The Amish are an insular bunch, so when news crosses over from America’s Amish/Mennonite communties, you can be assured that it is generally going to be of a criminal bent.
There are about 250,000 Americans living in Amish/Mennonite communities throughout the U.S. (though predominantly in the Midwest). They are strict followers of an Anabaptist tradition that dates back to the mid-seventeenth century, in which followers are baptised a second time upon reaching adulthood. If all goes according to plan, they will then spend the remainder of their lives in seclusion from modern society, immersing themselves in wood, hats, and beards. Those who venture out will do so only in circumstances of absolute necessity, and will spend the bulk of their travels amid vague and distant remarks about Kelly McGillis and bowling.
But back at home, things aren’t always a fresh-churned barrel of butter, either. Witness the current case of the rogue Amish sect led by one Samuel Mullet, Sr., which separated from the Holmes County Amish 17 years ago to form its own community. Mullet’s sect is not for your run-of-the-mill, barn-raising Amish. If you act out in Mullet’s community, he’ll be all up in your beard.
Such was the case when it is alleged that the Amish bishop ordered 16 members of his flock to cut off the beards and hair of, respectively, some men and women who had run afoul of the main Mullet. In Amish communities, men don’t clip their beards and women don’t cut their hair from the time that they are married. Ever. To lose either is to lose one’s masculine or feminine identity. It seems that, much like in contemporary society, it is only degradation and humiliation that matter to a Mullet, and short a Monte Carlo to turn donuts in enemy lawns, or a toilet with running water to issue a proper swirly, the cropping of hair would have to serve as the means of delivery for the dear leader’s grim message.
According to the Huffington Post, the attacks were the final outcome of a dispute between Mullet’s separatist flock and what might be referred to as the “mainstream” Amish community. In 2005, eight families of Mullet’s group fled the stern bishop’s iron rule for the comfort of Amish communities in other counties. Enraged, Mullet excommunicated the departed members from the church.
The excommunication sent waves of controversy through the Amish community, and was the subject of a meeting between 300 Amish leaders in Pennsylvania. An investigation by a seven-member panel ensued, and the excommunication was overturned.
This affrontery was apparently more than Mullet could live with and the attacks began in earnest, some upon the very panel members who struck down his order of excommunication.
It was at this point that the outside world got involved.
Now you might think that dishing out a few bad haircuts would be worthy of little more than a legal slap on the wrist. Hey, when Johnny Knoxville does it, the only he punishment he gets is a bump up into a higher tax bracket, right?
But when the FBI shows up on your doorstep, they are not usually carrying a booklet of citation forms. The Feds, like the Amish, are all too familiar with the concept of bringing the wood.
Mullet and his followers were slapped with hate crime charges, under the premise that the hair croppings were tantamount to “disfigurement,” an important component of a hate charge. They were then offered a plea bargain, which they promptly and indignantly turned down.
On Thursday, after four days of jury deliberations, the group was convicted on multiple counts of conspiracy and hate crimes, according to The New York Times. Each count carries a sentence of up to ten years. Mullet and his lawyer have stated they will appeal the conviction on the grounds that the charges were erroneously applied.
This case is fascinating, and by my early count, could serve as the basis for at least three different, equally gripping movies. There is the story of the build-up to and carrying out of the attacks themselves, including the sort of anti-Manson tale of Mullet’s separation from traditional Amish society, to the alienation of his own son and other members of the flock, the excommunication of the renegade members, and the meeting of elder Amish leaders to overturn it. This followed by the Anakin-esque stalking “disfigurement” of the council members and traitors to the flock.
Then there’s the story of the trial. Fifteen traditionally-garbed Amish men and women in a courtroom in fucking Cleveland, sitting stoic as they await their destiny in a Federal ass-pounding prison. And what about the story about how an overtly disciplinarian Amish bishop and his followers survive in the Ohio Correctional System?
That script has yet to be written.