The members of Amish communities across the U.S. usually keep to themselves and live by their own social norms. But when a handful of beard-cutting attacks broke out in 2011 in Ohio, the families affected called 911 and involved the federal authorities. This case is one of several recent conflicts in the Amish community where the local law enforcement has been involved–a rarity for this community of intensely private, religious people.
Samuel Mullet Sr., a 67-year-old Amish leader, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the bizarre attacks. Mullet’s “strict interpretation of his faith and an abrasive personality had caused individuals to leave his fold and other Amish leaders to isolate him” (NYT).
Mullet has been called a cult leader, and is believed to have ordered several men, including his sons, to “seek revenge and punish” families that have left his breakaway sect of the Amish religion (CNN). Since the beard is “a significant symbol of faith and manhood” in the Amish community, the attacks are considered to be religiously-motivated hate crimes. Since the Amish do not drive, the attackers allegedly hired a non-Amish person to act as the get-away car driver, allowing them to leave the scenes of the crimes quickly.
At the trial, multiple defendants (members of Mullet’s religious sect) offered to take some of Mullet’s sentence themselves so that he would not have to bear the punishment alone. His community continues to stand by him and to live in isolation from other Amish communities with differing views.
Other struggles in the Amish community
As mainstream life in the 21st century becomes more dependent on electricity, cars and other modern conveniences, the Amish way of life diverges farther and farther from the norm. In recent years, Amish communities have struggled with conflicts over taxation, education and discrimination.
The Amish community also suffers higher rates of birth defects and genetic disorders. Since the majority of Amish people are descended from about 200 founders of the religious movement, genetic disorders due to inbreeding can surface in the more isolated communities. Their reluctance to undergo genetic testing or carry health insurance complicates the situation and causes friction between them and nearby mainstream communities.
Last week, Daniel Miller, an Amish man from West Farmington, OH, was accused of sexually assaulting seven young girls between 2000 and 2009. His conviction is another example of the Amish people feeling compelled to involve law enforcement, rather than deal with crimes on their own.
Preserving the Amish way of life
Despite the somewhat comical portrayals of Amish life that have become popular through reality TV (Breaking Amish) and pop music, the Amish are a unique religious group struggling, like many others, to survive in the 21st century. Clearly, the Amish and mainstream cultures cannot–and should not–act completely independently of each other. Rather, they need to support each other. The Amish culture and traditions should be preserved–and the fact that Mullet was jailed for 15 years for beard-cutting attacks displays a sensitivity and understanding that all Amish communities will need to receive in order to survive.
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