mullet.

Federal authorities say the attacks were
motivated by revenge after a group of Amish bishops refused to accept
Mullet's excommunication of eight families that had left his community
in Bergholz, Ohio, because they disagreed with his authoritarian

The indictment accuses Mullet of forcing women to have
sex with him so they could learn to please their husbands better. It
also accused Mullet of allowing "the community to engage in practices of
self-deprivation and corporal punishment" to show their devotion to

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, the indictment

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 College in Goshen,

The 12 people were charged under the Matthew Shepard and
James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was approved by
Congress in 2009 and carries a possible life prison term.

nearly 500 years, people have come to this land so that they could pray
however and to whomever they wished," Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney
for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a prepared statement.
"Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our

According to the indictment, seven Amish men had their
heads and beards shaved over two months beginning September 6. Two other
people were hurt trying to stop the attacks.

In the Amish
community, beards have a special significance and an Old Testa­ment
basis. Beards are grown only after a man has married or, in some
communities, has been baptized as an adult. Amish men are forbidden from
growing mustaches because those are viewed as having a military

Mullet is not accused of directly participating in
any attack. Rather, he is charged with planning them and, in several
in­stances, hiding evidence such as a camera that was used to photograph
some of the victims and an over-the-counter medication that was slipped
into the coffee of one of the victims in an attempt to poison him.

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.

The victims of the attacks
included Amish bishops who decided that Mullet's excommunications were
not justified by Amish teachings. In an interview with WKYC Channel 3 in
October, Mullet said: "It's all religion. That's why we can't figure
out why the sheriff has his nose in it."

Nolt 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."  —RNS

Mark Gillispie

Mark Gillispie writes for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

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