Case of violence in 2012: Dissidents attacked some Amish by cutting their beards and hair

The attackers took pictures to further humiliate the wounded.

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The government classified the vicious attacks as hate crimes because beards and long hair carry important religious symbolism for the Amish, who are known for their pacifism, their plain dress, and their refusal to use many forms of modern technology.

The men and women convicted in the attacks belonged to a group of some 18 families who lived on an 800-acre farm owned by their leader, Samuel Mullet Sr.., near Bergholz, Ohio, 100 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Mullet, an Amish bishop and father of 18 children, planned the 2011 attacks against his fellow Amish, whom he considered enemies of his ultra-conservative breakaway sect.

The five rounds separate involved nine people and spread fear in Amish communities in Ohio, home to an Amish population of about 60,000. The perpetrators, sometimes wielding scissors intended for horse manes, restrained the victims and, in some cases, injured those who came to their aid. Afterwards, the attackers took photographs to further humiliate the wounded.

The Amish typically resolve disputes on their own, without involving law enforcement; nevertheless, several victims of beard trimming reported the attacks to the police because they were concerned that Mullet was operating a cult.

Mullet (who was not directly involved in the attacks) and a group of his supporters were arrested in late 2011 and their case went to trial in late August 2012.

It was the first case in Ohio to apply a landmark federal law from 2009: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the government greater powers to prosecute hate crimes.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Mullet believed he was above the law and he kept tight control over his followers with a kind of cult-like dominance. Among other things, he censored their mail and imposed adult punishments such as rowing and confinement in chicken coops.

The prosecution also presented witness testimony that Mullet had pressured married female followers into having sex with him under the guise of marital counseling. Defense attorneys, who did not call witnesses, did not deny that beard and haircuts took place. However, they said the acts were simple assaults that did not meet the definition of hate crimes because they were based on personal disputes rather than religious motives.

On September 20, 2012, Mullet, 66, he was sentenced along with three of his sons, one of his daughters and 11 other followers.

On February 8, 2013, a federal judge in Cleveland sentenced Mullet to 15 years in prison, his co-defendants receiving sentences ranging from one to seven years behind bars.

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