In the first case of its kind, the FBI on Wednesday arrested the leader of an Amish splinter sect and six of his followers in Ohio on federal hate crime charges for cutting the hair and beards of other Amish men and women.
The hair-cutting was a form of religious degradation and viewed as punishment in a leadership squabble among various Amish clans, court documents say.
“The defendants conspired to carry out a series of assaults against fellow Amish individuals with whom they were having a religiously-based dispute,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division and Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a joint statement.
The suspects “forcibly restrained multiple Amish men and cut off their beards and head hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers, causing bodily injury to these men while also injuring others who attempted to stop the attacks,’’ the statement said.
The case is unusual in that the Amish are pacifists who denounce violence and routinely handle their disputes and punishments internally without involving law enforcement.
“The fact that federal charges have been filed is stunning in this Ohio town, as the Amish seek to forgive those who have wronged them,” Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter John Caniglia reported Wednesday from Millersburg.
The attacks began in September and continued as recently as Nov. 9, prompting FBI agents to move quickly to make the arrests with a federal criminal complaint and arrest warrants signed by a U.S. Magistrate instead of waiting for the more-protracted grand jury indictment process.
In a federal criminal complaint filed in Cleveland, Samuel Mullet Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet, Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller and Emanuel Schrock, all of Bergholz, Ohio; and Lester S. Mullet, of Hammondsville, Ohio, are charged with using a deadly weapon and causing bodily injury because of the actual or perceived religion of their alleged victims.
The attackers used clippers and bought a $27.95 pair of horse mane sheers to carry out the hair- and beard-cuttings, photographing the disfigured victims afterwards, court documents say. The maximum potential penalty for these federal violations is life in prison.
Johnny, Daniel and Lester Mullet and Levi and Eli Miller were arrested in Holmes County, Ohio, on Oct. 7 on state charges of aggravated burglary and kidnapping with the intent to terrorize or commit serious injury. They were free on state bond when they were re-arrested Wednesday when a team of FBI agents and local police raided the Bergholz compound near Millersburg, Ohio.
Samuel Mullet Sr., who became the bishop of an Amish clan in Bergholz, Ohio, in 2003, is accused in charging documents with leading the hate crime conspiracy, directing his sons to cut the hair and beards of followers who he ex-communicated after they moved away. Other Amish bishops later determined Mullet’s excommunications weren’t in keeping with Amish teachings and scripture, and the defectors were allowed to join other Amish clans – apparently angering Mullet.
The charging documents allege Mullet has “forced extreme punishment and physical injury” on those in his community who defy him. He has forced his followers to “sleep for days at a time” in a chicken coop and allowed members of the Bergholz clan “to beat other members” who disobey Mullet.
He also “has been counseling the married women in the Bergholz clan and taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy,” the documents allege.