Lock up beard-cutting parents (pre-sentencing…and pre-harvest)?

You have probably heard by now that the Bergholz beard-cutters were convicted in the federal hate crimes trial last week. They will have to wait four months for sentencing, however, until January 24 (appeal remains a possibility as well).

Now attention has shifted to whether some of the convicts should remain free or be imprisoned leading up to sentencing. According to the lead of this story, the group’s lawyers maintain that locking them up “would create a financial hardship for their families and could leave their children hungry this winter”.  Crops and canning are happening right now, and parents need to lay up money to carry their families through potentially long jail sentences.

Should children and financial circumstances be taken into consideration here (or in general in such cases, for that matter)?  It goes without saying that having a breadwinner go to jail negatively impacts a family financially.  That’s true whether you’re Amish, non-Amish, or whatever the Bergholz people are considered to be.  In this case close to 50 children would be affected. At least one family (of 10 children) would potentially see both mother and father in jail.

Hate crimes…and punishments

I also wonder if there is a flip side to the hate crimes aspect of this case.  In convicting them of hate crimes, jurors had to consider factors like bias and religious motivations.  So should we also factor in religion somehow when looking at punishment?

In other words, should courts consider the special situation of these people, which can be traced in large part to religious beliefs that lead them to have large families, traditional manual trades, and heavy dependence on male breadwinners?  It seems attorneys might argue that certain punishments would create excessive harm and hardship for “religiously-motivated” families such as these.

Makes my head spin a little (and thus reminds me why I never pursued a career in law).

What do you think?

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    1. Richard from Amish Stories

      They should have thought about going to jail first before doing this really stupid act, so I’m saying go to prison and start your sentence and man-up already!

      Sadly these families are going to suffer and walk around in your Amish communities as being part of the families of the Amish men that did this hate crime, so now that’s an added bonus for this stupidity that your going to have to live with guys!

      Richard from http://www.Amishstories.net

    2. Allyson

      I agree Richard. They never even considered the reprocussions of their actions and thus why should they be allowed to “prepare” for jail! The victims were not given time to prepare for these senseless acts of violence!
      I think it comes down to the old saying “you did the crime, you do the time”!
      They should have considered the well being of their children and families prior to partaking in the attacks.
      Furthermore you know the accused will NEVER be found when it is time to report to jail! They have no morals or sense of right and wrong. It would be a huge risk to allow them to prepare for this winter. Then every year will they need to be released in order to get ready for the following year!?!
      Lock them up….and throw away the key!!

      1. Lattice

        I think that it’s not that they didn’t consider the repercussions, but that they thought they’d be immune – you know, by playing the “religion” card.

        Who gets the opportunity to “prepare” for prison. If there’s a hardship, their church community typically steps in to help.

    3. Margaret

      I lean towards what Richard said. I know of a few similar cases around here (though not religious in nature) where those involved remained in jail because they were considered dangerous to others or a flight risk. However, I also know of one situation where it was determined to be such a hardship on the family that they let the woman out (she had 5 children), but she had to wear an ankle bracelet with the ability to only go within 2 miles of her home.

      It’s just my opinion, but I think their lawyers should say to keep them in jail, and apply the time served to whatever they end up being sentenced with. If they get a year for example, they would have already served so many months of the time, and would get out that much sooner so they would be able to help their families NEXT fall.

      1. john Allan Powell

        beard cutting..

        I am a Mennonite convert…they deal harshly sometimes with transgressors..but are we a nation of JUSTICE only or can it be tempered with MERCY AND LOVE? I vote for mercy and love if there is community service, repayment and repentance..there are alot of things that may enter in that we don’t know about but kindness and eorgivness should be our way as it was the LORD’s…think about it..

    4. barbara


      These people are pretty hard on their families. When they are in jail, their families will have less pressure from them and an opportunity to see if they can broaden their support system. If not, at least they will have had a breath of fresh air before the beard-cutters come home.

    5. LeeAnn

      I agree with Richard. They need to pay for their crime. Its sad the children will have to pay as well, but that is something the parents should have thought of before they did their crime!

      If you do crime, you pay the time! They will receive forgiveness and love, but they need to pay for what they did. Other’s are out there that are not Amish, and poor and struggling, while parents go to jail. So why let the Beard cutters off?

      Bible tells, and eye for an eye. You have to pay the consequences for your actions and learn from them. This in turn should teach the children that crime doesn’t pay! It should show that the actions of the parents in turn affect everyone in the family. Bible also talks about the actions of parents and the children further down the line having to pay for the actions or crimes of the parents. This is one of them.

      Again as Richard said, ” Man up!”

    6. Sara Mandal-Joy

      they put religion first

      I completely disagree with their actions, absolutely.
      And, don’t even consider them Amish. None of the Amish folks I have talked to consider these folks “Amish”. BUT, like the Amish, they put their religion first. In their minds, they were acting out of conscience. In their minds they weren’t seeking revenge – that is “English” thinking/judging. They were acting on their belief that their way was the one true way and they were out to wake up their brethren, much as in a shunning – which they couldn’t do in this case since their authority was not recognized. They couldn’t “take thought” to how this would effect their families. They were living by their precepts as they knew them – as their leader set them out. I wish the leader alone would have been tried – it was all on his authority/command that these actions were taken. Is there human emotion/reactivity involved – yes. But English folk are judging according to our perceptions of how folks choose/behave/act – and these are different. I do consider the acts terroristic and completely unjustified and unacceptable. I do believe folks need to be held accountable for what they do. But I do hope the woman won’t be jailed. She was following not only the leader’s orders, but those of her husband. I think when judging another culture we need to be very careful to check our preconceptions about what and why people do what they do. I still believe the woman should be held accountable for her actions, and maybe this will end up being a wake up call to their whole community – or it may push them deeper in the same direction they have been – as our attempts to stem terrorism from extremists in other countries has tended to do. I don’t have any answers. I just think we have to understand that in the culture/mindset of this group there is nothing to consider – this is, in their minds, what “God” has instructed them to do, regardless of any consequences. That said, I do hope that if the ringleaders are jailed, perhaps the others may begin to question things… and at the very least, have what someone else described as a bit of respite, a breath of fresh air, from the regime they have been living in. Particularly the wives and children. But things could go the other direction…. No easy answers in this kind of situation. There certainly does need to be significant consequence for the choices/actions taken. It is, to my perception, simply a much more complex picture than “Did the crime, do the time.” Sara

      1. glen k

        living by their precepts?

        america is a country of many subcultures. many of these subcultures have customs, while being o.k. in their home land are totally forbiden here. some in the subcontant of africa pracitice female circusision a barbaric procedure to say the least. some cultures in eastern europe and the middle east practice honor killings. in parts of india some wives are brutilized to the point of death by their mother-in-laws. these practices are totaly rejected in the us. the attacks of the mullet beard cutters, tho not as barbaric as the above, are equally forbiden.
        there are things that just can’t be done here, pure and simple. personal beliefs, religious or otherwise is no excuse for breaking the law. (eric, is there “spellcheck” on this site?)

    7. Tom

      I have had the opportunity to ask many Amish friends their thoughts on Sam Mullet and this case. They all felt that the police had to “do something.” Every person I spoke to was more concerned with Sam Mullets alleged sexual activities. I think that it is fair to say that when you are raised in a society where conformity is the norm, that the leader bears most of the responsibility for actions of the group. The defense I am sure thinks that incarceration will result in many starving Amish children, but a united Amish community will never let this happen. Last summer in Benton Center NY, the tractor accident left the 12 Hershberger children orphans when their mother and father were killed. The Amish, Mennonite and English communities all came together to harvest the crops, do the canning and to make sure the children were cared for, physically, spiritually and emotionally. This will happen again in this case and will happen again and again in the future if necessary. For me I think Sam Mullet should go to prison and the others need to be shown love and mercy. I would like to hear from the Amish who were attacked as to what punishment is in order.

    8. Don Curtis

      Mark's two cents

      I asked Mark what he thought about the Berholtz group and their punishment. He said that as Amish people we are to be obedient to God first and then the government. What the Bergholtz people did had nothing to do with Godliness. It was done out of spite and revenge. Thus, the government has a duty to protect the innocent and punish criminals and wrong doers which the Bergholtz group definitely are. As far as the children of these people, Mark is sure that they have plenty of relatives who are not members of this group who will take them in. More than that, Mark feels that many of these children really need to be removed from these homes where they have been raised in environments of abuse and twisted teachings and probably need to be in extensive counseling and therapy. It is unrealistic to picture little children waiting at the door for the tomatoes to be canned from the garden. If a Catholic or Methodist had broken into somebody’s home and violated them because of their religion would they be allowed to go back home and do their gardening and canning? Don’t worry about the children. The Amish will see that they are taken care of.

      1. Sara Mandal-Joy


        Don, I agree that the actions taken had nothing to do with “Godliness” _as I understand it_. However, I believe that our “English” perceptions of their actions being done out of spite and revenge is just that, our English perceptions and judgements. Could spite and revenge be involved in how they perceived/interpreted/applied what they believed to be God’s Will? Absolutely. Of course, that is true for all of us. Our human emotions and attitudes and desires deeply color how we receive and interpret God’s Will. I believe that is true of every religion and every time. Otherwise we never would have had the Christian crusades, for instance. BUT, in their minds, the minds of these “beardcutter” terrorists, I am certain they believed they were doing God’s Will. Never mind that the leader took over that role – as often happens in extremist cultures. The followers believed they had no choice but to follow his word, his demands, and believed they were honoring God by doing so. My Amish friends have no space for this offbranch extremist subculture, and also have concerns about what may be happening in the homes. It has even brought up fermentation in thoughts/questionings about what one should do when the church leaders are doing/demanding actions that to you feel wrong. They do believe that each one has to answer ultimately to God, and should be leaving that church where they believe they are being falsely led. At the same time, they understand that that is an incredibly difficult road. They would like to believe that they would not have stayed present/involved in such behavior, that they would have left. But they understand how difficult that is – would be. It is so so so disparate from how all the Amish are raised, to question the authority of those leading the church. Is it okay to let such actions go unchecked? No. Is it okay for children and women to be abused – if that is indeed happening? No. These things do need to be addressed, by all involved, and by the government where things have become so blatant. But I think we do have to be very very careful about our assumptions/judgments about what compelled these actions. We can’t assume that because we know what would drive us in that kind of situation, that we understand what is driving/compelling someone else in a very different culture. Just my two cents. Sara

        1. Amy Jo

          Re: "Godliness"?

          Sara, the “Mark” whom Don is referencing is Amish.

          1. Sara Mandal-Joy

            Um, I got that. But Mark’s statement looked to me to be one sentence – the rest to be Don’s interpretation of what that meant… Sara

    9. Melissa H


      I’ve read all the previous comments…and everyone make a solid stance on what they think should happen. Here’s my thoughts:

      1) I have no doubt that the children will be cared for this winter. The Amish community is known for rallying around their own in a time of need. I wouldn’t be surprised if even those attacked by Mullet’s group would show the ultimate form of love and forgiveness by helping the children. I do feel counseling for the children would be in their best interest.

      2)The woman who was involved in this should be shown love and mercy–to an extent. Yes, she was following the orders of her “bishop” and husband and in the Amish culture, the woman is to be submissive (almost to a fault, as we see here) to the head of the household. For her, I would suggest ankle-monitoring with house/property arrest. Although, I don’t know if any of her kids are old enough to go to town for supplies…some sort of an exeption might need to be made, maybe with a law enforcement offical/parole officer escorting her to town once a month.

      3) We all know that any arrest of the head of a household puts financial hardships of that family…but you don’t get arrested for living a Godly law-abiding life. For goodness sakes, they were arrested for HATE CRIMES. If you want to show love and mercy then apply the amount of time they’ve already served towards their sentences.

      If overcrowding or their safety while in jail is an issue, then give them ankle monitoring devises with a VERY limited range–like 1/4 mile from their home or even “house/property arrest”. However, if any of their children are in danger, then I think the children would need to be placed with other Amish families until all time has been served.

      Just my two-cents worth on the subject.

    10. Robin Wyatt

      Beard cutting

      I think they should be held in jail. They could disappear in a matter of minutes. And yes they should have thought of there families and the repercuptions, But who ever said Crimanils thought like normal people. And as for the Children, They shouldn’t be held accountable for the ADULTS. They shouldn’t be teased,ashamed, are ridaculed for there Adult parents, relatives or whom ever.

    11. Carolyn B

      Glad to have the chance to read all the previous comments.

      I also agree that the Amish community will care for the “orphaned” while the parent or parents are in jail. House arrest seems an appropriate answer for lighter sentencing if the judge is so inclined.

      If I were a victim bent on forgiving no matter what, I see myself having panic and anxiety attacks from suppressing the real physical need to scream, “I want to live my whole life in safety”. No one was killed but the physical appearance is so much a part of the Amish identity to conform that I feel it’s a psychological rape that has been done to these victims. Please forgive me if you feel this is too strong a word to use; I’m simply speaking from my own life.

      If I had a mother so helpless as to follow a bishop and a husband into these crimes, I would want someone to love me enough to protect me and re-teach me the proper way to live.

    12. Ed

      I was sorely disappointed to see this prosecuted as a federal “hate crime” rather than what it was, an assault. This sets a disturbing precedent whereas a dispute amongst members of any religious group could become a federal crime.
      And as for the now-convicted Bergholz clan members?
      I don’t see what the point of sending them to prison would be in the first place.  Mr. Mullet has been exposed for the womanizing, abusive charlatain that he is.  His followers have been exposed as mindless dolts who openly put Mr. Mullet’s desires above Jesus’s teachings.
      What exactly would be accomplished by sending this group to prison?  They have no prior criminal record, and their actions were centered on their own kith and kin.  The actions themselves — the unwanted cutting of beards and hair — is not the same as striking or maiming someone.  Hair grows back. 
      I think prisons are best for those inviduals who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not control their own violent impulses.  I don’t see any value society would reap from keeping the Bergholz group behind bars, indeed, it would cause a lot of secondary harm to the children and ultimately be a waste of taxpayers money.
      I hope the Bergholz members can find it within themselves to apologize if they do I hope the judge has the wisdom to sentence them lightly.

    13. Wm Justice

      The way I see it is a violent attack on any person in this nation of laws is an attack on every citizen. To veil such violence in the name of religion elevates the crime to an even higher level. These attacks are particularly heinous if carried out by members of a religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      What saddens me about this whole incident is the stigma it cast upon the Amish as a group. Everyone who frequents this site knows full well that the general reading/listening /TV watching public lumps all Amish into one distinct, homogenous and stereotypical group. And we all know that is far from the reality of our Plain People friends. In my opinion they are one of, if not the most, diverse and varied segments of our culture.

      That said, the unknowing public thinks and believes that the Bergholz clan/cult represents the entirety of their culture. As has been mentioned before in comments, the Amish are placed under the microscope of the media whether it has to do with buggy lights, smoke detectors or outhouses. Nothing seems to escape their activities when clashing with the law in this day and age of the 24 hour news cycle.

      Without getting into apologetics for all Amish and some beliefs they have which I do not, I do hold them in as high esteem as I do my other friends who are Hindu, Parsi, LDS, Muslim, etc. Though I hold fast to another religious belief, does that give me the right to violate their person and destroy a symbol of their religion? Certainly not. Yes, a man’s beard can be grown back as can the hair of a woman but that is not the point. I personally see no reason to believe a beard or hair has anything whatsoever to do with religious beliefs. But that is not for me to decide for another person. What is sacred to them must be respected by me regardless of my beliefs.

    14. Richard from Amish Stories

      One more thought.......

      I’m pretty sure that those Amish victims have already forgiven, and yes no one was killed in this bizarre case and I’m pretty sure they are very sorry and feel remorse. So I hope their sentence is reflected on that fact and that no one goes over- board here, and I dont think anything like this will happen again from them. And with that said this should never happen again because we as human beings are just better than that, at least I hope that we are!

      Richard from http://www.Amishstories.net

    15. Teresa B.

      My comment is directed to Ed: Ed, I just cannot agree with your interpretation of this crime. The victims were assaulted (pushed to the ground, roughly held down while the hair and beard cutting took place), and the act of cutting/shearing was done with brutality, leaving the victims shaking and bruised. This was no gentle act! You say that hair grows back, but you fail to mention the mental and emotional torture these victims have had to endure. If the Bergholz group would apologize at sentencing, their only purpose would probably be to receive a light sentence, since they have so far shown no remorse whatsoever. Their actions do not deserve a light sentence, but rather a fair sentence equal to the crime they committed. These children of the Bergholz attackers will be taken care of, and although they are children now, they will grow to be adults who need to see that these terroristic acts are punished by a court of law. If they see no punishment exacted now, they will be the future terrorists of a cult-like religion who preys on other pacifists or peace-loving religions.

    16. Alice Mary

      Weighing all sides...

      Yes, the Old Testament taught “an eye for an eye”, but that changed with Jesus (New Testament) who taught to “turn the other cheek.”

      Since the Amish put God first, but also hold respect for the laws of man (“render unto Caesar…”), I would agree with others here to jail the leader. The others involved could be “paroled” IF they were to promise to never be involved in such a crime again, no matter what their interpretation of God’s & Man’s law may be. “Community Service” (dealing with other victims of assault, for example) might help “rehabilitate” them. If they refused, jail them as well.

      The Amish will help the family, I have no doubt, no matter how many years it may take. I’d hope the court would help give their wives & children the option of counseling, as they appear to have been “victims” themselves, and their scars, like this crime’s “direct” victims, go well beyond “hair/beard cutting”.

      Alice Mary

    17. Ed

      Teresa B:
      I agree, the victims were assaulted. The perpetrators should have been charged with assault in State court — as happens every day in our larger cities.

      I do not think cutting someone’s beard is tantamount “terrorism”. I do agree with you that they deserve “a fair sentence equal to the crime they committed.”

      Every day, people are charged with assaults in our larger cities, usually under far worse circumstances and much worse physical damage to the victim. Yet these perpetrators very seldom long jail sentences. They certainly aren’t charged with hate crimes and threatened with prosecution under hate crime laws and 10 or 20 year prison sentences.

      Personally, I think the Bergholz has more in common with a domestic violence case than a “hate crime” or assault. In fact, most of the victims were close relatives of the Bergholz group itself.

      Given this, why were they charged with outlandish hate crimes, charges that require a link to interstate commerece? I suspect, their being ex-Amish has something to do with it. Perhaps the prosecutors were eager to show a “get tough” stance. Result is, the courts hold these ex-Amish to a higher standard than others, and they face stiffer sentences than others who have done far worse crimes.

    18. Forest

      I think they should have considered possible results and how they might effect their families prior to assaulting their neighbors. Perhaps a little time as a guest of the State will allow them opportunity to consider what they have done. They obeyed Sam Mullet, a false teacher, rather than God, now they must reap what they have sown. They should be forgiven, yes, and mercy should be shown, but actions have consequences and they need to be men about it and accept they punishment. And, no, I’m not sure that “hate crimes” was the way to go; plain old assault and battery and other appropriate charges would have sufficed.

      1. Did anyone really consider (and understand) the consequences?

        Forest and others hit at a simple but key point–I don’t think there was a lot of consideration of consequences and tack-on effects here. And if you are thinking your actions are strictly within the realm of the church then why would you worry about criminal punishment…I wonder if the thought that they might be held accountable by the state even crossed anyone’s mind. I doubt it. If it did, I doubt anyone had a sense of the implications of the hate crimes statutes (if they even knew what they were to begin with).

        I think with hate crimes you are opening the door to taking in factors beyond the a-b-c facts of a situation…which is what I was hinting at above. If religious biases and motivations can factor into how you convict someone of wrongdoing, shouldn’t it be possible to consider religion and its effects in some way when you decide punishment? That’s probably not an apples to apples comparison (and I’m not saying I agree with any of that) but it does seem like it could open a door to a lot of complicated tangents. A smarter legal person I’m sure could comment with more clarity on this idea.

        The starving children scenario is meant to tug at heartstrings but…really. Does anyone think any children are going to starve here? Not that they won’t suffer in other ways for their parents’ actions.

    19. Richard from Amish Stories

      They are now aware of these consequences, trust me Erik!

      Children Erik are usually the innocent victims anyway, and I feel bad for them I really do. And their parents look even more foolish because of that fact, and like I’ve said these folks know it was wrong and are now feeling the implications from this act trust me!

      Richard from http://www.Amishstories.net

    20. Ed

      Had this crime occurred in almost any other context — say, drunken patrons at a rowdy bar cut off several beards and hair — I cannot imagine the guilty getting more than a slap on the wrist, if the police even responded at all.

      Is the Bergholz group being held by our legal system to a higher standard, simply because they are/were Amish?

      1. Eli S.

        Their identity does factor in

        There is no doubt that a crime was committed. But I think as does Ed that it should alarm us that this qualifies as a hate crime. The law was made to protect religious groups, for example, such as Jews from attack by neo-Nazis. Usually such attacks stem from a publicly declared set of beliefs that are counter to the standards of a civil society.

        This was a case of same group versus same group attacking their own because of a greatly extended view of punishing those who cross their line. You may say; they are not Amish, but who determines who is actually Amish and who is not? To answer that would require a standard measure. Among Amish there is no such ancient standard that all agree to.

        I think we would all agree Sam and his enforcers should be locked up and not allowed to lead his flock any further. Was the motive hate? I think assault would be sufficient, as now I am scratching my head wondering how hate was/is defined. Assault conviction does not require motive, hate does.

    21. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      In an interesting aside, the Amish ‘Beard Cutters’ where the question to an answer on the game show “Jeopardy!” in a category called “Crime and Punishment”.

      I knew what the correct response was before the returning champion did!

      1. Carolyn B

        Thanks, Shom! My family are Jeopardy nuts including me. Wish I’d seen that episode myself.

    22. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      "What is beard cutting?"

      Carolyn B., You’re welcome, and you missed some game! I won’t spoil it in case somehow you recorded it, but the game turned out quite dramatically, especially in the last few minutes.

      I think that it was interesting that the Beard Cutters story became such a big headline that it became a Jeopardy question But the show is good, sometimes, in that they are current affairs topical.