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What Are Amish “Gangs”?

In The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald Kraybill explains Amish “gangs” in Lancaster County:

By the age of ten, an Amish child will be able to name some of the groups—Bluebirds, Canaries, Pine Cones, Drifters, Shotguns, Rockys, and Quakers—and even describe some of their activities.

Youth are free to join the gang of their choice…Parents worry about which groups their teens will join because they know that one group may invite temptation, whereas another will reinforce parental teaching.

Gangs are an important outlet for Amish youth going through the formative period known as Rumspringa. Most are fairly tame. Some do get wild.

Unfortunately for the Amish, the media jumps all over any story of Amish low-brow behavior – hence the popularity of some recent televisions shows and documentaries on Rumspringa-age adolescents.

Gang activities let youth socialize, test the waters of the world, and engage in some (usually harmless) rebellious behavior.

I remember passing a regular-looking Amish buggy one Saturday evening.

Everything seemed normal about this particular buggy, except for the heavy thump of a bass line coming from the on-board stereo system.

Did these youth go too far?  It’s probably fair to say that it’s all relative. Some churches might look the other way, others might not.

But for the sake of rebellion, there are probably worse things a teenage gang member could get into.

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    19 Comments

    1. Natalya (talj)

      I always find the word ‘gang’ immediately gives a bad impression! I am sure there are many gangs that are completely harmless! To me thumping bass lines from a vehicle is pretty normal behaviour for the young people here in the UK!

      I think its fascinating that the young Amish are allowed the opportunity to experience different aspects of the world and like all of us I suppose how they use that freedom is the biggest test of all

    2. jan

      There is NO gangs in the Amish… they are not referred to as that. Why you would sensationalize it by using the term GANG is beyond me… get real.

    3. joe english

      lol.. Amish Gangs?? more like Amish groups. I have worked with a few of the members and discussing church and schooling isnt the usual activities of the Bloods and Crypts.

    4. Andrea Graham

      Sounds more like what the rest of the Church generally calls youth groups than gangs

    5. Lydia

      The way the word was used was appropriate. Yes, the word gang is usually connected to violence and bad behaviour. However in the case of the Amish it’s more so that the “gangs” are groups of youth experimenting with their WILD SIDE!

      1. Levi

        It was nothing of the sort

        The comment was nothing the sort. It was meant to evoke an image of hooded drug dealing venom spitting schwartzers. You’d lie with a mouthful of marbles.
        Leave the Amish be. If you had any integrity at all you’d beg their forgiveness. I look at YOUR WORLD outside of the Pennsylvania belt and see homelessness tweakers sleeping footpaths Heroin dealing real gangs of mud bunnies on bicycles more likely to blow your head off. Do I see a team of people working together for nothing to raise a barn to help each other?
        Not a chance.
        The AMISH outclass all of you in love with the filthy buck Christ hated most. So much knotted a hawser laid rope into a peasant mace and let the parasites have it in the ear and he died for assaulting its lethal effect on mankind.
        Soon you will all pay for live of money when psychotic monsters like Schwab annd Noah Harari from the well poisoners tribe start “vaccinating” your children by force to make the consciences detectable by digital hardware. The land that screams of blood and murder of the inhabitants that actually fed you when things got tough. Never such a Hard rain since Noah.

        1. Kal

          Schwartzer???

          Isn’t “schwartzer” a deragatory term for black people? It literally means “black person, as in “Er ist en schwartzer.”

    6. SEN DALAMAN

      So how do Amish gangs kill each other? Are they allowed to use guns? Are guns electric?

    7. Richard Stevick

      I just stumbled upon this discussion on Lancaster County Amish gangs. Indeed, they do not resemble the Crips and Bloods, and ‘youth groups’ would be a more accurate descriptor. But Lancaster youth and adults both refer to them as gangs without any connotations of deviancy. So the conservative open-buggy groups of Lancaster County, the morally conservative Hummingbirds or Eagles, and the rowdier groups on the “high” end of the spectrum all use the word gang to describe their group. Machs goot. RAS

    8. Keith Closson

      As an Allen County ,Indiana .Amishs “neighbor” .Who has a great number of friends and what I consider secound Family Amish . I must say , gang is not correct . Some of these teenagers are rebelious to a point . But if the “English” , children were anywhere near as disciplined ,I believe this country would be leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world ..

    9. Val Byler

      Yes, be careful how you use the term “gang.” It really is closer to the meaning of “group.” Think of it this way: if I used the term “gay” to describe a joyous feeling, how would you interpret that? So, keep in mind the culture difference. If you are going to say the amish belong to gangs, you need to explain what you mean by that. I used to be amish and I did belong to a gang – a thrashing “gang” that helped all the other members in the “gang” with their thrashing. And, thrashing in this context is harvesting the grains from the fields. People need to choose their words better when talking cross-cultures.

      1. VERY GOOD THINKING YOU HAVE. I AGREE.

    10. What Amish call their youth groups

      Hi Val, I appreciate the comments and the points, and people have been bringing this up for many months now, so it might be worth addressing again. I would just note three things: 1) the comments of Richard Stevick (2 comment entries above yours) noting that the term is used widely among Amish themselves, 2) the fact that the post does in fact explain what the term ‘gang’ means in an Amish context, as well as using single quotation marks around the first appearance of the word ‘gang’ to indicate irony, and that 3) there was certainly a slight tongue-in-cheek intention in the titling. Though I perhaps misfire in my attempts at humor at times, I like to use opportunities for humor in the blog as it a) makes it more fun to write, leading me to create more posts, and b) hopefully makes it more fun for readers to read, leading them to read more posts.

      I created the post knowing full well how ‘gang’ would be interpreted on first read–though I provided the context, with the help of prof. Kraybill, in the post itself to explain the meaning. So, in some ways you might even call it educational in the sense that it (hopefully) attracts the reader to read, but then points out differences in usage of language between cultures, raising awareness of differences in the usage of English even within our own great nation. You do make a good point about language, and language is something I find fascinating. A sincere thanks again for reading the blog and bringing up this point so it could be addressed.

    11. The amish youth of Lancaster County refer to them as “buddy groups” and will refer to friends as their “buddy”, not gangs. I work closely with amish families. One older married couple might remark about another as having been in the same buddy group, much like we might say “we used to hang out in high school” regardless of what activities each group might participate in.

    12. tom allen

      i was so happy to come across your site. i’ve learned more about the amish in the past hour than i have in my entire life. i look forward to reading more each day. i’m thankful that people such as the amish have managed to survive and thrive in this chaotic world.
      thank you.

    13. Hi Tom, thanks! Glad to hear it, welcome and hope you’ll stick around.

      As far as how Amish refer to their groups of young people, I believe there are a number of terms used.

    14. Joe

      Why is everyone saying “Be careful how you use the word gang” — the word ‘gang’ is entirely accurate in describing them.

      Just because the way you perceive the word ‘gang’ is automatically negative, the amish are not the same.

      The amish themselves, parents and adults, call them ‘gangs’ so why should the author change the word to ‘groups’ just because for many people there is a stigma surrounding the word ‘gang’?

      All the word gang means is = “A gang is a group of people who, through the organization, formation, and establishment of an assemblage, share a common identity.”

      It does not mean criminals, or anything like the people above has said…

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