7 charged in Amish religious haircutting attacks
An Amish man waits for others to emerge from a taxi before entering the U.S. courthouse in Cleveland Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Published Wednesday, November 23, 2011 11:52AM EST
BERGHOLZ, Ohio - U.S. authorities raided the compound of a breakaway Amish religious group Wednesday and arrested seven men on federal hate crime charges in haircutting attacks against Amish men and women.
Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the traditional Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. Several members of the breakaway group forcefully cut the beards and hair of Amish men and women in September and October, authorities have said.
Among those arrested Wednesday were the group's leader, Sam Mullet, and three of his sons, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland. He said authorities were planning to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon to explain why they charged the men with hate crimes.
The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles. They 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 Amish have a modest lifestyle and are deeply religious. Their traditions of travelling by horse and buggy and foregoing most modern conveniences distance themselves from the outside world and symbolize a yielding to a collective order. Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 -- second only to Pennsylvania in the U.S.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order the haircutting but didn't stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to local Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
"They changed the rulings of our church here, and they're trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we're not going to do that," Mullet said.
The seven men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. All were arrested without incident, he said.
The attacks came amid long-simmering tension between Mullet's group, which he established in 1995, and Amish bishops. Arlene Miller, the wife of one victim, said several bishops had condemned Mullet's decision to excommunicate several members who previously left his community, saying there was no spiritual justification for his action.
Five men were charged in state court last month in Holmes County, the heart of Ohio's Amish country, in an attack on an Amish bishop and his son. They allegedly were held down while men used scissors and a clipper to cut their beards. Similar alleged attacks were under investigation in Amish communities in eastern and northeastern Ohio.
Two of the men arrested Wednesday, Mullet's sons Johnny and Lester, were among the five charged last month. The charges are pending.
Authorities have said some Amish refused to press charges, following their practice of avoiding involvement in the courts.
One couple refused to press charges even after acknowledging that their two sons and another man came into their house, held them down, and cut the father's beard and the mother's hair. But others have said they decided to press charges to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.