CLEVELAND -- The FBI today arrested seven Amish men, charging them with hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of other members of the Amish community in Holmes County because of a religious dispute, federal prosecutors announced today.
The men were taken into custody Wednesday morning at their compound in Bergholz, Ohio. The group is headed by Samuel Mullet Sr., who is the Bishop of an Amish sect known as the Bergholz Clan.
In an affidavit, an FBI agent alleged that the Bergholz Clan carried out a series of recent attacks in retaliation for a decision by more than 300 Amish church leaders to overturn a number of excommunications handed down by Mullet.
Mullet had excommunicated eight Amish families in about 2005 who had moved away from the Bergholz Clan.
"Excommunication bars an Amish member from having any religious affiliation without the blessing of the excommunicating Bishop," the agent noted in an affidavit filed in court.
After that decision was overturned, Mullet sought revenge, prosecutors said.
The seven are accused of religiously degrading members of the Amish community by holding them down and forcibly removing their beard hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers, authorities said.
The group also took photographs of the attacks.
Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.
During one attack, a victim told the FBI that he pleaded with members of the Bergholz Clan not to cut his hair and then tried to cover his head with his hands.
One of the men said the victim "was a Christian and should not struggle," the affidavit read. When the victim tried to remind his attackers they were Christian too, the man said. "We are not Christians."
The affidavit also provides a peek into the world of the Bergholz Clan, which the FBI alleges was run with an iron fist by Mullet.
The FBI agent noted that Mullet "forced extreme punishments on 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 on his property," the affidavit stated.
Mullet also counseled "the married women in the Bergholz Clan and (took) them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy," the affidavit reads.
The criminal complaint, filed in Cleveland, charges Samuel Mullet and his two sons Sr., Johnny S. Mullet, Daniel S. Mullet; Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller and Emanuel Schrock, all of Bergholz, Ohio; and Lester S. Mullet, also Mullet's son, of Hammondsville, Ohio, with willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person.
The maximum potential penalty for these violations is 10 years in prison. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland says the men were arraigned at 1 p.m. Wednesday in federal court in Youngstown.
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