LOS ANGELES — FBI agents on Wednesday raided an Ohio compound and arrested seven Amish men on hate-crimes charges in connection with haircutting attacks on other members of the usually isolated Christian religion.
The early-morning arrests opened a window into the world of the Amish, who are known for shunning modern conveniences, using horses and buggies rather than cars and preferring to deal with their problems within their traditional and ordered communities, without going to outside civil authorities.
Court papers, distributed by the Justice Department after the raid, paint a picture of those arrested as a schismatic group with some of the attributes of a cult, at battle with the traditionalist and pacifist religion.
At the center of the splinter group is Samuel Mullet Sr., who with his family and followers left the established Amish community in Frederickstown, Ohio, in 1995 to establish a separate group in Bergholz, Ohio. Ohio ranks right behind Pennsylvania with the second-largest number of Amish, about 61,000 in the rural areas outside Cleveland.
In addition to Mullet, the Justice Department said that his sons, Johnny, Daniel and Lester, were also arrested, as was Emanuel Schrock, Mullett’s son-in-law. Levi F. Miller and Eli M. Miller, identified as members of the Bergholz community, were also arrested.
All are charged with conspiring to carry out a series of assaults over the last few months on Amish men and women, cutting off their beards and head hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers. The acts were especially heinous to the Amish, who believe there is a biblical injunction to shaving when men marry.
If convicted, the suspects face up to life in prison, the government said.
Wednesday’s raids cap years of disputes between Mullet and other parts of the Amish community. In 2005, eight families who were part of Mullet’s group moved away from Bergholz, citing religious differences. Mullet, as head of the splinter group, excommunicated those who left.
But in keeping with Amish policies, other bishops investigated the excommunication and overturned Mullet’s decision and allowed the families to join other Amish communities in Ohio, according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
One of the victims of the haircutting was a bishop who served on the committee that overturned the excommunications, according to court papers.
According to the affidavit, Mullet’s daughter-in-law and former son-in-law explained how Mullet “controls all aspects of the lives of the Bergholz clan members. … In disregard for Amish teachings and scripture, Samuel Mullet Sr. has forced extreme punishments and physical injury to those in the community who defy him, including forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop” and allowing others to beat those who disobey.
In addition, the pair alleged that Mullet “has been ‘counseling’ the married women in the Bergholz clan and taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.”
In an October interview with The Associated Press, Mullet said that he didn’t order the haircutting but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal of the haircutting was to send a message to local Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community, according to the court papers.
“They changed the rulings of our church here, and they’re trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we’re not going to do that,” Mullet said.