A reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer visited Bergholz recently, and has given us a look at the community from a different perspective.
Unlike most previous coverage, this article provides a rather sympathetic look at the group:
Last week, members of the Bergholz community scoffed at the government’s portrayal. They said they were tired of being treated like zoo animals by others in different Amish communities, who stop, whisper and watch their every move.
The community lacks trust in law enforcement and fears that authorities, through the courts, may try to take the children of parents headed off to prison and pull them from the settlement.
Lizzie Mullet sees the fear daily.
When a sheriff’s cruiser drives by the school, many of the school’s 44 students cringe, fearing someone will be arrested, she said. Since the arrests last November, usually timid students have become rebellious, she said; others cry more easily. But she and other members say the community pushes on.
Sam Mullet remains the group’s religious leader, even as he sits in a holding cell in Youngstown. The 18 families in the settlement — about 40 adult members and scores of children — meet Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for gatherings. They talk, listen and sing hymns.
This is not to excuse the attacks or actions of community members, but based on most coverage til now, it’s been easy to stigmatize these people as a whole. This piece puts a human face on the group. The actions of some members rightly stirred anger among observers, so I think it might be a little uncomfortable to read coverage written from this perspective.
That said, there have been strong indications that this is in fact a cult or cult-like group, with all the negatives that entails. Beyond the beard-cutting attacks, the trial included testimony that Mullet disciplined members by spanking and making them sleep in chicken coops, and that he had sexual intercourse with members’ wives.
An article like this one reminds us that groups like this create victims within the group itself (most obviously, the children, but probably not stopping there). On the other hand it also raises the question as to how culpable are the adults who end up in these types of groups. Are you automatically a victim if you fall under the sway of a powerful leader…or are you at fault for allowing yourself to be manipulated? That seems to me a difficult psychological question which may have different answers depending on the individual.
The article contains a summary of the formation of this community in the mid-1990s. There are also 20+ photos taken within the community, including many from the school.