When The Amish Attack!

I’ve been following this story for the last few months, and it’s a gentle reminder that even the most mild-mannered religions can have not-so-mild-mannered followers. Case in point: Amish man Samuel Mullet (which, by the way, is the most stereotypical Amish name I’ve ever seen).

16 members of Mullet’s community were just found guilty of a hate crime carried out against others in their community… after being persuaded to do so by Mr. Mullet. The 16 members — ten men and six women — face at least ten years in jail for the attack.

What did they do that was so heinous? Although not directly involved in the attack himself, Mullet persuaded the 16 to forcibly remove the beards of other men in their community. 

Many Amish believe that the Bible instructs women to wear their hair long and for men to stop shaving after marriage.

In looking for the exact reasons and traditions behind this beard growing, hoping for a line in scripture that mandates it, I came across a question on the Amish Religious Freedom website FAQ. It made me realize why Amish beards look so unusual to me: They have beards, but not mustaches! The Scriptural rationale, however, is even stranger:

There are quite a few scriptures that mention beards in the Bible. An example would be Psalm 133:1,2. An Amishman does not shave his beard after he becomes married. A long beard is the mark of an adult Amishman. Moustaches, on the other hand, have a long history of being associated with the military, and therefore are forbidden among the Amish people.

Wait, what? Mustaches have a long history of being associated with the military?! The more I think about it, the more I realize that it might be true. (Now when Christians use the classic “Hitler/Stalin was an Atheist” argument we have a new rebuttal based in absolute fact.) It was the mustaches all along. Mustaches clearly lead to genocide. Excuse me while I go shave…

Some of the accused community members (via BBC News)

The opening sentence of the BBC report of the guilty verdict began with the following:

Members of an Amish breakaway group have been found guilty of hate crimes for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of community members.

Who knew that the Amish suffered from these kinds of breakaway groups! We’re used to hearing of Christian, Muslim, or even Mormon breakaway groups, but the Amish?! Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Amish ideology is a seriously flawed system, but on the grand scale of dangerous religions, I think most people would place the Amish fairly low down their list.

The prosecutors argued the victims’ hair was cut because of its spiritual significance in the Amish faith. The defense lawyers admitted the attacks did take place but argued they were internal family disputes and did not amount to hate crimes. The picture emerging of Samuel Mullet is one that is all too familiar: His followers and detractors paint him as an extremely charismatic but very strict man. Witnesses in the case said Mullet maintained absolute control over the settlement he founded two decades ago. Some said men were made to sleep in chicken coops as punishment. Court documents also show Mullet practiced “sexual counseling” for married women in his community. We’ve seen all of that before.

Part of the reason this case is so interesting is that it is very rare for crimes within Amish communities to ever be reported. In fact, a number of the victims of this crime refused to even press charges. Instead punishments are decided upon internally. This is one of those grey areas where I can’t really decide where I stand. There is an argument for leaving the Amish alone to live their lives the way they see fit. However, this underreporting of crime and internal punishment does not sit well with me. It leaves me wondering about the types and frequency of crimes that are never reported, the safety of those convictions and the ethical nature of the punishments.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.

@markdturner

  • Tainda

    The Amish absolutely fascinate me.  I can’t believe this was reported to outside law enforcement.  It had to have been brutal if they reported it.  

    A cult leader within a cult.  Very interesting.

    • PJB863

      There are different sects within the Amish faith (or Plain People, as they prefer to be called):  

      “There are as many as eight different subgroups of Amish with most belonging, in ascending order of conservatism, to the Beachy Amish, New Order, Old Order, or Swartzentruber Amish sects.” – Wikipedia

      As an aside, there was a stricture against buttons at one time (due to their military associations), but I believe now it only applies to metallic ones.

      As another aside, I have a friend  - gay – who used to date a gay Amish man, so they are not as monolithic group as many people think.

      • Tainda

        I would want to be Beachy.  Sounds more fun :P

        We have a lot of Amish that bring their children to our hospital.  I always thought they didn’t like hospitals or doctors but apparently some of them do for their children (I work at a children’s hospital).

        • Geezie

          I lived in Wisconsin for a while and there was a large Amish community close to where I was. I’ve seen them in the doctors office, dentist, grocery store and bank. I’ve also seen them riding in cars, they just won’t drive one. 

          • Tainda

            I live in NE Missouri and we have a large Mennonite population here and they can drive and go to stores and such.  I just didn’t think the Amish did.  Learn something new every day!

            When my daughter was around 5 we were at the grocery store, she saw a Mennonite couple down the aisle, pointed and yelled out “Mommy, PILGRIMS!”  I started laughing, picked her up and walked quickly the other way so they wouldn’t see me laughing.  It was cute lol  That’s my totally pointless story for the day :)

          • PJB863

            That was where I had some contact with them as well – around Abbotsford.  Some of the locals referred to them as Kukeneye (sp?) Dutch.  

            Some people I knew had left the fold when they were kids, but still retained some residual habits, like very plain dress (but not “amish” dress), and doing some things by hand that we use appliances for (like a mixer or a blender).  I just found it interesting.

          • allein

            I used to work in Philadelphia about 10 years ago and one morning I saw an Amish family getting on the subway. (It really depends on the particular group what level of technology they are allowed to use. Some are stricter than others.)

            I went to college in Lancaster County; you didn’t see Amish in the area where I was, but you did see a lot of Mennonites. Though you didn’t have to go too far to be in real “Amish country.”

        • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

          I saw a couple when I was on an Amtrak train from Toronto to New York, and also a few groups selling produce at a food market in Philadelphia. They don’t seem to have any specific rules they can use to decide which technologies to reject and in what way. I find it a bit weird to be honest, its deliberately making life hard for yourself. Although I guess we all do that in small ways – its just rarely on such a grand scale!

          • allein

            The rules really vary by group. Some will ride in cars, but not drive (I’ve even see boys on roller blades rolling along behind a horse & buggy with the rest of the family inside, holding onto the back), or have communal telephones shared by several families (like at the end of the road or something, mainly for emergency use), but not in their houses. Some will even use computers to some extent (like for business purposes…they’re probably not on the internet, though). The point is generally to be separate from the “English” world; so, for instance, they may use generators for local electricity but would not be connected to the municipal grid. Some groups are stricter than others, but each community pretty much sets their own rules.

  • Talynknight

    Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Amish ideology is a seriously
    flawed system, but on the grand scale of dangerous religions, I think
    most people would place the Amish fairly low down their list.

    While they are not so dangerous to outsiders because of their insular nature, the unease you feel about their “internal punishment” is well founded. 

    Here is at least one person’s account of the cruelty these types of communities can foster with no recourse for the victims.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/09/what-amish-life-is-really-like-by-an-eyewitness/

  • Kathy

    So, when Amish people forcibly cut people’s hair it’s a hate crime and they face 10 years or more in prison but when Mitt Romney did it to that boy at his prep school he gets to act as though it’s no big deal and run for president of the US.

    • Stev84

       And murdering your child with faith healing only gets you probation:
      http://www.registerguard.com/web/news/28770072-57/bellews-church-death-hasselman-sprout.html.csp

      They should be punished yes, but 10 years is ridiculous. Unless that sentence is somehow split between everyone

      • coyotenose

         Whether a 10 year sentence is anything resembling reasonable is definitely questionable, but keep in mind the following:
        - They broke into these peoples’ homes in the middle of the night.
        - They committed assault.
        - They CONSPIRED to commit nighttime breaking and entering and assault, repeatedly. It would not have been hard for them to end up crippling or killing a victim.
        - Hate crimes are designed to instill future fear in the victim and in other people and to alter their behavior from fear. They’re terrorist acts that definitely put the victims in fear of their lives at the time.
        - They showed a dangerous callousness and aggressiveness even after the attacks, even after being caught, by calling the victims to taunt them and keeping the hair as trophies. That means that they’re not done yet. It also strengthens the terrorism argument.

        • PJB863

          I hate to point out the obvious, but exactly HOW did they call them?  

          • Stev84

            Some Amish sects have a sort of public phone that can be used by everyone. They just don’t have phones in every house. Except for the most hardcore sects, the idea is that technology shouldn’t make life too easy – not to ban it altogether.

          • coyotenose

             Yeah, I wondered about that too. Just had to go by the news article.  Ah, Stev84 has the answer.

    • julie

      Thank you Kathy. I just heard about this Amish hair cutting story; the connection with Mitt Romney was the first thing I thought of yet I never heard any news reports make the link. Amazing that a presidential candidate gets off scott free while these Amish men face up to 10 years in prison.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    This is one of those grey areas where I can’t really decide where I stand.

    Yes, that’s about where I stand.

    Given that charges were filed, the court didn’t have much choice.  I am inclined to think that the judge should give a suspended sentence, on condition that the guilty remain on good behavior.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Article by James F. McCarty in the Cleaveland Plain Dealer, August 27, 2012
    But what federal prosecutors call hate crimes, punishable by life in
    prison, Mullet calls an exercise of his religious freedom. God’s will
    allowed him to mete out punishment as he saw fit, he said, giving him
    the power to shame and punish people who ostracized the Bergholz clan
    and who defied his laws.

    Why this wouldn’t fly as a legal defence: Mullet is apparently so stupid that he doesn’t realize that “freedom of religion” applies to other people, not just to him. Freedom of religion gives you the right to believe and worship according to your own conscience, but it cannot give you the right to forcibly impose those beliefs onto others, because that would violate the other person’s freedom of religion.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Perhaps his reasoning is that as their Divinely appointed leader, he gets to decide what their religion consists of. They don’t get to make up any aspect of their religion because that’s his job. How much of your religious freedom can be signed away when you ask for confirmation in the sect? Take shunning, for example.

      From Wiki regarding Old Order Amish: “Upon taking instruction classes, each applicant must make a confession to uphold shunning of all excommunicated adult members, and also submit to being shunned if they are excommunicated.”

      Shunning in such a close community would cause severe mental distress, where an individual might have no outside friends or colleagues. Would it qualify as  a hate crime.

      I doubt this would ever have been brought to secular authority if it weren’t for the rebellion against this guy’s control freak approach to leadership.

      • Erp

         Which is one of the reasons Mullet Senior is so upset.  The wider Amish community overturned some excommunications that he had issued against former members of his community.   Those attacked included some former members and some who had been involved in the overturning.   The attacks also continued even after the arrests of some for the earlier attacks.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I’m troubled by the idea of handling things internally, especially as it involves insular communities. Laws are made for all of us, or none of us. Sharia and the Jewish courts(whatever they call them) trouble me(and I say that as an atheistic Jew) because it is too easy for abuse to take place. I wouldn’t have nearly the problem with them if a legal representative unaffiliated with that particular court in any way(ie., no Muslims sitting in on Sharia courts, no Jews sitting in on whatever the Jews call them). Otherwise, you’re going to run into situations where somebody’s bizarre idea(“But honestly, Your Honour, it was a legitimate rape”) could potentially cut off people from justice and would also serve to shield the perpetrators from the same justice.

    • JP

      I think the Jewish court is called the Beth Din. Though I may be wrong since I did learn that from watching American Dad.

    • Otis

      I understand this view, but really what is the alternative?   Do larger groups as brokers of power assure us more justice?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/ravenhull Donovan Willett

    It’s my understanding that the mustache thing dated back to the early days of the Amish sect back in the German states where many military men were quite proud of their mustaches and presented them as a point of pride. Don’t have any solid documentation of this, but it’s what I’ve heard.

  • IndyFitz

    I don’t know if it qualifies as a hate crime, but it certainly qualifies as assault.  However… ten years for cutting a beard?  It seems excessive. We’ve regularly seen violent assaults that land victims in the hospital receive just a few years — or even less! — in prison time.  It’s the “hate crime” label that gets them such stiff sentences.

    Personally, I think a crime is a crime, and making special categories for “hate crimes” is pointless.  It explains a “why” to a crime, but the “what” is what matters.  Cutting off a friend’s beard against his will because you thought it would be funny?  Crime, a year in prison!  Cutting it off because you hate what he stands for?  Hate crime, ten years!  It sounds absurd, but no more absurd than, “Punched a guy in the face?  Ninety days in jail, all but ten suspended!” versus “Punched a guy in the face because you hate gay black Protestants?  Ten years!”

    I’m not saying it’s right to commit crimes based on hate, but it really shouldn’t matter, and shouldn’t elevate the punishment.  If you beat the crap out of a guy who hit on your girlfriend, because you hate him and what he did, it should be no different then doing it because you hate his race or religion.  In this instance, it goes from being imbalanced to just plain absurd — ten years for cutting off beards?  I’m sure it wasn’t fun for them, and it isn’t right in any way, shape, or form, but… the punishment should fit the crime, and I just can’t wrap my head around this punishment fitting this crime.

    Of course, there is no sentence yet, and I hope common sense prevails.

    • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

      I think the justification lies in its intent to frighten a wider group of people. I suppose an example would be lynchings of black people or Jews by mobs to intimidate others that they might be next. If the beard cutting was done to send a message to the other Amish families then I can see why it would be classed as a hate crime. It only sounds wrong because the idea of forcibly cutting another man’s beard sounds utterly ridiculous!

      • IndyFitz

        Good point indeed. I guess I just think a few months in jail will be enough to send a message to everyone that this behavior won’t be tolerated. If they got out and kept cutting beards, okay, stiffer sentences until you learn. Maybe ten years once you’ve done it a few times.
        I’m going to not shave all weekend in honor of the Amish victims! And because I’m generally too lazy to shave on the weekends anyway.

    • Baal

       I’m mostly ok with the penalty enhancement due to the desire to instill terror element.  It’s hard enough to prove that I don’t think juries would jump at it everytime.  I’m more concerned that criminal penalties are generally too high.  I’ve known victims to  not report (and juries to not convict) due to the likelyhood of too severe a penalty attaching.  There used to be a pretty strong notion of proportionality of punishment but the SCOTUS has pretty much done away with it.

  • Santiagosmagic

    Am I the only person who finds it ironic that it’s the “Mullet gang” that is giving people haircuts?

    • Jo

      Yes, you are. No one since this story broke weeks and weeks ago thought of that

  • Susan Mack

    Amish shun their children who go against their wishes. Their daughters are forced to leave school at 13 or so. How is this less harmful? Make no mistake. Women are treated just as badly in this sect if not more so due to forced isolation from mainstream society. Quaint they ain’t

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Now when Christians use the classic “Hitler/Stalin was an Atheist” argument we have a new rebuttal based in absolute fact.”

    I sense a you are  being facetious and not taking the evils of mustaches seriously.
    Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Talat Pasha, Heinrich Himmler, Gilles de Rais, Genghis Khan, H.H. Holmes, Saddam Hussein, Vlad (the Impaler) Tepes, Stalin, Hitler and this guy. All evil, and all with mustaches. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    PS. Yes. I am kidding
    PSS (no I’m not)

    • Patterrssonn

      Does a beard counteract the insidious influence of the stache?

      PS you forgot Ron Burgundy

  • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

    QI episode that includes a bit about Mustaches… http://youtu.be/Qx3-eNg8BCU?t=13m9s

  • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti

    “Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Amish ideology is a seriously 
    flawed system, but on the grand scale of dangerous religions, I think
    most people would place the Amish fairly low down their list.”

    I don’t know why but now I have this image stuck in my head of a couple of Amish driving their buggies into the WTC on 9/11.

    • PJB863

      That makes about as much sense as when they were going to start making Amtrak passengers go through the TSA security screening used in airports – think about it:  they were afraid someone was going to ram a train into WTC or similar buildings.

  • Kimpatsu

    actually, is you know that throughout the 19th century, until the eve of WW1 in fact, British Army officers were required to have a moustache?

    • Paul D.

      I believe that in the case of the Amish, their moustache-less beards originated as a rebellion against the Prussians, who sported grand moustaches but no beards. For the same reason, some Amish don’t wear clothing with buttons.

  • HughInAz

    Q: What goes clip-clop-bang-bang-clip-clop?

    A: An Amish drive-by shooting!

  • coyotenose

    Would we be arguing for significant leniency if all we heard about this case was that a group of
    cultists were breaking into peoples’ homes in the middle of the night,
    dragging them out of bed and terrifying them, shaving their heads and humiliating them, and calling the victims later
    to laugh about it, telling them that the cultists will attack them and
    their family members again if they don’t do as ordered?

  • Mark Eagleton

    I have a beard with no mustache, but only because it makes me look more METAL. http://m.flickr.com/#/photos/5tons/7579428304/in/photostream/

  • http://www.facebook.com/RandyJReed Randy Reed

    Weirdly, I happened to be there on vacation when this happened.  It was a little more horrifying than what has been posted.  They came to the house in the middle of the night.  The kids answered the door and when the mom came they broke in and tackled her and cut her hair off in front of the husband and kids.  The man is sworn to pacifism so he couldn’t stop them, (or wouldn’t/couldn’t). It was all pretty terrifying.

  • Sharon Crawford

    You missed an opportunity to use an excellent headline:

    Mullet Guilty in Beard Case


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