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Hate crime charges filed in Amish beard cutting

By Alan Duke and Chris Welch
updated 3:58 PM EST, Sun November 27, 2011
Sam Mullet, leader of the breakaway Amish sect, denies he's running a cult.
Sam Mullet, leader of the breakaway Amish sect, denies he's running a cult.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Leader Samuel Mullet Sr. is among those charged in the federal complaint
  • Defendants "forcibly restrained ... Amish men and cut off their beards," officials say
  • Several of the defendants have confessed to local investigators, an affidavit says

(CNN) -- Seven members of a breakaway Amish group in eastern Ohio were arrested on federal hate crime charges for allegedly shaving the beards and cutting the hair of individuals who refused to support their leader, according to a criminal complaint released Wednesday.

One of the seven men is Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of the breakaway sect and a man that local law enforcement and other Amish in the area consider a cult leader.

Mullet ruled the group with an iron fist, in some cases "forcing members to sleep for days at a time in a chicken coop" and beating those "who appear to disobey" him, according to an FBI affidavit.

Mullet had been "counseling" married women in his sect, "taking them into his home so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy," the sworn statement from an FBI agent said.

Crime wave in Amish country

Law enforcement officials believe he was behind the various beard and hair cutting attacks of the past few months. The men charged are said to have carried out "a series of assaults against fellow Amish individuals with whom they were having a religiously based dispute," according to the Justice Department.

The Amish who were attacked are believed to be former members of Mullet's group who left over various disagreements. Mullet wanted to "seek revenge and punish the departing families," the federal documents said.

"In doing so, the defendants forcibly restrained multiple Amish men and cut off their beards and head hair with scissors and battery-powered clippers, causing bodily injury to these men while also injuring others who attempted to stop the attacks," the Justice Department said. "In the Amish religion, a man's beard and head hair are sacred."

Several of the men have confessed their involvement to local investigators, according to a sworn statement by an FBI agent that was attached to the complaint filed in Cleveland.

The seven men were arrested as part of a raid on Mullet's 800-acre compound that went down "without incident" early Wednesday morning, according to Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Ohio.

A combination of "about 40" officials from various agencies, including the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Jefferson County and Holmes County sheriffs, were involved in the raid, Tobin said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, who was at the raid, said they hit Mullet's home at 6 in the morning. Everyone was asleep at the time.

"Three guys at first didn't want to come out of their rooms, but the FBI got them out of there," Abdalla said.

Abdulla said he was happy about the arrest.

"I'm elated. And I tell you what, so is the Amish community...I'm happy for the Amish people who are so fearful of that guy."

Abdalla added that what made arrests so difficult in this case is the fact that Amish generally don't believe in dealing with law enforcement, so charges had never been pressed.

While he's generally happy the arrests were made, part of him is also worried some of the people who live on the compound under his rule will remain "brainwashed" and not have enough will power to move away while Mullet is in custody. He urged them to seize the opportunity.

"Now's the chance if you want to get out. Now's the time to go," he said.

The defendants appeared in federal court Wednesday afternoon. A magistrate ordered them held until a detention hearing, Tobin said. No date has been set for the hearing.

Samuel Mullet's sect is made up primarily of his relatives living on and around the compound in a remote valley outside Bergholz, Ohio, officials say.

The alleged religiously motivated physical assaults were a violation of the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Five of the men were arrested last month on charges of kidnapping and burglary stemming from an incident at the home of Myron and Arlene Miller in early October in which a group of men pulled Myron Miller out of the home by his beard, held him down, and cut off large portions of the beard.

The incident at the Millers' home was one of a handful of incidents in several counties in which as many as 30 men and women carried out similar attacks, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla said.

When CNN asked the senior Mullet last month if he was behind the beard incident, he responded by asking rhetorically, "Beard cutting is a crime, is it?" He then denied the allegations that he was running a cult.

Asked about what was, at the time, the start of a federal investigation, Mullet said, "We're not guilty, so we have nothing to hide. If they want to come and check us out, we'd be glad to see them here."

CNN's Chuck Hadad, Gary Tuchman and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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