CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Seven men from an Amish splinter group in Ohio were arrested on federal hate crimes charges on Wednesday, accused of involvement in humiliating attacks on fellow Amish involving cutting off their beards and hair.
The men face charges linked to multiple religiously-motivated physical assaults, and the most serious charges could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
“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 statement said.
The assaults were viewed as particularly egregious for the Amish because, once married, Amish men typically do not trim their beards and Amish women do not cut their hair for religious and cultural reasons.
The attacks took place throughout the fall in three counties south of Cleveland, one of the country’s largest concentrations of Amish.
Among the arrested was the breakaway sect’s leader, Bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. of Bergholz, Ohio, who was accused of orchestrating the beard-cuttings as revenge for being shunned by the Amish community.
Also arrested were Mullet’s family members, Johnny S. Mullet and Daniel S. Mullet of Bergholz and Lester S. Mullet of Hammondsville, Ohio. Police also arrested Levi F. Miller, Eli M. Miller, and Emanuel Schrock, all of Bergholz.
The men were expected to be arraigned later on Wednesday.
In one of the attacks, earlier this month, an elderly Amish man had his hair and beard chopped off by his son and grandsons, who have ties to the sect. The man, however, did not press charges, sticking with the Amish tendency not to contact police, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said.
The attack drew the focus of the FBI.
“I’d like to see Sam Mullet convicted and taken from the community,” Abdalla said after the November attack. “You just can’t realize the power and domination he has over his people.”
In October, five accused attackers -- Daniel, Johnny, and Lester Mullet, as well as Levi and Eli Miller -- were arrested on state charges of kidnapping and aggravated burglary after they were accused of attacking a family of five.
Writing by Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Johnston