November 26, 2011
About a hundred miles south of the smog-choked, rust-eaten city of Cleveland quietly sits pristine Ohio hill country, home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Amish people. Down there amid the hex signs and distelfinks where the Ordnung reigns supreme, nestled betwixt the small communities of Scroggsfield and Wolf Run, is the village of Bergholz, population 769. A splinter—some would say heretical—Amish sect known as the “Bergholz clan” led by 66-year-old Bishop Sam Mullet inhabits a compound near Bergholz.
Early Wednesday morning as the Mullet compound’s men slept peacefully, their full-length traditional Amish beards intact, federal authorities raided the premises and arrested seven male sect members. The accused—including patriarch Sam Mullet, his sons Johnny S. Mullet, Lester S. Mullet, and Danny S. Mullet—were connected to a series of four violent nighttime attacks starting in September wherein the Bergholz clan would set upon Amish rivals, forcibly restrain them, and hack away at their beards with garden shears and battery-powered clippers. In one case, a woman received a forced haircut that left her scalp bleeding.
On September 6, an estimated six men and six women stormed into a house in Mesopotamia, OH, knocking a married couple to the floor and furiously chopping away the man’s beard and his wife’s hair. The victims were former associates of the Bergholz clan—so closely associated that among the attackers were the victims’ sons.
Two more assaults came the night of October 4, as five members of the Bergholz clan hired a non-Amish driver—later turned state’s witness—to spirit them from one crime scene to the next and then back home. Two of the victims are thought to have been attacked for providing “aid and counseling” to one of Mullet’s sons after he’d fled the group years ago. Victims were left shorn and bleeding, and the Bergholz clan triumphantly returned home with photographic evidence of their escapades.
Then on November 9, even after five of the Bergholz clan had been arrested on state charges and the case had been nationally publicized, clan member Emanuel Schrock lured more ex-Bergholzers to his house after promising them in a series of letters that they’d be safe from harm. After having his beard whacked away with shears that were sharp enough to cut leather, one of Schrock’s victims confronted him about his false promise. Schrock reportedly shrugged and said, “I guess I lied.” Again the Bergholz clan had photographed their handiwork as a perverse sort of religious hunting trophy.
Sacred Amish tradition forbids women from cutting their hair and married men from shaving their beards. Patriarch Sam Mullet freely admits—these humble hillfolk are apparently so cloistered from the modern world, they never heard of the Fifth Amendment—that the attacks were conducted for religious reasons to purposely humiliate rivals after years-long doctrinal squabbling over who exactly had the right to shun whom. To federal authorities, the clan’s motives—rather than the crimes themselves—were the real crimes. In Ohio state court last month, authorities had charged five members of the Bergholz clan with literal crimes related to the attacks—namely, kidnapping and aggravated burglary—but they eagerly dropped all state charges and handed the baton to the feds, who on Wednesday filed an affidavit claiming probable cause to arrest Mullet and his minions for violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
The federal affidavit claims Samuel Mullet acted more like a depraved cult leader than a humble butter-churner:
In disregard for Amish teachings and scripture, SAMUEL MULLET, SR. has forced extreme punishments on and physical injury to those in the community who defy him, including forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop on his property and allowing members of the Bergholz clan to beat other members who appear to disobey SAMUEL MULLET, SR. Moreover, SAMUEL MULLET, SR. 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.