The big Amish news this week is the trial of 16 members of the Bergholz group, which opened in a Cleveland federal court Tuesday.  The accused are charged with hate crimes for their roles in the beard and hair-cutting attacks. Some face sentences of 20 years or more if convicted.

Defendants have rejected plea bargain deals offering much shorter sentences, and have argued that their actions were related to internal church matters.  Lawyers for the defendants this week tried to make the case that the Bergholz attackers acted out of compassion and concern for victims’ spiritual well-being.

The sensational nature of this case is sure to continue to draw worldwide attention, particularly since testimony over alleged “sexual counseling” behavior of leader Sam Mullet has been ruled acceptable at the trial.

What do Amish think about the proceedings?  A local news station sat down with Professor David McConnell (co-author of An Amish Paradox) to gauge reaction of Amish in Holmes County, where some of the attacks took place.

“They talk about trial all the time, just like any of us would,” says College of Wooster Professor David McConnell, an expert on the Amish and a confidante of Ohio’s Amish communities.

“They will be reading the newspapers and talking among themselves about the proceedings.”

“Most of the Amish that I’ve talked to really have distanced themselves from Sam Mullet and his group,” McConnell told WKYC. “They actually use the word ‘cult’ to describe the Bergholz group.”

Amish have been present at the trial and have been testifying.  One member of the Holmes community at the trial’s opening had this to say: “He needs to face the judicial system because something needs to happen because he’s putting fear in the community and this is a big deal,”…“I just hope that justice will be served, that my people won’t have to live in fear in my community.”

One Amishman described the attacks on his father on Wednesday.  The man’s father, a bishop, did not preach in church until his beard had grown back.  Sam Mullet’s sister has testified about an attack on her husband carried out by her sons and their spouses.

Amish don’t seek the media spotlight, and especially this kind of spotlight.  But in this case they will be in the public eye for some time to come.  The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.