The trial of Sam Mullet Sr. and his followers begins today in Cleveland. Mullet and 15 of his entourage are standing trial for hate-crimes against fellow Amish after a series of bizarre attacks in which they clipped the beards and hair of their victims. In addition to hate crimes, the defendants are on trial for conspiracy, kidnapping, and obstruction of justice.
According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report, prosecutors accuse the men of cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women against their will in a spree of attacks between September and November of last year. The crimes fall under hate crimes status because they involve attacks propagated against a specific religious group.
For their part, the Amish men reject the court’s jurisdiction and call the matter an internal church disciplinary matter. Last fall Mullet ‘s people began going out as groups to clip the hair from his critics in the Amish church, who, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, had been accusing him of being too strict. Mullet claims he didn’t order the hair-clipping groups directly, but knew about them.
The Amish are a close-knit and highly private society of fundamentalist religious followers who live in rural communities throughout the rust belt in the U.S. Their religious teachings prevent women from cutting their hair and married men grow thick beards. Many Amish communities also eschew the use of most modern technology, preferring a simpler lifestyle that most often involves farming. Though the Amish are insular, the community has weathered the recession well, and their population is growing more quickly than most other religions in the U.S.