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Amish Reel From Bizarre Beard-Cutting Attacks

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On the night of Oct. 4, Myron and Arlene Miller were asleep in their home in Mechanicstown, Ohio, when they heard a knock on the door. According to their friend Bob Comer, when Myron came downstairs, he found five men standing on his doorstep.

"They pulled him out in the front yard, and they have scissors and a battery-powered shaver and everything," Comer says. "They're trying to hold him down and cut his beard off and cut his hair off."

Miller yelled at his wife to call 911. Then the men let him go and ran back to the trailer and had the driver take off, Comer says.

Myron Miller, who declined an interview, was left with a ragged beard: a shameful state for an Amish man.

"The beard for Amish men is a symbol of their adult manhood," says Donald Kraybill, a sociologist at Elizabethtown College and author of several books about the Amish, including Amish Grace and Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

Kraybill says the beards are also sacred for Amish men, who follow the Old Testament instructions to let their beards grow out (see Leviticus 19:27, Isaiah 7:20 and Jeremiah 48:37).

"So to cut their beard is an assault on not only their personal identity but also on their religious identity and their religious faith," Kraybill says.

Attacks Target Opponents Of Group Leader

Authorities believe this was the fourth such attack by the followers of Sam Mullet, who heads a community of about 120 people in a rural area near Bergholz, Ohio.

Five members of the reclusive Amish group have been charged with kidnapping and aggravated burglary in a series of bizarre attacks. The victims have all been Amish leaders who have spoken out against Mullet, or those who have fled Mullet's group.

Mullet was raised Amish and claims to be a bishop, or leader. But Comer says Mullet exhibits none of the typical Amish traits, such as humility and gentleness.

"He's really set himself up almost as a God," Comer says.

Comer knows Mullet because he has often driven him to appointments. Amish frequently hire "English" — non-Amish — people as taxi drivers. Comer remembers thinking something was amiss early on when he drove Mullet and about 15 other men and women to Mullet's chiropractor. Comer, who speaks German, overheard a conversation between one young woman and the 66-year-old leader.

"She said in Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a German dialect, 'Sam, who's going to see you tonight?' And then the other women laughed and giggled," he says. "And I thought, 'Whoa, wait a minute, is he having sex with all these women?' "

'He Doesn't Fear Anybody'

Comer says there are reports of child abuse. He says Mullet's followers are terrified and are beaten for the smallest infractions. One man who escaped the community, identified by his first name, Aden, told WKYC-TV in Cleveland that Mullet rules with impunity.

"He will take the wife away from the man," he said. "The wife will have to go live with him. The husband of that wife [will have to go] live in a chicken coop."

Until recently, the sheriff could do little, because the Amish victims chose to shrug off the assaults rather than bring in law enforcement. But with a spate of attacks since September, people began to cooperate.

For his part, Mullet says his behavior is protected religious activity.

"It's all religion," he told television reporters recently. "That's why we can't figure out why the sheriff has his nose in it."

Sociologist Kraybill says Mullet acts like a typical cult leader.

"He's not accountable to anyone. He's not in fellowship with other Amish groups. He thinks he is invincible," Kraybill says. "So under the guise of religion he is trying to protect himself, so he can do whatever he wants to do."

Mullet has not been charged with a crime and until he is, the Amish who live nearby are afraid he will retaliate.

"He doesn't fear anybody," one victim said. "That's how he got where he is."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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