MILLERSBURG, Ohio - Members of the Amish community in three states have been frightened by recent hair-cutting attacks in Ohio, making fearful calls to authorities and arming themselves with pepper spray and shotguns, a sheriff said.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Amish in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana were concerned about the attacks that led federal authorities on Wednesday to raid the compound of a breakaway Amish group and charge seven men, including group leader Sam Mullet, with hate crimes.
"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."
A daughter-in-law and former brother-in-law told federal investigators Mullet 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."
Several members of the group outside Bergholtz in eastern Ohio carried out the attacks in September, October and November by forcibly cutting the beards and hair of Amish men and women and then taking photos of them, authorities said.
The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. One victim told the FBI he would rather have been "beaten black and blue than to suffer the disfigurement and humiliation of having his hair removed," according to court papers.
Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn't order 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.
Those arrested 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.
The men appeared in U.S. District Court in Youngstown on Wednesday afternoon, and Magistrate Judge George Limbert ordered them detained by the U.S. Marshals Service pending hearings next week.
Attorneys for Johnny and Lester Mullet and Levi and Eli Miller said they could not comment Wednesday on the details of the case. Messages seeking comment were left for attorneys representing Daniel Mullet and Emanuel Schrock.
Lawyer Andy Hyde, who represents Sam Mullet in the state case, said Mullet would contest the federal charges but said he didn't know if he would represent Mullet in federal court.
The seven men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, the sheriff said. Three men initially refused to come out of their rooms, but all seven were arrested without incident, he said.
The FBI affidavit detailed four hair-cutting attacks. The attacks occurred against a couple in Trumbull County on Sept. 6; on Oct. 4 against a man and his son in Holmes County; later on Oct. 4 against a man in Carroll County; and on Nov. 9 against a man allegedly lured to the Mullet complex in Jefferson County.
An FBI affidavit said Johnny, Lester and Daniel Mullet and Levi and Eli Miller all confessed in early October to taking part in at least a couple of the attacks.
Johnny Mullet told detectives that it was his idea to cut the hair and beards and that he discussed the idea with his father, who gave him the addresses of two victims, the affidavit said.
Lester Mullet told detectives that after two attacks in late September, the men went home and told Sam Mullet what happened. He said his father laughed and called them nuts, the court document said.
Abdalla, the sheriff, said he didn't know the specifics of the religious disagreements that prompted Mullet to form his own community in 1995.
But the heart of his recent dispute with Amish bishops stemmed from his desire to excommunicate several members, the FBI said. Other bishops concluded the excommunications weren't consistent with Amish teachings and scripture and decided not to recognize the penalties, the FBI said.
Authorities said previously that some Amish refused to press charges, following their practice of avoiding involvement in the courts.
Dettelbach alluded to the issue, saying:
"It is not the victim's job to decide or to bring charges. I think that's a message I would like people to understand. These charges in this case are the result of our independent determination that crimes occurred."
Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000 -- second only to Pennsylvania -- with most living in rural counties south and east of Cleveland.
They have a modest lifestyle and are deeply religious. Their traditions of traveling by horse and buggy and forgoing most modern conveniences distance them from the outside world and symbolize a yielding to a collective order.