Inside the reclusive Amish world – where beard cutting is a hate crime

Written By kom nampuldu on Minggu, 29 Maret 2015 | 18.18

It was 11 at night on Oct. 4, 2011, when five Amish men knocked on the door of Myron Miller, a 46-year old bishop in an Amish community in Carroll County, Ohio.

When he opened the door, the men "grabbed him, tugging at his long, salt-and-pepper beard and struggled to pull him outside."

"Lebanon" Levi Stoltzfus claims to be an Amish enforcer.Photo: Handout

After wrestling him to the ground, one of the men brought out a large scissors and cut his beard.

While unusual, the assault might not strike casual readers as something that would bring about long prison terms. But the attack was categorized as a hate crime, and a 66-year-old man who wasn't present for the cutting was eventually sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

According to "Amish Confidential," a sometimes fascinating look at the lives of the reclusive American Amish written by "Lebanon" Levi Stoltzfus of "Amish Mafia" fame, men in the Amish community begin growing beards on their wedding day, and never shave them.

The beard is not just a signifier of marriage, but, writes Stoltzfus, "a symbol of great importance and identity. To Amish men, beards mean maturity. They mean solid values and stability. They mean, 'I am not vain. God gave me this beard, and I'm wearing it without apology.' "

The Mullet Gang

All of which lends a more vicious tint to the acts of the five men who dragged Miller into the night to deprive him of his manhood and identity.

These men, it turns out, were two sons and three other followers of a controversial 66-year-old bishop named Samuel Mullet.

Bishops in the Amish community are the interpreters of religious tradition and law, and set the rules their followers must live by. Some are stricter than others, and Mullet was one of the strictest — and, by non-Amish standards, one of the loopiest, especially for how he punished followers who failed to obey his every creed.

"Almost anything could set the bishop off," writes Stoltzfus. "Some ex-members alleged that he had forced men to sleep in chicken coops as punishment for ogling non-Amish women. There was even talk that he had coerced women to have sex with him to make them better wives. Mullet said it was counseling. His lawyer referred to him as the 'Amish Dr. Ruth.' "

Sam Mullet was sent to prison for orchestrating beard cutting attacks on other Amish men.Photo: AP

Mullet's methods were so outrageous that, in a remarkable rarity, 300 Amish bishops overturned many of his punishments. In the midst of this widespread opposition to Mullet's tactics, the Millers had helped Mullet's son escape his grasp.

This was their crime, and to Mullet, the crime called for punishment, leading to his order to cut Miller's beard.

Miller was not the only victim of Mullet's scissored justice. At least five attacks were recorded in late 2011, and it's likely more went unreported. Men were not the only victims; certain disobedient women had their hair cut, a move as significant and disgracing as shaving a man's beard.

(Attackers) grabbed Barbara, held her and forced her to watch as one of the men cut off her husband's beard with horse mane-cutting shears. - 'Lebanon' Levi Stoltzfus, in 'Amish Confidential'

While the Amish take every measure to keep disputes within their community, the Millers "swallowed hard and called the police," as they "couldn't stomach the idea of others going through what they had."

Even more astonishing was that in the wake of the arrests of Mullet and 15 of his followers involved in the cuttings, the area bishops gave permission to their followers to not only cooperate with the police, but to appear in court if needed.

Andy Hershberger, whose father had been attacked, testified that "as the men held his father down, the older man 'was shaking all over. He pleaded: 'Don't shear me. Don't shear me.' "

Mullet's influence over his followers, regarded as cult-like by many, was the sort that turned family members against each other. After his sister, Barbara Miller, and her family left his community, shocked at Mullet's reign of anger and violence, Miller and her husband were attacked by their own children and their families.

The attackers "grabbed Barbara, held her and forced her to watch as one of the men cut off her husband's beard with horse mane-cutting shears.

One of the Millers' sons used battery-powered clippers to shave his father's head. Her daughter and daughters-in-law then used the same shears to slice off two feet of her waist-length hair. Two of the women carried out the attack while holding infants in their arms."

Jury deliberations took a week before all the defendants were found guilty. During sentencing, the judge admonished them, saying their victims would carry "emotions and scars for the rest of their lives," and that in their actions, they "trampled on the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment."

The defendants save Mullet received sentences ranging from "a year and a day to seven years."

Mullet, who faced life in prison, received 15 years. The hate crimes convictions were overturned on appeal last year, but Mullet remains in prison, as he was convicted on other charges as well.

Legally, appeals move forward, and it's possible that Mullet could be freed before the end of his sentence. Last October, his 23-year-old grandson wrote an article claiming that his grandfather is a cult leader who still runs his cult from his prison cell.

Sins and forgiveness

An Amish family rides along Route 812 in Heuvelton, N.Y.Photo: AP

Beyond the beard cutting, "Amish Confidential" serves as a primer to Amish life.

While Lancaster's famed Amish community is often referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch, for example, "Dutch" is based on American misunderstandings of "Deutsch," the German term for their language. The Amish speak is a form of German, not Dutch.

Stoltzfus (the name is the Amish version of Smith or Jones, and the surname of many people mentioned in this book) cites many ways in which our perception of the Amish is off-base.

Even though it's forbidden, for example, many Amish drive cars, do drugs and have premarital sex. The Amish community, he claims, even has a widespread incest problem.

In other ways, the Amish are exactly as we perceive them, as in their talent for barn-raising. Stoltzfus tells how his father died after a farming accident when Stoltzfus was two — the man's leg was cut off "to the hip" by a corn cutter, and the loss of blood caused his death four days later. In his grief, Stoltzfus' older brother, Henry, burned down their barn three weeks later.

"The neighbors did what the Amish do," Stoltzfus writes. "They came right over and raised a new barn for us. I think it took two days."

But if there's one aspect of the Amish community that stands out more than any other, it's their incredible capacity for forgiveness, a determination to "turn the other cheek" that shows what a true pacifist community is like.

Claping, Stoltzfus explains, is, at the least, a form of harassment that finds non-Amish teens driving through Amish communities throwing anything from yogurt to rocks to jagged pieces of tile at passing Amish pedestrians or horse and buggy passengers.

In August 1979, a piece of tile hurled into a buggy hit 7-month-old Adeline Schwartz as she rested in her mother's arms. When the family returned home, they noticed blood pooling in the baby's ear. They rushed to a neighbor's house to use the phone to call for an ambulance, but the baby died before the call was made.

Four young men were arrested for the crime — one of them was played by a young Brad Pitt in the eventual TV movie about the case — but in his only interview, with Rolling Stone magazine, the child's father, Levi Schwartz, said that he held no malice against the boys who killed his daughter.

"Sometimes I do feel angry," he said, "but I don't like having that feeling against anyone. It is no way to live."

Asked what he would say to the boys if he saw them, he replied, "I would talk good to them. I wouldn't talk angry to them or want them to talk angry to me."

The boys pled guilty, but the judge, saying he was "influenced by the spirit of the Amish," kept them all out of jail, sentencing them to fines and either suspended sentences or probation.

Amish women mourn in front of the school where Charles Carl Roberts IV went on a shooting spree.Photo: Christopher Sadowski

A far grander display of Amish forgiveness came in 2006. In a crime that made national headlines, a non-Amish milk truck driver named Charles Carl Roberts IV entered an Amish schoolhouse with a gun, ordering all but the young girls to leave.

He then shot all 10 of them at point blank range, saying, "I'm angry at God, and I need to punish some Christian girls to get even with him." Five of the girls were wounded, but survived.

The other five, aged 7-12, died. Roberts ended the siege with a bullet he'd reserved for himself.

In the hours that followed, the Amish people did something extraordinary. Groups of them began showing up at the home of Roberts' mother, Terri Roberts, not to express their anger over the tragedy, but rather the opposite — to show their forgiveness.

"Every one of them had the same message for her," writes Stoltzfus. "Do not leave. Forgiveness is genuine. We are all in this together."

Sometime soon after, a group of Amish men approached the home of Roberts' wife Marie's parents, while she was inside. Her father went to deal with the men, and Marie was stunned to see the men hugging her father.

Dozens of the local Amish respectfully attended Roberts' funeral, and Terri Roberts was invited to the funerals of the murdered girls, which she attended.

Of the five girls who survived, Rosanna King, age 6 at the time of the shootings, has suffered the worst, felled by a brain injury that has left her wheelchair bound, unable to walk or speak.
King's family is assisted with her care by a steady stream of volunteers from their community. Terri Roberts is one of those volunteers.

"She has become a familiar presence in the victims' families' lives," Stoltzfus writes. "A tall, thin woman with spiky gray hair, she comes to the King's house most Thursdays, helping to bathe Rosanna and read her stories. Her enduring presence in this circle of tragedy seems to bring comfort to everyone."

Fact and fiction

Cast of "Amish Mafia"Photo: Discovery Channel

Disappointingly, given the book's many strengths, it's essential to point out that "Amish Mafia," a "reality" show on the Discovery Channel starring Stoltzfus as a sort of town enforcer that runs its series finale this Tuesday after four seasons, has been widely attacked as a fabrication.

For Stoltzfus' part, many have poked holes in his claims to be a major figure in the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Local area outlet LancasterOnline, to name just one, interviewed local figures familiar with this community when the show began in late 2012, and all claimed that none of the Amish they knew had heard of him.

The same outlet, in 2013, tracked down people who knew Stoltzfus, and all said he was a "nice" and peaceful guy, and that his tough guy image on the show was "a persona."

Smartly for this book, Stoltzfus enlisted Ellis Henican, a Newsday columnist who has written books with Charlie Crist, Doc Gooden and more, as his collaborator, and also presents the deeper side of certain stories that received public coverage, so many of their facts are verifiable.

"Amish Mafia" may be at least partly fiction — but "Amish Confidential" shows the truth is just as strange.


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