“Amish Mafia” Brain Drain

Tuesday thoughts and links, starting with the upcoming Amish Mafia (reality? fiction?) show:

“Amish mafiosi” keeping code of silence?

The much-discussed “Amish Mafia” premieres tomorrow, but the “sneak peek” is on tonight.  Some reporters have been asking Amish experts what they think of the idea of an Amish mafia. Donald Kraybill calls it fiction, and David Weaver-Zercher says he first thought it was a parody sketch of reality TV.

I have been hearing basically the same thing elsewhere–no one seems to know what the Amish mafia is, that Amish are “mystified” by this idea.  Of course, if no one will admit to the Amish mafia, that doesn’t prove anything, now does it?  We must be asking the wrong Amish people, I suppose.  Sounds like conspiracy theory thinking may help this show along.

Yesterday I watched the preview clips and read more about “Amish Mafia”.  I learned that this group of 4 Plain vigilantes comprise “a secretive subculture that operates within its own rules and values”.  At the beginning of each clip a shadowy bearded figure informs us, in Pennsylvania Dutch, that some of the scenes are reenactments “to ensure the safety of innocent Amish”.  Apparently it can be difficult to tell which scenes are real and which aren’t, according to one writer who has viewed the first episode.

In the clip below, we learn that group leader Lebanon Levi is “the cops, he is the courthouse, he is the bank, and he is the insurance company”.  Levi sounds like a busy fellow.  It must be hard work running Amish society behind the scenes (video removed).

What an Amish builder’s website looks like

You may have heard that some Amish businesses show up on the internet thanks to non-Amish help.  I recently came across one Amish contractor‘s online presence.  The first few lines of this ultra-plain one-page website:

Please have Ray contact us – we have no phones.

Real Amish workers will come to your jobsite and work very hard for you at a reasonable rate.

We are very good wood craftsman.

We can build you a post frame barn, any size.

They emphasize that “real Amish” will do the work twice on the page.  I imagine the person helping them probably created the text and content here, which uses promotional language I’d think would be uncomfortable for most Amish.  This business is based south of Columbus, Ohio, in an area with numerous small Amish communities nearby.  View the site here.

Bill Coleman Seasons Photo Winner

Congratulations to Dave Goodman, winner of the “Seasons” matted photo series. Thanks to everyone who joined in our 3 Bill Coleman photo giveaways. If you think someone in your family would enjoy one of these photos, you can still order most items in time for the holidays. Check out the Bill Coleman collection of photos here.

Bill Coleman Amish Poster

You can also find some nice gifts for under $30, including posters and a photo book.

Amish Topics

You may have noticed the new “Amish Topics” link on the top menu.  A few weeks ago Ed asked about a message board format to keep posts visible longer.  I like the idea, if I can find a relatively low-pain way to do it.  In the meantime I’ve gathered over 100 of the more active posts on this Amish Topics page, organized by categories (“Tough Questions“, “Amish Women“, “The Lighter Side“).  We should have an improved search box up soon as well to make older posts easier to find.

Artistic License

Linda shares a photo taken in her Amish nephew’s store (Natural Log Home Products in Marion, Michigan).  Linda writes:

A man brought in some license plate art, wanting him to sell it.  John didn’t think it would sell, but was persuaded to try two or three.  They have been selling, so the man makes more.  They are made by non-Amish and sold in an Amish-owned store.
The license plates have a backing, and are cut in various shapes.  Several license plates are used for one art piece.  One artwork was sold because it matched the buyer.  They were in Michigan and a Michigan plate was used.  They had a daughter from Arizona, and a Arizona license was also used.  It also said handicapped and the husband was handicapped.  All three were on one art piece, shaped like the state of Michigan.  This unconventional artwork gives new meaning to the phrase “artistic license.”

Art License Plates

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    1. I have a funny feeling when I watch Amish Mafia, I’m going to feel like I’m watching Saturday Night Live. I guess it’s so secret they had to go public.

      On another note, I don’t know if I can put a link on here but I saw this thing and the first thing I thought of was how many Amish could charge their cell phones, etc. with it using no electricity. And apparently it’s a pretty big seller. You may have to copy & paste the link. Have a great week ~

    2. Amish Mafia Brain Dead

      Unlike some of the more documentary type videos on the Amish and their way of life, I see this show as no different than the exploiting ones. I know on the main page of my News feed, all it bragged on was Networks are banking on the Amish, and how opposite is that of that culture and community.. My heart grieves as people of our stature take advantage of a people that really have no desire to be thrust in the spotlight.. and then Shame on the ones who have banked on their former life as if they are still active in it.. (ya know like BReaking Amish.. where that is as false as anything)

      I learned alot watching the very few that I believe really showed the light of their lifestyles and faith.. but the recent shows are just trash and its embarassing.. I live among the Amish here in Jefferson and Lewis Counties (New York)… They are hard working and polite, but do keep to themselves lest they become fodder for fools.

    3. Looks like another producer distorting and cashing in on a lifestyle other than their own.

    4. michele


      sadly most Americans only delve about an inch deep into given any – sad to say there will be a large numbers of people who will add this to their mental picture of what Amish is all about. Id Donald Kraybil says its fiction, I would have to agree. THe men don’t even look Amish at all.

    5. Lattice

      At first I thought, “Gee…this guy sounds like a terrorist!” But after considering the comments from the silhouetted woman, it dawned on me that he might be someone with a history of unpleasant personal experiences with the Amish. Perhaps he realizes that secluded religious communities have the ability to shroud and protect people with really bad hearts doing really bad things (unfortunately, this information comes from personal experience), and he has taken it upon himself to solve those “problems.”

      I might find a way to watch this first episode to see what this guy’s all about.

      Regardless, vigilante pursuits are not God’s Way: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord” Romans 12:19

      1. Big personalities...

        That’s an interesting take on it Lattice. “Lebanon Levi” seemed awfully confident of himself in the clips I viewed. How much is an act for the camera, and how much does he believe it…

        Bold (or bold-seeming), complex characters are what these shows thrive on. People tune in to see what twists will happen from week to week. And now, especially after Breaking Amish, I think they’ll be tuning in to figure out what is authentic and what is embellished.

        I am sure I will also see at least a little of this program, as I did with the previous one.

    6. Andrea

      This is really sad if this is real of someone that clearly loves himself and looks like he is full of self pride? This goes against all the things i have read about the Amish?. Also more worring he seems a law unto himself, i guess the bishops are scared themselves, how can they sort this man when he seems to run there community, very scary even the peaceful Amish have heavy thugs if this is the case. Will pray for this community and its i guess very scared people.

    7. Michigan Mary

      Amish Mafia Website

      On a related note – and for a good tongue-in-cheek giggle, check out:


      It takes a minute, but it soon becomes apparent that the guy that put this together knows something of the culture and is making light of the current buzz over Amish Mafia – be sure to check out the UPDATE button – it all becomes very clear with the photo on that page!
      Sign me, Still Laughing in Michigan!

      1. Andrea

        Michigan mary, link very funny 🙂 lol

      2. Slightly-handled-Order-man

        Amish Mafia's Vegas hit!

        I got a good laugh out of that website. Thank you for sharing, Michigan Mary!

    8. Karen Pollard

      Amish Mafia??

      This series could have been filmed in Ohio when the beard and hair cutting Amish cult group were attacking their own members for not “obeying” their orders.

      I would call that an Amish Mafia if there ever was one.

    9. Laura

      I refuse to watch the show “Amish Mafia.” I also refuse to watch most of the other shows about the Amish that you find these days, with the exception of a couple of documentary-style programs that you find on PBS; most are simply exploiting people who aren’t in a position to object to the misrepresentations being made of them.

      I understand that people are fascinated by the Amish — I will admit to being interested myself — but there’s learning about them by reading, talking to actual Amish people, etc., and then there’s this kind of stupid exploitational TV fiction. I suspect the Amish are having a hard enough time coping with the world; the kinds of stupidity that people will end up thinking about them after programs like this one will only make that even more difficult for them!

      Ultimately, the Amish are people who have chosen not to live in the modern world but to separate themselves from it because of their faith, and I think they deserve a lot more respect and “hands-off” treatment than they’ve been getting. Whatever happened to the old philosophy of live and let live? Or even the Golden Rule?

      1. How to respond to Amish Mafia?

        I appreciate that stance Laura. I remember when “Amish in the City” was coming out in 2004. I heard some negative things from Amish at the time, not happy with the idea of this show. I don’t know how much they knew of the program beyond hearsay, as I doubt anyone Amish was watching Youtube preview clips back then 🙂

        That show now seems tame compared to these past 2 Amish programs on TLC and Discovery.

        I would suppose some Amish would be quite offended by the idea of this show, and I can’t blame them. On the other hand I think that many Amish have some healthy distance to this sort of thing, literally and figuratively. They’re simply not exposed to it as much on the one hand, but also because they end up developing that distance, being under the spotlight all the time.

        It probably depends on the individual person’s attitude as well. I’ve been going back and forth with one Amish friend on email since word of this show came out, both of us sneaking in jokey Amish mafia references from time to time. All bad connotations of the real mafia aside, I guess if something seems absurd the best response may be humor.

    10. Alice Mary

      Spare me!

      By viewing the video clips here, I’ve already seen too much of the “Amish Mafia”. I refuse to waste my time on this…poop!

      As for Cow Patty Bingo, it’s something that goes on in my area to raise money for charity, during county fairs and other summertime festivals. No big deal there, not to me, anyway.

      Actually,the cows seem to be making a thoughtful statement about the whole ^@$^*&%!!_^$##^** show 😉 !

      Alice Mary

      1. Cow-Pie Bingo

        Nice connection Alice Mary. Maybe not the best clip to include in the preview batch of videos.

        I will say that I was at least educated about this cow-pie game thanks to watching that clip, which I hadn’t heard of before. And maybe that’s the most useful thing I’ll learn from “Amish Mafia”? 🙂

        1. Cow Pie Bingo!

          Erik, Mary — On the way home from work, either yesterday or the day before, I had to explain cow pie bingo to my husband. Being a good suburb/city boy, he had never heard of it. Being a good country reporter and campus minister, I was very familiar with this fundraiser. Their little game of bingo came on as a segment and we both laughed very hard at it! The irony of the timing was too funny for us – and for me, I had never heard of anyone playing it as an individual game, but always as a fundraiser, including my own college!

          1. Funny timing Karen. Since you mention fundraiser I wonder if this has ever entered the picture at Amish benefit sales.

    11. Nicole west

      This show is distasteful, shameful, should be banned and canceled.
      I lived in a small town where there was amish they are the kindest,
      nice, people. When people homes burn they are always the first there to help, a death in the family amish or not they bring food, neighbors need help building a barn or whatever they lend a helping hand. They do not believe in tvs or modern technology who are we to judge them for their beliefs. I think this falls under the heading of dumb and dumber. The producers and directors must have been bored with themselves and found this amusing in their eyes so perhaps they need to find a new way to amuse themselves produce and direct some half way decent show not trash.

    12. Bob Rosier (Bob the Quaker)

      Laura, Alice Mary, and Nicole summed it up correctly. I never understood why some people look for the bad in things….even when there isn’t any. As a Quaker, I have always looked for the good. We all know that no one is perfect, but exploiting other humans for monetary reasons is shameful.

    13. Lattice

      Okay, well I didn’t get home until the program was half over. I watched 7 or 8 minutes of it.

      1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

        It was that good, eh.

        1. Lattice

          Beyond ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for somebody…producers? actors? willing viewers?…I just don’t know who.

    14. Christine

      Amish Mafia

      I think I just wasted an hour watching this, as Alice Mary said, poop! I won’t be watching it next week.

    15. A review of this silliness

      So I watched this silliness yesterday. And thought it through and here’s my observations:

      This is most likely fiction. It does, however, seem to be based on some facts and real things in the Lancaster community. This includes one of the “members” really have a long police rap sheet and being involved with the things “Levi” tasks him to do.

      Having worked with young adults in a religious setting, I can imagine a group of them feeling they have a “responsibility” to protect the community’s’ mores and members, even to the point of allowing themselves to transgress those same mores “because it’s necessary.” Would Amish or ex-Amish young adults feel the same? I need to leave the definitive answer to experts who know the Amish better than I do, but I will hazard the guess that this would not be tolerated by the community leaders as is implied in this show.

      Most of the things they run around doing are actually jobs for the deacons: calling people on immoral or straying behavior, supporting widows and protecting their reputations, working with business owners to find solutions that meet the Ordung’s requirements and the businesses needs. Would the community tolerate a group of extra-judicial young men playing at the deacons’ role in this manner? I doubt it.

      The claim of “insurance” is really extorting protection money. The Amish, as we have been told, don’t buy insurance. I cannot fathom a business paying protection money for many of the same reasons. As a people who wish to emulate their martyers, they’d rather their business be burned down than pay protection money. All, this Levi’s claim that his little gang throws rumpsringa parties as a safe place for the teens to let loose is also just a cover up for running an illegal dance bar/speak-easy. Again, I don’t see it tolerated. One anonymous phone call would shut that down pretty easily.

      The soap-opera of “our dad had Levi’s position and so our brother should have it now” is intriguing. To be a father, this dad would have to had be baptized – but Levi makes a point of stating his little gang is unbaptized so to intentionally be outside of the bishops’ control. So the elder generation, which we are led to believe have died, had to have been baptized. They couldn’t have done the things this current generation claims to be doing and claims to have been done before them. That is the biggest whole in this entire script.

      Also, the whole thing with the Chinese made “Amish” goods being sold in the stores, which is causing store owners to pay less in protection money. How these young men claims to have “solved” it is the biggest and silliest point of fiction. There are lots of English store selling cheap Chinese made imports as Amish good – true. But by scaring the heck out of one driver and stealing the shipment to one store, you cannot solve this problem! It makes a good story, but it is the least realistic part of this silliness.

      So, there’s your review. My guess is these are ex-Amish wanna-be thugs who are neither in nor out of the community, because real mafia do terrible things – including murder, which these young men seem reluctant to do – and certainly wouldn’t be on TV with their secret gang of Mafiosos. While I can see a group of older men “discussing” situations that are unbecoming, this just doesn’t make sense to have these young, unbaptised men doing the elders’ job in a threatening way. Young men’s Amish fiction is what I’d call it.

      1. Ex-Amish defenders of the heritage

        I haven’t viewed this first episode yet, but this seems very insightful Karen. Thanks.

        What you describe as their tasks is sort of what I suspected–there must be some sort of a basis here upon which to build a show, but it seems a stretch that these activities would be widely sanctioned by the church, tacitly or explicitly. Even if a system like this were to develop in one community, is a system of enforcement outside the church the norm for “the Amish”? If so, they’ve been keeping the secret well all these years.

        To one of your other points, I have come across former Amish/Amish-raised folk who are defensive of their previous culture in an almost agressive manner. Perhaps this is the same phenomenon taken to an extreme.

    16. Katrina

      Amish mafia

      This show sounds like made up drivel. What’s next- “Amish Zombies” or “The Real Housewives of Holmes County?” I find the OFF button on the TV to be quite useful.

    17. Forest

      “Amish Zombies” he he!

      Seriously, I can’t imagine any Amish/Mennonite church that would tolerate this sort of activity. And if they did, what other self respecting church would fellowship with them? Not too many, I wouldn’t think… I didn’t watch it, just going on what I’ve heard…

    18. Kimberly

      "amish mafia"

      I have watched the show, but it appears fake and just for entertainment. Unfortunately, I can imagine people thinking this is real life for someone in the Amish community. I do not know anything about the Amish community, but it feels too far-fetched. My impression of the Amish is hard working, community focused, simple and dedicated way of life. I admire the true Amish for having such a focus and not following the ‘progress’ of society. I think they keep a knowledge alive that the “English” have lost in just a few generations.

    19. She Bea

      Sounds like alot of GOSSOP

      Well, I want you to know that I am not Amish, but do respect them and their lifestyle! I choose not to have a T.V.. So you know that I didn’t see this show, but it does sound like a lot of gossip to me!! I used to work for CASA, that stands for COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES for children… one thing I learned in a hurry is… ANYONE CAN MAKE AN ACCUSATION! And it’s one thing to say something and another to prove it!! It does sound like a soap opera based on things that may or could happen, BUT WHERE IS YOUR PROOF??? A real Christian isn’t going to believe all this just on hearsay or T.V.drama, especially these days!!! I haven’t met a lot of Amish, but only a few and they were very kind and nice to me. I wear modest clothing, have long hair, usually wear it up. I don’t go to the theaters by choice. I enjoy many brands of Christians, but also like to church at home. I pay an honest tithe and offerings and many people consider me different! We can’t read into a persons heart, and God alone is the Judge. I too, feel hurt for innocent Amish people who are criticized for their choices on how they want to live. I think there is far too much drama…. in this world. People can go to almost any channel on their idiot box and see the same thing…. the names and faces may be different, but the story line is the same… People ought to learn to clean the dirt from from their own closets… before they go snooping into someone else’s. And I am all for criminals being dealt with, don’t mistake me on that, but PLEASE… be sure you have the criminal, and not the innocent. No one is perfect and we all are prone to err, but I believe there are enough very Godly Amish who would speak up for what is right. Good and evil exist together , sadly, this is true. I pray for the Amish and all others. That no harm or pain will come due to the evil of some. It is a good attitude to foster. Show mercy… so that when YOUR TIME COMES…. Mercy will be shown to you. Sincerely, She Bea