Not the real deal
Not the real deal BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Members of an Ohio group sentenced to prison Friday for hate crimes stemming from beard- and hair-cutting attacks on Amish may appear to be Amish, but they no longer are, according to Anabaptist expert Donald Kraybill.
Instead, he said, the breakaway group exhibited cult-like traits, and its leader sought to manipulate the Amish religion.
The leader, Sam Mullet Sr., "was masquerading under the name of Amish religion -- using it as a shield -- to protect himself from investigation," Kraybill said. He described Mullet as deceitful, cunning and manipulative.
Kraybill, a senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, testified last summer as an expert prosecution witness during the federal trial of Mullet and 15 family members.
Mullet, 67, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and the others, including six women -- all of whom have children -- were sentenced to 1 to 7 years.
Appeals are likely, according to defense attorneys.
Before he was sentenced, Mullet denied running a cult, but said if the group was seen as one, he wanted to take the punishment for all.
With relatives of victims and his family sitting on opposite sides of the public gallery, Mullet said he has lived his life trying to help others.
"That's been my goal all my life," Mullet said to a hushed courtroom, with his fellow defendants and their attorneys sitting at four defense tables and filling the jury box.
Freeman Burkholder, the 32-year-old husband of a Mullet niece and father of eight children, apologized to U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster.
"I won't do it again," he said.
Anna Miller, 33, married to a Mullet nephew and mother of six, also apologized, turning to relatives of victims. She also said it wouldn't happen again.
Arlene Miller, whose husband is an Amish bishop and was one of the group's victims, said Mullet deserved a harsh sentence and that the others should get cult-deprogramming counseling.
Kraybill said he was not surprised by the sentence imposed on Mullet.
Prosecutors wanted life imprisonment and the defense asked for two or fewer years. Guidelines called for 10 years, Kraybill said.
The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences prompted the attacks.
The government said the attacks were retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced Mullet's authoritarian style.
Amish believe the Bible instructs them to let their hair and beards grow once they married, so cutting them would be seen as offensive.
Kraybill gave his insight into the five attacks in 2011, based on his research and involvement in the case.
Women and children who probably wanted to leave the community felt trapped, he said. And Mullet's renegade group "marred and maligned" good and devout Amish.
Kraybill said Mullet and his followers were Amish when they settled in the Bergholz area of Ohio in 1995 --though even then there were irregularities.
Typically, a new Amish settlement would consist of several families buying land. Instead, Mullet bought the land.
Mullet also was not ordained at the time, Kraybill said. Mullet was ordained in 2001, but it was done by just by one bishop, not several, which is typical, Kraybill said.
Mullet excommunicated six families, some of whom belonged to the Bergholz settlement and others who were outsiders.
In 2006, Kraybill said, a watershed event happened in Ulysses, when 300 ordained Amish officials met and unanimously sanctioned Mullet, finding the excommunications were not properly carried out.
Mullet "turned sour and bitter about their action toward him" and the settlement devolved into "a little group with a lot of cult-like features," Kraybill said.
Those features included a controlling, authoritarian figure; threats of physical punishment to coerce people into obedience; the development of distinct and unique practices or rituals; and the creation of an ideology -- in this case, Mullet describing himself as a prophet of God, Kraybill said.
The group's practices were "unheard of and unknown in Amish history, period," Kraybill said. They included paddling adults, beard cutting, "sexual aberrations" and putting people in chicken houses for weeks at a time.
Mullet and his followers had also stopped holding church services, Kraybill said. And they rejected cardinal Amish religious beliefs against using force and revenge.
"In all of those ways, I don't see how anyone, any scholar, could call them Amish," Kraybill said.
Amish all over the country followed the case, Kraybill said.
He had been scheduled to give his insight at a talk in January at Shady Maple Smorgasbord. But because the sentencings had been postponed and he was under a gag order, Kraybill was guarded with the audience of several hundred, including many Amish.
A tragedy of the case, Kraybill said Friday, was that the attacks were portrayed as Amish-on-Amish violence.
"It's a renegade, independent group, which was angry at the larger Amish community, but their actions and beliefs … completely violate Amish teachings and faith," Kraybill said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
nE-town College professor who testified in Ohio beard-cutting trial said group of men and women who were sentenced Friday are not Amish, but members of a cult.