By John Seewer, Associated Press
The leader of a breakaway Amish group allowed the beatings of those who disobeyed him, made some members sleep in a chicken coop and had sexual relations with married women to “cleanse them,” federal authorities said Wednesday as they charged him and six others with hate crimes in hair-cutting attacks against other Amish.
Authorities raided the group’s compound in eastern Ohio earlier in the day and arrested seven men, including group leader Sam Mullet and three of his sons.
Several members of the group carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos of them, authorities said.
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. One victim told the FBI he would rather have been “beaten black and blue than to suffer the disfigurement and humiliation of having his hair removed,” according to court papers.
The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles. They are pacifists and strongly believe that they must be forgiving in order for God to forgive them, which often means handing out their own punishment and not reporting crimes to law enforcement.
The attacks had terrorized Amish communities, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said at a news conference Wednesday.
“You’ve got Amish all over the state of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana that are concerned. We’ve received hundreds and hundreds of calls from people living in fear,” he said. “They are buying Mace, some are sitting with shotguns, getting locks on their doors because of Sam Mullet.”
The sheriff added, “Sam Mullet is evil.”
In the state case, an Amish bishop and his son said they were held down while men used scissors and a clipper to cut their beards.
The seven men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, the sheriff said. Three men initially refused to come out of their rooms, but all seven were arrested without incident, he said.
An FBI affidavit said Johnny, Lester and Daniel Mullet and Levi and Eli Miller all confessed in early October to taking part in at least a couple of the attacks.
Johnny Mullet told detectives that it was his idea to cut the hair and beards and that he discussed the idea with his father, who gave him the addresses of two victims, the affidavit said.
Lester Mullet told detectives that after two attacks in late September, the men went home and told Sam Mullet what happened. He said his father laughed and called them nuts, the court document said.
Abdalla, the sheriff, said he didn’t know the specifics of the religious disagreements that prompted Mullet to form his own community in 1995.
But the heart of his recent dispute with Amish bishops stemmed from his desire to excommunicate several members, the FBI said. Other bishops concluded the excommunications weren’t consistent with Amish teachings and scripture and decided not to recognize the penalties, the FBI said.
One of Mullet’s daughters-in-law and a former brother-in-law told investigators that Mullet controls everything that happens within the community outside Bergholz and that he allowed others to beat members of the group who disobeyed him, according to the affidavit filed in federal court Wednesday.
Mullet punished some by making them sleep in a chicken coop for days and was sexually intimate with married women in the community so that he could “cleanse them of the devil,” the two said in the affidavit.
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