Amish bishop Samuel J. Mullet Sr. and 15 of his followers were found guilty of federal hate crimes after attacking religious rivals and estranged family members and cutting their beards off.
66-year-old Mullet is the religious leader of a community of 18 families, located 100 miles from Cleveland. He orchestrated attacks in which local Amish men cut the hair and beards off men that threatened his political influence in the small community.
Amish men stop trimming their beards after marriage, as they consider long facial hair to be a symbol of a man's devotion to God.
Their spouses adhere to the same principles, and stop cutting their hair. The length of a person's hair plays a vital role in whether the community sees them as righteous or not.
According to the Washington Post
, Raymond Hershberger, a 79-year-old Amish bishop and a victim of the attacks, had identified the guilty parties as the “Bergholz Boys.”
His beard had been chopped off, and his son found him bleeding, with cuts on his skull, clumps of gray hair around him.
The bishop only acted as the mastermind for the attacks, NBC News
reports. Even though Mullet himself never participated in them, he was convicted of conspiring to violate the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd, Jr. federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as for concealing evidence and making false statements.
During September and November 2011, 7 people had been attacked by the group. All 16 men responsible were convicted of conspiracy and hate crimes.
Defense attorneys had argued that the plaintiffs had not been targeted due to their religious beliefs, trying to make the case that the men's actions were not, in fact, hate crimes. They failed to prove the innocence of the group’s members, however, as well as the purity of their intentions.
"The violent and offensive actions of these defendants, which were aimed at beliefs and symbols held sacred by this country's Amish citizens, are an affront to religious freedom and tolerance, which are core values protected by our Constitution and our civil rights laws,” the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice stated.