The Amish are in the news again, this time as a backdrop to a speech given by President Trump in Lititz, Pennsylvania yesterday. You can see several young Amish-looking fellows in this clip below. This has gotten some strong reaction online, with multiple people claiming they are “fake Amish” or even “paid actors”.

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At first look I don’t see anything that looks particularly fake about them – they look like youngish Lancaster County area Amishmen to me, probably business people on the more progressive side of their communities.

Lititz is not the most heavily-Amish area of the county, but it would be on the northern more progressive end of the settlement. That said, different Twitter users, some of whom have gotten hundreds of retweets, are claiming multiple problems here:

  1. They’re being filmed
  2. They don’t vote
  3. Someone is wearing a zipper jacket
  4. Someone is wearing earbuds

Do I know for sure that these are baptized members of an Amish church? I do not, but if I had to guess, I would guess that yes, they probably are. Here are my comments on each “problem” brought up by the Twitter users:

1. They’re being filmed – I will take this opportunity to say that people still act shocked to see Amish people being photographed – but it’s not really a big deal in 2020 that Amish appear on film. There have been many examples of it in the media in recent years.

Now, it’s true that Amish don’t seek the camera, and it doesn’t mean people should go around poking cameras in Amish people’s faces, and some would really like to avoid the camera.

But there are plenty of examples of Amish people willingly captured on film, either in still photos or even on-camera interviews (and that includes the most conservative Amish as well). Here is one example that I was personally involved with dating back to 2010, when Amish business owners appeared on camera discussing their businesses:

When you see someone online categorically claim “Amish shun photos”, what they have just told you is that they don’t understand too much about the Amish in 2020. They’re operating on an old blanket conception, and also probably don’t understand there are differences across Amish groups.

Amish don’t seek the camera, but many tolerate it to varying degrees. And perhaps most importantly for this example, the type of Amish person who is going to attend a public political event like this is not going to become indignant when they happen to show up on camera. They know what they’re getting into.

2) The Amish don’t vote – we’ve been through this before, but a small number of Amish do vote. If you want an extensive academic study of this, look at Donald Kraybill and Kyle Kopko’s article “Bush Fever: Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the 2004 Election”.

In an article this week in the York Daily Record, historian of the Amish Steven Nolt says that from the 1990s to early 2000s, Amish voting was typically in the range of five to eight percent. That number jumped to 13% in the 2004 election, but in 2016 was back down to a “historically typical” seven percent.

Whether Amish should be voting is an issue for Amish people to sort out for themselves. That said, I think more Amish people would say no they shouldn’t, while others are okay with it. Generally speaking, the Amish prefer to pray for their elected leaders than to pull the lever for them. The articles linked above go into greater detail as to why. But in short, here’s an Amish writer to The Diary cited in Kraybill and Kopko’s article:

“I rather believe as a Bishop once said, ‘One Christian on his knees is worth more than twelve at the polls.’ If we vote we can be just one vote, if we pray to the Lord we depend on Him to make the right decision. We are so little, the Lord knows what is best for our Nation.”

Kraybill and Kopko found that in the 2004 election, around 2,000 Amish voted, when looking at just the two largest communities – the Lancaster County (PA) and Holmes County (OH) settlements. That was at a time, 16 years ago, when the overall Amish population was much lower. It also leaves out a large chunk of each state’s Amish population.

With around 350,000 Amish alive today, that could mean that thousands of Amish people will cast ballots in this election. And with two of the main swing states being the two states with the greatest Amish populations, there may be thousands of Amish just in Pennsylvania and Ohio voting this election.

3) Someone is wearing a zipper jacket – one Twitter user claims to see a zipper jacket and finds this evidence that these are not Amish. While it’s true that Amish famously don’t use zippers on their trousers, for instance, some more progressive people might wear zip sweatshirts and pullovers and the like.

Here is a photo of Amish entering the Lititz event (or “men dressed in Amish garb” as the caption describes it) via the York Daily Record (these might be some of the same fellows in the video). You can see one man with what looks like a Columbia-brand pullover:

Photo: Dan Rainville, USA Today Network – PA

In 2020, some, usually younger, Amish people in wealthier and more progressive places wear this type of exterior clothing on top of traditional Amish clothing. While traditional Amish clothing is not going to have zippers, some of their accessory garb very well might.

4) Someone is wearing earbuds – This was the oddest objection, but I guess the person thinks these are buds for listening to music. To me it’s rather hard to tell, but they look more like ear protection than, say, Air Pods. Amish people certainly do wear ear protection, for instance furniture shop workers operating loud equipment. I imagine these rallies can be loud events, and he might have popped in a pair of plugs he happened to have with him.

Are these “fake Amish”?

So I think I’ve addressed the main objections about these people at the Trump rally. So are these “fake Amish”?

I don’t know these people and can’t definitively say they are Amishmen, but to me they do appear to be youngish progressive Lancaster County Amishmen. Some Amish people are politically aware, opinionated, and even “active”, and especially with efforts like the Amish PAC and the overall politicization of all aspects of society, I could see political activity increasing this year among Amish people. Eight Amishmen from Pennsylvania and Ohio, for example, even visited the president at the White House last year.

I rather doubt they are “paid actors”, as is being claimed. On the other hand, it is possible that these are Amish-raised men who have left the church and are now attending a non-Amish church, but are still wearing Amish clothing. There are churches who have formerly Amish members who still wear plain attire.

That said, if I had to guess, I would say that what you see is what you get here, and that these are progressive-leaning Amishmen. I get that it must be shocking to see Amish-looking participants at a political event, especially if you’ve heard somewhere that “the Amish don’t vote”.

I also suppose that people just don’t like the idea that a segment of the Amish might support the president, and thus the strong objections. I’ll end with the video clip with the comments made about the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, which sounds like the blanket term the president is using for the Amish.



UPDATE: Not “fake Amish” – So, after this post went up, I was contacted by someone who wrote that he knows some of the men in question, and after following up, I feel confident that he is on the level.

Respecting confidentiality, I can’t give all details, but he knows several of these men personally, and confirms that what you see is what you get – that is, they are not “fake Amish”, but real Amish people.

And as I suspected, at least two are business people, in what we might generally call the building/home industries. One of them he says he knows “very well”, and two others via business relationships.

He also says that the “ear buds” are actually tissue paper “for lack of better hearing protection”.

Finally, he adds that Amish voting this time will “definitely be more than the norm”.

UPDATE 2: More Amish attendees – Penn Live has published an article on the Lititz event, with photos of more Amish in attendance:

Photo: Dan Gleiter/Penn Live

In total, in looks like about ten more Amish people visible between these additional photos.

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

As far as the Amish voting question, there are also several good points made by Steven Nolt and Kyle Kopko in the article. On Amish voter registration:

Most sources reached for this story, however, said the person-to-person effort being led by people like Zimmerman and other elected officials in Lancaster has a better chance of turning interest into action. George W. Bush met personally with a group of Amish leaders during his re-election run in 2004.

On the other hand, Nolt said it is also plausible that some Amish simply are registering to end a conversation nicely.

Door-to-door registration drives produced more new registered voters than turnout in 2004, Nolt said. Anecdotal evidence after the fact, he said, showed that “Amish people also were kind of awkwardly polite enough to register when a neighbor’s coming and asking them to do it, but they sort of more registered just to get the person to leave. That’s kind of another wild card.”

On the trend towards mail-in voting potentially increasing Amish “turnout”:

To a lesser extent, some believe the advent of mail-in voting in Pennsylvania may encourage Amish voting, too.

Nolt noted that late October through early December is Amish wedding season in the Lancaster settlement, and those weddings traditionally take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some families that know they have a wedding on Nov. 3 have voted by mail, Zimmerman said.

Others may simply like the privacy that voting at home offers.

“It could be that not showing up at the polls physically would reduce some of the stigma that some Amish people might feel” about breaking with past traditions, Nolt said. The Amish church does not prohibit voting, but it has never been encouraged, either.

I mentioned in the original post that the Amish population is a lot larger than it was in 2004. Kyle Kopko with more on that:

Kopko, an adjunct professor of political science at Elizabethtown, noted Tuesday the Amish population in Pennsylvania, because of their tradition of having large families, has been doubling about every 20 years.

“If you do move the needle (on Amish voter participation) even just a few percent given how fast the population is growing, you could be talking about some meaningful numbers, and this is all happening in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan,” he said. “So, I think that’s one of the many reasons why this is getting a fair amount attention.”

The clout of any Amish vote this year, the experts say, will ultimately come down to how close this year’s Pennsylvania race is. If it’s within a percentage point, like in 2016, then every vote everywhere matters because the entire election will come down to margins of victory in the different regions across the state.

With that demographic reality in mind, you can see why there would be even greater incentive to attempt to get out the Amish vote today than there was 16 years ago.

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