CLEVELAND -- The religious hate crimes trial of controversial Amish leader Sam Mullet and his followers is scheduled to get underway today in U.S. District Court. Mullet is accused of directing his followers to break into the homes of his enemies in 2011, and cut off their hair and beards, which the Amish consider insulting and degrading.
The seeds of Sam Mullet's transformation from seemingly mild-mannered Amish bishop to accused criminal mastermind were planted in 2007, when a SWAT team raided his family's compound in Bergholz, Ohio, to investigate allegations that children there had been the victims of abuse.
In a September 18, 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."
Investigators say it was the role of Mullet's rival bishops in lodging the complaint about the treatment of the children and later shunning Mullet that served as his motivation to later dispatch teams to carry out the hair and beard cutting. 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 from American justice. According 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."
The first step in the trial of Sam Mullet and 15 of his followers will be the selection of a jury, which must 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.
The sheriff who carried out the 2007 raid says 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.