Intimidation, Hate Crime or Federal Bullying?
November, 2011. Bergholz, Ohio–a lovely, pastoral place where one can walk long dirt roads through lush, green farmland alongside wooden fences, built like ladders. In those empty spaces between slats, the quaint homes of an Amish community appear, simple and clean. It feels like a step back in time, but then... mad shears and unforgiving scissors of modern civilization creep in and cut down this community with one deft snip of the beard.
Most haven't been following the story of Myron Miller, the Amish gentleman who was attacked by an "Amish cult." Pulled from his home in the middle of the night by devoted followers of an extreme Amish sect, Miller was assaulted, the beard–which symbolized his commitment to marriage and faith–ruthlessly cut from his chin with scissors and battery-powered clippers.
Miller's wife says her husband had become a target for cult leader, Sam Mullet, after he helped one of Mullet's children move away from the controlling sect. But this wasn't the first time Mullet had targeted someone for defying him.
After learning that Adam Troyer, Mullet's former son in law, intended to move his wife and children out of Mullet's grasp, Mullet interfered in Troyer's marriage. Mullet started by spending an inordinate amount of time with his daughter at Troyer's house, eventually taking her out of Troyer's home all together. That was that. Troyer filed for divorce, won custody of the children and moved them to Pennsylvania. "In the Amish community, no one has jurisdiction over what goes on between a husband and wife," Troyer told CNN reporter Chris Welch. "He's the only...leader that I know of that has ever gotten into an Amish couple's married life."
The list of those who were struck by Mullet's judgmental hammer continues. An unnamed victim, who wouldn't press charges, said that after a religious disagreement Sam Mullet locked him in a chicken coop for 15 days in the height of winter. Even the county sheriff, Fred J. Abdalla, isn't immune who has received death threats from members of Sam Mullet's family. "It was two in the morning [and Mullet's son] is telling me I'm a dead SOB."
As all cult leaders, Mullet doesn't live in a house, but rather is king of a compound where he's referred to as "Bishop Mullet." When asked directly about his involvement in the rash of beard assaults, Mullet chuckled and told CNN, "Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?" But Mullet had said in previous interviews that he believed it was within his rights to punish violators of church law.
In a move that's atypical in Amish culture, as they generally solve conflict within the church, victims pressed charges. Though local authorities attempted to prevent further attacks, the assaults not only continued, but escalated. At a loss, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI were called in.
And though a disagreement–even an assault–between neighbors is usually addressed by state law, the feds had jurisdiction because of a battery-operated clipper. Yes, clippers. As the clippers used in the beard attacks were manufactured in one state and used in another–the Commerce Clause in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was invoked. The clause states any crime prosecuted under the hate crimes law must involve interstate or foreign commerce. In this case, clippers. Clippers, the weapon wielded against the innocent beard, was also the tool used to open the door to a federal charge–hate crime.
Special Agent Stephen Anthony, who heads the Cleveland FBI, said: "The FBI is committed to investigating hate crimes, including those motivated by religious bias–as in this case–or other areas protected by our civil rights statues."
Sixteen men and women from Mullet's cultish group (Sam Mullet among them) were charged with hate crimes–a federal crime applicable to offenses motivated by actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, color, race, sexual orientation or disability. Charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering were also included.
July, 2012. Cleveland, Ohio. A plea bargain that would offer 16 members of Mullet's sect reduced prison terms is rejected. The defendants in the beard-cutting case insist that the assaults were an internal disciplinary matter, not motivated by religion.
To establish Sam Mullet's total control over the sect, the prosecution called former members of Mullet's group to the stand, including Barbara Miller, Sam Mullet's sister, who said that her son Eli's wife, Lovina, was ordered to live with Mullet. When Lovina turned up pregnant, Miller said, "I had reason to dispute that (the baby) was Eli's."
This was not the only testimony heard by the court regarding Mullet's sexual impropriety, something that Mullet says was merely marriage counseling. Nancy Mullet, Sam Mullet's daughter in law, said that she was ordered to live with Sam Mullet after her husband (Eli, Sam's son) suffered a nervous breakdown.
"[Sam Mullet] thought one of the reasons Eli had gotten sick was because he wasn't satisfied with our marriage," Nancy told the court. Shortly after Nancy was told to move in with Sam Mullet, to avoid the devil getting ahold of her. Soon after arriving at Sam Mullet's home, Nancy was told to visit Sam Mullet's bedroom, saying that what started with hugging, progressed to lap sitting. "He would say things like 'I can't understand why you won't obey me, the other ladies can.' I always gave up. I was afraid not to," Nancy said.
Bizarre behavior aside, the defense argued that Mullet was not the locus of the attacks.
August, 2012. Cleveland, Ohio. All sixteen Amish men and women who perpetrated the beard-cutting barrage are convicted.
February, 2013. Cleveland, Ohio. Fifteen members of the Mullet family and Sam Mullet himself are sentenced to federal prison, with Mullet receiving the largest sentence–15 years in prison. The prosecution recommended life for Mullet and "characterized Mullet as an iron-fisted bishop who exerted total control over his flock: He censored his followers' mail, had sex with married women under the guise of marital counseling, endorsed bizarre punishments such as confinement in chicken coops and spankings, and laughed at the attacks, which were driven by a crusade to punish those who spurned his teachings."
Other members received sentences between one and seven years, and many of the defendants plead with the court to allow them to serve a portion of 67-year-old Mullet's sentence on his behalf to save him from dying in prison. They pled in vain.
Between the members of Mullet's group, there are some 50 children. Kathryn Miller, a 24-year-old mother of three, is just one of the six mothers sentenced to a year in prison. Her attorney, Rhonda Kotnik said, "The community is going to be ripped apart. I don't know what's going to happen to all their children." Kotnik plans to appeal, saying that her argument would focus on one question: If the federal hate crimes law was so broad as to be unconstitutional.
The Present. Edward Bryan, Sam Mullet's attorney, said the government's involvement in the case was unnecessary, "The government had no business getting involved in this case the way they did. To justify it, they did everything they could to make a boogey man out of my defendant."
Lawyer Mark Allenbaugh, an expert on federal sentencing, is appalled by the court's decision, saying that hate crimes, "Despite their high-profile nature... are rarely sentenced." In fact, of the 6,222 hate crime incidents of 2011 (as reported by the FBI), only two cases were charged. Furthermore, the guidelines involving sentencing of hate crimes are applied so rarely and uniquely that "any sentencing range [is] not only questionable, but plainly inapplicable," making the prosecution's life sentence recommendation for Sam Mullet flimsy at best.
Consider that murder sentences average 189 months. Manslaughter averages just 37, and assault 27, leading some to question why the court felt that Mullet's actions, though certainly criminal, warranted 180 months, just nine months under the average sentence for murder. Otis goes so far as to suggest that the DOJ is waging a war on religion, making an example of the Amish.
Bryan is appealing the sentence, calling the placement of the Amish members in prisons across the country cruel and unusual punishment. For example, Mrs. Mullet would have to travel to Minnesota, Louisiana and Oklahoma to visit her husband and three sons–all of this without the use of a plane, which is forbidden in Amish culture. They "are being treated much more harshly than the typical federal prisoner, including those with much worse criminal histories and offense conduct," said Bryan. The case could eventually land in the U.S. Supreme Court.
As the Amish hate crime trial continues to unfold, some have asked why we have taken aim at the Amish. Saloma Furlong, who was featured on the PBS documentary "The Amish," says, "Many people have used the Amish as their moral compass. They represent the model of a good society; they are the embodiment of humble, salt of the earth people... These last few weeks, we've witnessed a divisive split among the Amish... and we see that the Amish are human." That may be putting it lightly.
Perhaps, it's Mullet's insistence that he was above the law or the accusations of sexual abuse that offended the court, eliciting such a severe sentence. But, as despicable as these charges are, it's not what Sam Mullet was on trial for. The charge was hair assault motivated by religious differences.
Maybe, it's merely disappointment that has led to such a harsh ruling, that we're forced to abandon our idyllic "Little House on the Prairie" notions about the Amish, as if they were preserving our romanticized past, and replace it with a band of controlling hooligans. New Amish images, like Discovery Channel's "Amish Mafia" (cast members of which are rumored to be nothing more than a band of rogue barbers), may be indicative of our readiness to dye this once respected, though mysterious, thread of the American tapestry a darker color. Of course, this is only speculation. But who would ever think that it would be the Amish to receive one of the heaviest sentences in the history of hate crime law for cutting hair.
Allenbaugh, M. (2013). Guest post on Amish sentencing: "A Travesty in Cleveland." Typepad.com. February 10, 2013.
Associated Press. (2012). 16 Amish in Ohio reject beard-cutting plea deals. SanduskyRegister.com. July 30, 20012.
FBI. (2013). Amish Beard-Cutting Case: Ohio Residents Sentenced for Hate Crimes. FBI.gov. February 8, 2013.
Furlong, S. (2012). Is Our Image of the Amish on Trial? AboutAmish.Blogspot.com. September 15, 2012.
Kant, G. (2013). Life in Jail for Cutting an Amish Beard? WND.com. March 8, 2013.
Bryan quote Myers, A. L. (2013). Crimes in Beard-Cutting Case Fight For Release. HuffingtonPost.com. April 5, 2013.
Bryan quote (cruel and unusual punishment) Otis, B. (2013). DOJ goes stark raving mad. CrimeandConsequences.com. February 5, 2013.
Prosecution sentencing recommendation Sheeran, T.J. (2013). Ohio Amish Beard-Cutting Ringleader Gets 15 Years. AP.org, February 8, 2013.
Kotnik information Sheeran, T.J. (2012). Amish guilty of hate crimes in Ohio beard-cuttings. Associated Press. September 21, 2012.
Kotnik quote Quigly, R. (2013). Amish hair-and-beard-cutting ringleader Sam Mullet found guilty of hate crimes. DailyMail.co.uk. September 21, 2012.
Barbara Miller quotes Nancy Mullet quotes Welch, Chris. (2011). Amish beard-cutting attacks uncover suspected cult. CNN.com, November 1, 2011.
WND. (2013). Amish prosecuted because scissors 'crossed state lines.' WND.com. April 12, 2013.