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MILLERSBURG, Ohio — The leader of a breakaway Amish group allowed the beatings of those who disobeyed him, made some members sleep in a chicken coop and had sexual relations with married women to “cleanse them,” federal authorities said as they charged him and six others with hate crimes in hair-cutting attacks against other Amish.
Authorities raided the group’s compound in eastern Ohio on Wednesday morning and arrested seven men, including group leader Sam Mullet and three of his sons.
Several members of the group carried out the attacks in September and October by forcefully cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women, authorities said. 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.
The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles. They strongly believe that they must be forgiving in order for God to forgive them, which often means handing out their own punishment and not reporting crimes to law enforcement.
The attacks had terrorized Amish communities, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said at a news conference Wednesday.
“You’ve got Amish all over the state of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana that are concerned. We’ve received hundreds and hundreds of calls from people living in fear,” he said. “They are buying Mace, some are sitting with shotguns, getting locks on their doors because of Sam Mullet.”
The sheriff added, “Sam Mullet is evil.”
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn’t order the hair-cutting but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to other Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
“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.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said Wednesday that religious differences should be a matter of theological debate, not disputes “resolved by late night visits to people’s homes with weapons and violent attacks.” He said he did not know how often hate crimes involve intradenominational disputes.
The seven men were in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday in Youngstown. They include Mullet; his sons Johnny, Lester and Daniel; Levi Miller; Eli Miller; and Emanuel Schrock. The charges carry a penalty of up 10 years in prison.
Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling, who filed state charges against five of the same defendants last month, said he would dismiss those counts and let federal prosecutors take the lead in the case.
In the state case, an Amish bishop and his son said they were held down while men used scissors and a clipper to cut their beards. Similar attacks were under investigation in Amish communities in Carroll, Jefferson and Trumbull counties in eastern and northeastern Ohio.
The seven men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, Abdalla said. Three men initially refused to come out of their rooms, but all seven were arrested without incident, he said.
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