By Andrew Welsh-Huggins Associated Press
Sam Mullet said he didn’t order the hair-cutting but didn’t stop two of his sons and another man from carrying it out last week on a 74-year-old man in his home in rural eastern Ohio. Amish men typically grow beards as adults and stop trimming them when they marry, and the beards are held in high esteem.
Mullet, 66, said the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County 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 told The Associated Press outside his house on the outskirts of Bergholz, a village of about 700 residents.
“We know what we did and why we did it,” he continued. “We excommunicated some members here because they didn’t want to obey the rules of the church.”
Mullet said he’s upset that his group, about 120 people living on several small farms, has been called a cult by detractors. He complained about the behavior of some of the Amish but wouldn’t elaborate on what rules were broken. He also blamed a local sheriff for prosecuting one of his sons in a sex case and for going against his daughter in a custody dispute.
He said he moved the members of his group about 100 miles from Richland County to their current hilly farm country area in 1995 just to be by themselves.
“We’re not a cult. We’re just trying to live a peaceful life,” said Mullet, who spoke with occasional bursts of passion for about an hour as children played nearby, a horse tethered to a buggy rested and men and women did chores. “I was hoping I could move here, try to start a group of church people, do things in school and church the way we wanted.”
Mullet said he should be allowed to punish people who break the laws of the church, just as police are allowed to punish people who break the laws of the state.
“You have your laws on the road and the town — if somebody doesn’t obey them, you punish them. But I’m not allowed to punish the church people?” Mullet said. “I just let them run over me? If every family would just do as they pleased, what kind of church would we have?”
On Saturday, Jefferson County authorities arrested two of Mullet’s sons, 38-year-old Johnny Mullet and 26-year-old Lester Mullet, and another man from the community, 53-year-old Levi Miller, on burglary and kidnapping warrants out of Holmes County. The three men were being held in Jefferson County jail on $250,000 bond each pending extradition to Holmes County and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Monday he expects two more arrests this week. He said the men hired a driver to carry them to Holmes County and to Carroll County, where a similar attack was carried out. He said the driver didn’t know what the men were doing.
Five people were assaulted in Holmes County, including women who had their hair cut off, said Abdalla, who disputed Sam Mullet’s account, alleging the group’s leader ordered the punishments.
The men entered the home and said, “Sam Mullet sent us here, and we’re here on religious business,” Abdalla said.
He said they used scissors and battery-powered clippers in the attack.
A similar attack happened in Trumbull County in September, Abdalla said.
In that case, a 57-year-old woman blamed her sons and a son-in-law for an attack on her husband and said they were involved in a cult. The sons and son-in-law “did that to him,” the woman told deputies, pointing at her husband’s ragged, short beard. Then she took off a bandana and showed bare scalp patches and said, “They did this to me.”
Abdalla said the motive for the attacks may be related to unspecified religious differences involving 18 Amish families, 17 of them related, that have drawn previous attention from law enforcement, including a threat against the sheriff and a relative convicted of sexual contact with a minor.
The families under investigation live around Bergholz, 10 miles west of the Ohio River, and run a leather shop and do carpentry work, he said.