Chances are you’ve heard of the recent attacks on Amish by now. Members of a small Ohio group have been entering Amish homes and cutting off men’s beards and men’s and women’s hair. Authorities have gotten involved and now there are serious charges–kidnapping and burglary–against the perpetrators.
The group in question is located near the town of Bergholz in Jefferson County (this is a county or two east of the Holmes County Amish settlement). Attacks have occurred on Amish in 4 counties, including Holmes.
What’s driving these attacks? Is it theological grievances, personal grudges, both? Authorities have explained that the goal has been to degrade and humiliate the victims, who have been as old as 74.
I’m not sure of the original issues which caused members of this group to fall out of affiliation with other Amish. In some of the stories I’ve been reading I’ve seen them described (apparently by other Amish) as both “formerly Amish”, and a “cult”.
Media reports have focused on the group’s supposedly manipulative bishop, Sam Mullet. It seems Mullet formed the group around a decade ago after exiting the Holmes community. This isn’t the first time the Bergholz group has come to the attention of the law. In 2007 there were allegations of sexual abuse in the community (one report notes that the beard attacks “are in retaliation for the community ostracizing Mullet over the allegations”).
It’s not unheard of to have individuals or groups of former or excommunicated Amish, with grievances against their former church members.
What makes this case unusual, and what is certainly driving the international media coverage, is the violence. In one piece, Donald Kraybill describes Amish-on-Amish violence as “extremely rare”. The attackers are entering homes armed with scissors–one report says gardening shears–and there have been minor injuries.
Personally I’ve only encountered violence between Amish and former members once. What made it different was that the attacks went in the opposite direction–from the “official” Amish against the former members. In that case, violence was done against things, not people, with Amish vandalizing the property of excommunicated members under cover of the night.
A local TV station caught up with Bergholz bishop Sam Mullet. You can see what he had to say about the incident below. I’m curious about your impressions of this case. The first thing that struck me was that he seems annoyed that authorities have gotten involved in what he sees as a religious issue (note-I’ve just watched again and they’ve updated the video with arrest footage, and truncated the Mullet interview):
(Update: video no longer available)