Hate Crimes Trial Against Amish Begins
CLEVELAND — The jury was seated Monday in the religious hate crimes trial of controversial Amish leader Sam Mullet and his followers. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster is presiding over the case against Mullet and 15 other people.
According to federal prosecutors, Mullet directed his followers to break into the homes of his enemies in 2011. They’re all accused of participating in a plan to cut the hair and beards off of several male and female victims, which the Amish consider insulting and degrading.
In a 10-count indictment, many of the defendants are accused of kidnapping, obstruction and lying to authorities during the investigation.
“What Sam Mullet did was not right,” said an unidentified member of the Holmes County Amish community who was in court on Monday. “I just want to be a voice for the community and I want the people to know that Sam Mullet is only one person, he’s just a small sect and the Amish are not like this.”
In 2007, the seemingly mild mannered Amish bishop is accused of transforming into a criminal mastermind when a SWAT team raided his family’s compound in Bergholz, Ohio. They were investigating allegations that children on Mullet’s property had been the victims of abuse.
In a September 18th, 2007 interview posted on YouTube by Open Channels, Mullet said, “it made you feel like you wanted to sink into a hole in the ground. I couldn’t believe it that things like that actually happen in the United States among Christian people, because I knew that Amish people had sent them.”
According to investigators, Mullet’s rival bishops shunned him and lodged complaints about the alleged abuse of the children on Mullet’s property. In response, Mullet later dispatched teams to carry out the hair and beard cutting.
“He needs to face the judicial system because something needs to happen because he’s putting fear in the community and this is a big deal,” said the Holmes County Amish community member on Monday. “I just hope that justice will be served, that my people won’t have to live in fear in my community.”
Investigators say for years, Mullet has harbored anger over the way he was treated during the 2007 raid. In the Open Channels interview, Mullet said, “one guy shoved me across the steps over there and then [the sheriff] said, ‘don’t push him’. But it was already too late, he had already pushed me. Does he have a right to do that, is that the way the law works? I wasn’t doing nothing, I didn’t have my hands lifted or nothing.”
And on the day of the 2007 raid, Mullet may have foreshadowed future events, when he warned Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla that his brand of Amish justice was much different than American justice. According to the Open Channels interview, Mullet said, “one thing that I told him was, ‘you enforce your laws, somebody has to enforce the laws among us Amish, people in church, we can’t just let people do as they please, you know we have our rules and regulations to go by’. It doesn’t matter what you say, we know what’s true.”
Once the trial gets underway, the jury will have to decide if the cutting of the hair and beards constituted bodily injury by disfigurement, and therefore was a hate crime. Mullet’s personal habits will be on display during the trial. A judge has ruled that federal prosecutors can present testimony that Mullet exerted so much control over his devotees, that he had sex with their wives.
According to the sheriff who carried out the 2007 raid, Sam Mullet used fear and intimidation to get his way, and even made not-so-veiled threats against law enforcement when authorities searched his compound for weapons.
In the Open Channels interview, Mullet said, “I said ‘Fred, this is crazy, you know none of us guys have guns out here, or we’d use them if we had them to use’.”
If convicted, Mullet could face life in prison.