The distinctive beards worn by married Amish men, and the uncut hair that married women keep rolled in buns, are treasured symbols of religious identity, and the attacks appeared intended to inflict public humiliation. . . .
In at least four violent attacks over the last few months, groups of men from Mr. Mullet’s compound held men down to shear their beards with scissors and battery-operated clippers, according to the authorities. In one case, they said, several of Mr. Mullet’s nephews also hacked off the hair of their own mother — Mr. Mullet’s sister — who had fled the compound years earlier.
It seems there have actually been several other such attacks, but the Amish, famously reluctant to get involved with the state, refused to cooperate with the sheriff in investigating them. Now, though, Mullet's boys have gone so far that witnesses are coming forward.
What on earth is this about? It seems that the attacks are "religiously motivated," as the sheriff put it, Mullet's own way of enforcing discipline on Amish that he thinks are straying from the path. 'You don't obey the law, you're punished, and it's the same way with the church,' Mullet is supposed to have said. Some of the stories coming out now make Mullet seem like a typical cult leader:
A former member of the Bergholz Clan - the group thought to be behind the beard cutting - has spoken out against them, claiming that leader Sam Mullet rules the cult with an iron fist and said he wouldn't be surprised if it ended in mass suicide or some other tragedy.
The man, who did not want to be named, told WKYC that Mullet moved to Bergholz about 15 years ago with around 120 member who all have to live by his rules. . . .
'I have enough inside information that I have no question if something is not done, there will be people that get hurt.'
The former member says there were forced beatings, pitting one member against another and there are heavy punishments when members disagree with bishop Mullet. He said: 'He would take the wife from the man. The wife would have to go and live with Sam. The husband of that wife would have to go to the chicken coop or out in the barn in the middle of the winter, sometimes day and night.'
Arlene Miller, whose husband Myron Miller had his beard cut off by the gang earlier this month, said she heard many stories about the 'brainwashing, the beatings, the locking up, and the women he is using'.
Arlene Miller said she and her husband helped one of Mullet's sons - Bill - escape from the clan and believes that may have been one of the reasons why he was attacked.
The Times has some of the same stories:
Former residents of Mr. Mullet’s compound said he exerted iron control over the settlement of 120, many of them his relatives, sometimes imprisoning men in a chicken coop for days or beating them. Former residents also said that Mr. Mullet had sex with married women in the community “to cleanse them of the devil,” according to the F.B.I. affidavit.
Of course these sorts of stories get passed around about all groups of people who live in compounds and don't get along with their neighbors, and the Amish can gossip as viciously as anyone else. But surely there is something very strange behind the appearance of an Amish beard-cutting gang.