Sep 20, 2012

Amish Hair-Cutters Found Guilty

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I can't say I'm terribly surprised to see Sam Mullet and his band of hair-cutters go down. As stated, I thought federal prosecutors put on a strong case. I'll be the first to admit, I thought they might have been reaching by making this a test case of a newly expanded federal hate crimes statute, but they laid it out well. From the New York Times:

Samuel Mullet Sr., the domineering leader of a renegade Amish sect, and 15 followers were convicted of federal conspiracy and hate crimes Thursday for orchestrating a series of bizarre beard- and hair-cutting attacks last fall that spread fear through the Amish of eastern Ohio.

The convictions of Mr. Mullet and his followers and family members who carried out the assaults could bring lengthy prison terms. The jury’s verdict vindicated federal prosecutors, who made a risky decision to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect’s violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals.

The Times story paints a vivid picture of the bizarreness of this case -- one which actually caused several Amish communities to break with tradition and bring their concerns to the authorities. Many of them came to court allowing themselves to be snapped at fairly close range by news photographers. It speaks to the extremity of the circumstances that such private people allowed this intrusion. Sam Mullet was a bigger threat to their way of life than the modernity of the English world.

During the testimony, the 16 defendants, in traditional attire, and their lawyers had sat around four tables that filled half the courtroom. In the gallery sat dozens of Amish supporters of the victims, including several of Mr. Mullet’s elderly siblings, who shook their heads as witnesses described Mr. Mullet’s unorthodox methods. Also in the gallery was Mr. Mullet’s wife, who had sat impassively as a woman who used to live in Bergholz spoke of how Mr. Mullet pressured her to come to his bed repeatedly.

I, for one, am just glad to see the criminal justice system found a way to stop this guy before more people got hurt -- and that includes his own followers. As I've said previously, Sam Mullet is one sick twist, and I don't think concerns that this could have escalated into a Jim Jones scenario are unfounded. As one prosecution witness put it in an interview last November:

Sociologist Donald Kraybill told Barbara that Mullet acted much like a cult leader. "He's not accountable to anyone. He's not in fellowship with other Amish groups. He thinks he is invincible," Kraybill said. "So under the guise of religion he is trying to protect himself, so he can do whatever he wants to do."

But Sam Mullet was also a victim of his own arrogance. He seemed to believe that he would not be accountable to other Amish communities, or the law, for really outrageous behavior. Slapped down by hundreds of Amish bishops for improper excommunications, Mullet has now been slapped down by a federal court for retaliating against those bishops.

Mullet and his followers face sentences of ten years or more. I hope the senior Mullet, at least, goes away for a good, long time.

Addendum: Federal officials have made statements regarding the verdict. From the Los Angeles Times:

At a televised news conference after the verdict was returned, officials said the case was an important application of anti-hate laws and rejected claims that Mullet and his followers had been singled out for their religious beliefs.

“From day one, this case has been about the rule of law and defending the right of people to worship in peace,” said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio. “Our nation was founded on the bedrock principle that everyone is free to worship how they see fit. Violent attempts to attack this most basic freedom have no place in our country.”

Officials took a similar tack in a statement released by the Department of Justice in Washington.

“The violent and offensive actions of these defendants, which were aimed at beliefs and symbols held sacred by this country's Amish citizens, are an affront to religious freedom and tolerance, which are core values protected by our Constitution and our civil rights laws,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “Those laws prohibit the use of violence to settle religious differences and the Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce those laws.”

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