Beard-Cutting Attacks Considered Hate Crimes – Update, September 4, 2012
Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of a breakaway Amish sect in rural Ohio, is one of 16 men and women charged with federal criminal hate crimes – beard-cutting attacks conducted last year against Amish men.
For the Amish the beard is highly important. Once an Amish man marries he allows his beard to grow, believing this is prescribed by The Bible. To him the beard symbolizes faith and manhood. To cut his beard is to break faith with God.
Prosecution has said that Mullet would send groups to cut the beards of these men to punish them. Mullet and his Jefferson County co-defendants face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping, hate crimes, and obstruction. Trial began Monday with jury selection in federal court in Cleveland. 81 prospective jurors are being interviewed. Opening statements will be heard Tuesday beginning at 9:00 a.m.
Mullet himself is not unknown to the limelight. According to David McConnell, professor of anthropology at The College of Wooster, OH, he has long been infamous among the Ohio Amish community, and is considered a renegade who rules his cult membership with an iron fist and has allegedly brainwashed its members.
Last week a federal judge ruled witnesses can testify about Mullet’s alleged sexual activities within his 800-acre compound. It is also reported that at least 17 families living outside the compound are directly related to Mullet.
The larger picture, beyond these attacks on “perceived religious enemies,” is the growing rift between separatist groups, such as Mullet’s long-standing one, and the Amish community at large – a rift between what some would argue are core religious values and religious zeal gone unchecked.
So far, criminal defense attorney Edward Bryan has resisted bring up freedom of religion issues, instead seeking to not allow references to “salacious” accusations that Mullet gave sexual counseling sessions to women followers, calling the accusations inflammatory, unfair, unproven, and unrelated to the charges. He has also argued against the prosecution’s characterization of his client: “He [Mullet] is not a wacky cult leader. He’s a decent, hardworking, caring man.”
As trial progresses, one thing is clear – followers of Amish bishop Mulltet used horse-mane shears to forcibly cut the beards and hair of Amish community members. What’s not so clear is their motive.
According to one criminal defense lawyer, Dean Carro: “No crime has been committed. These were purely good intentions. . . . Why did they do this? I know it sounds strange: Compassion.”
And another attorney for the defense, Edward Bryan, added: “These were personal family disputes. Are you going to make a federal case out of this?”
Still other defense lawyers suggested the beard- and hair-cutting was an attempt to embarass wayward souls, bringing them back to the strict Amish way of life.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan doesn’t think so. She quoted Mullet, from an interview done in 2011: “We know what we did and why we did it. This is about religion.”
This is Ohio’s first case, after a landmark federal law enacted in 2009, expanded governmental power to prosecute hate crimes.