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Amish attacks unveil suspected cult
November 1st, 2011
02:48 PM ET

Amish beard-cutting attacks uncover suspected cult

By Chris Welch, CNN

Bergholz, Ohio (CNN)  Aden Troyer hasn't figured out precisely how he'll tell his daughters – now 4 and 5 years old – why they're growing up without a mother.

"I've kind of held back a little bit because they are so young, and I do not want to depress them," he said from his home in north-central Pennsylvania.

Troyer, his ex-wife, Wilma, and their two children are part of the Amish faith, which includes living a simple life free of the conveniences of the modern world, like electricity and motorized vehicles.

But what happened to the Troyer family is anything but simple.

Troyer believes that he and his wife were lured into a cult made up of breakaway members of the larger Amish community near Bergholz in rural eastern Ohio. He said it was – and still is – ruled with an iron fist by his former father-in-law, Sam Mullet, a man who Troyer and others say is anything but a typical Amish leader.

They say Mullet has created rules and punishments for breaking those rules that Amish folks had never heard of before.

The Amish typically resolve disputes within their community without the interference of law enforcement. But they say Mullet takes this to a whole new level.

"The way he's been treating and talking to people, he is not an Amish guy," Troyer said. "He is not your typical peaceful, loving Amish person."

Troyer said he eventually realized what he was getting caught up in and moved away from Mullet's compound, along with his two daughters.

There's a problem: Wilma did not. Three years after their marriage in 2004, the couple divorced, and Troyer received full custody of the girls.

Mullet's name emerged recently after several Amish-on-Amish beard-cutting attacks, in which most of the perpetrators are believed to be followers of Mullet's breakaway group.

Last week, the FBI announced that it was investigating the incidents to determine whether any federal laws had been broken. No further details were given.

Local law enforcement officials and members of the Amish community believe Mullet has created a cult and is singlehandedly responsible for orchestrating the beard-cutting incidents and other crimes in recent years.  Mullet has not been charged with any crimes.

To get Mullet's side of the story, I would travel to his rural Ohio compound, an hour's drive from the nearest city of Steubenville. But before getting to Mullet, I heard accusations, first hand, from the people who were once close to him.

An Amish 'cult'

Just before 11 in the evening on October 4 at a farmhouse outside the rural Ohio community of Carrollton, Myron and Arlene Miller heard their doorbell ring.

Myron Miller crawled out of bed, unsure of what he'd find.

A group of men armed with scissors and battery-powered clippers attacked Miller, holding him down and cutting out a chunk of his beard, according to the Millers and law enforcement.

Arlene said that when it was over, her husband's beard was "about 4 or 5 inches" shorter.

The attackers targeted Miller's beard because, as a member of the Amish community, it is a significant symbol of his faith.

Arlene says the men attacked her husband because he had helped one of Sam Mullet's children leave his Amish sect.

"(These men) knew he was suspicious," Arlene recalled, "and just like that, just so fast, (one of them) grabs for his beard and starts pulling on him to pull him out the door."

Five men were arrested in the attack, as well as another incident earlier in the day, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla. Four of the five suspects are related to Mullet, including three of his sons.

Additional arrests aren't likely because only two of the four victims of the attacks since early September - including Myron Miller - are pressing charges, Abdalla said.

Going against the Amish tradition of solving conflict through their church, Arlene Miller says, she and her husband decided to report the crime to police because they hope to prevent other people from being hurt, including Mullet's followers, who "need help."

"There's a lot of lives being messed up down there. There's a lot of people being abused and brainwashed," she said.

Mullet's sect is made up primarily of his relatives living on and around an 800-acre compound in a remote valley outside Bergholz, Ohio, according to the sheriff.

"They (have) titled themselves the 'Bergholz Clan,' " Abdalla said. "It's a cult."

Sam Mullet is the undisputed leader of this group, according to the sheriff.

"When I tell you nothing moves out there unless he says it moves, that is the case," Abdalla said. "Everyone takes their marching orders from him."

Abdalla says he fears that this "cult" could come to a dramatic demise, as others have.

"If I were to get a call right now telling me, 'Sheriff, they're all dead in the community out there,' it wouldn't surprise me," he said.

"That's the power and control that he has over those people, because if he were to tell them right now to drink this poison Kool-Aid, they would do it."

'We're locking our doors'

Abdalla has seen a lot in his 27 years as sheriff, but he says the stories he's heard firsthand from inside Sam Mullet's compound are the among the most bizarre.

One came from a man who said Mullet put him in a chicken coop for 15 days in the dead of winter over a religious disagreement. The victim would not press charges.

"He was convinced that (Mullet) was doing him a favor," Abdalla said. "That's like me hitting you in the head with a two-by-four and telling you I'm doing you a favor … and you agree and say, 'Yes, you have done me a favor.' That's how domineering (he is)."

Because of Abdalla's involvement in these incidents and Mullet's distrust of law enforcement, the two have been at odds since Mullet moved to Jefferson County in the mid-1990s.

Abdalla said he even received death threats from one of Mullet's sons, which he believes was orchestrated by Sam Mullet.

"It was two in the morning, (and he's) telling me I'm a dead SOB," Abdalla said. "He was charged with threatening, harassing, what have you. He went to court (and pleaded guilty)."

These stories and the terrible memory of the attack on her husband keep Arlene Miller awake at night, fearing the worst.

She's concerned that talking to the media – and the fact that her husband is only one of two beard-cutting victims who has pressed charges - could put them at risk once again.

"They didn't get all of Myron's beard that night, so (Mullet) is probably not done," she said.

That fear has driven the Millers, like a lot of other Amish families in the community, to take unprecedented precautions to protect themselves.

"We're locking doors, and we've got pepper spray and stuff like that," she said.

They never kept locks on their doors in the past, a trait shared by many Amish.

The "Bergholz clan" has also created a climate of fear in Amish communities well outside Bergholz and its surrounding towns. A man from Berlin, a couple hours away, who refused to give his name said he is fearful of the power Mullet wields.

"If we say something and they find out, we're going to be the target," the man said. "They would come after me. It's kind of scary here. I just don't want to get involved in it."

Inside Mullet's compound

Seven miles down a stretch of winding two-lane highway, deep in a valley outside Bergholz, you have to travel along township road over a mound of mud to get to the compound of Sam Mullet.

On the other side of that mound, barns and stables well past their prime come into view. A few white houses are mixed in with the farm buildings.

The only sound is the occasional neighing of the horses.

Next to a barn stands a boy, not much older than 9 or 10, in the plain Amish clothing: blue shirt, suspenders and trousers.

He stares at me, clearly an outsider, as I drive up in a car. Another boy watches as he sits just under the barn door near what is perhaps some horse-powered farm equipment.

Farther down the road, a group of younger children in the same type of clothing sit in what appears to be a sandbox.

Not one word can be heard, not even a laugh.

As I get out of the car, notebook in hand, the two boys disappear into the barn.

Little faces, some cradled by bonnets, peer out of windows of one in the houses as I approach.

A single knock at the door of a big white house at the dead end of the township road is answered by Sam Mullet, known as Bishop Mullet to the folks around here.

His tall frame fills the entryway; a long, wispy beard moves in the occasional light breeze. He seemed to be a charming, easygoing man.

When asked whether he'll respond to some of the charges folks are making about him, he chuckles and politely declines, saying he doesn't want to seem like he's just out to argue with people in the media.

"Can you perhaps respond to these allegations that you're running a cult?" I ask.

"People say a lot of things," Mullet says, a small, confident grin on his face.

"Are you running a cult?"

"No. It's not a cult."

"What about the allegations that you're behind the beard-cutting crimes?"

"Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?"

Another minute or so goes by as I attempt to glean more information. He repeats his claims from earlier that people "say a lot of things" before he politely dismisses me and heads back inside.

In an earlier interview with The Associated Press, Mullet said he did not order the beard attacks but didn't stop his sons and the other men from carrying it out.

In that same interview, he said he should be free to punish people who break the laws of the church.

Accusations of marriage-splitting

Looking back on his time under what he calls Sam Mullet's rule, Aden Troyer says he was brainwashed "80% of the way."

He wishes he could say the same of his wife, Wilma, Mullet's daughter. It was the beginning of the end of their marriage, and Troyer said that what happened over the course of a couple years wrecked him emotionally.

According to Troyer, the trouble began when Mullet heard that Troyer was planning to move his daughter and his granddaughters out of the group over the way Mullet was "ruling" his followers.

Not long after, Troyer said, Mullet began interfering with their marriage. Troyer said Mullet would ask women, including his wife, "about their sexual relationships with their husbands."

"That's very atypical behavior for Amish to do that," Troyer said. "It's unheard of."

He said Wilma spent more and more time with her father at his house. The two would sometimes talk all day and all night. He believes this was a tactic to get the women to a position in which they weren't thinking clearly on their own.

"One day I was at work, and I got home and … he came and took her, and that was the end of it."

Troyer said Mullet would allow them to be together only if Troyer gave in to Mullet's demands. Troyer refused, won custody of their two girls and moved to Pennsylvania.

Since Wilma has visitation rights but chooses not to exercise them, according to Troyer, this past spring he brought the girls back from Pennsylvania to see her. Once there, he said Wilma refused to let the children leave, citing an order from Sam Mullet.

The sheriff called in a SWAT team and the kids were returned to their father.

"In the Amish community, no one has jurisdiction over what goes on between a husband and wife," Troyer said. "He's the only guy and only leader that I know of that ever has gotten into an Amish couple's married life."

Troyer says his one regret is not being able to see the situation coming with enough time to warn his wife. To this day, he says, he holds his wife in the most positive light and says the only reason he wanted full custody was "for the safety of the children."

As for how he's explained why their mother has been absent so far in their lives, he's as gentle as possible.

"(I tell them) they do not need to be scared of their mother. She loves them, and she will not hurt them. I will say that," Troyer said. "But I don't think they're old enough that they can grasp what this guy is doing."

In that final minute on Sam Mullet's doorstep inside his compound, I asked him about the accusation that he split up his daughter's marriage to Troyer, with rumors of several more.

"Maybe you should ask the people whose beards were cut about the marriages they've split up," Mullet responded.

"Can you elaborate on that? What are you referring to, exactly?" I asked.

A quick chuckle, and he kindly said he was done.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Amish • Cults • Ohio • Religious violence

soundoff (909 Responses)
  1. Tony

    People need to stop thinking their losers & start thinking for themselves.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • wes

      did u mean "thank their losers" ir "think they're losers"?

      November 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  2. Alien Orifice

    How did they "uncover" the cult? Was it hiding under the beards?

    November 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  3. Devin

    Really? Beard cutting? People are being shot, stabbed, and blown up all over the world and you're freaking out over a beard-cutting cult? I understand that the beard is part of the amish faith, but I really think we need to be looking at the big picture here.....

    November 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  4. timd

    This is funnier than than the splinters in my amish grandpa's wooden bnttplug.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  5. divi s

    I'm going to grow a neck mullet now.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  6. hammr

    Sam mullet needs to be ci!!ed...its that simple...oh and as you can tell i aint amish.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • lalal

      well duh if you are using a computer -_-

      November 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  7. Barbara Quigley

    What if he cut off his beard and his hands too! Woudln't that ed domsehting!?

    November 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  8. sockpuppet

    People are so disrespectful of others' beliefs. I am not Amish, but they are good, peaceful people who treat others with respect. It is part of their religion to grow their beards long, and it obviously is significant to cut it off, or the attackers wouldn't have chosen that method. They can't just grow back a long beard like that in a few days. Just because it is meaningless to YOU, doesn't make it meaningless. And clearly, the Amish see the writing on the wall about this guy, and know there is only worse to come. Is there no sense of empathy or respect left in the world? I hope that something van be done about this cult before the followers end up dead.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • hammr

      except when they are crazy and carrying scisors

      November 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • pmn

      As do respect other people's belief. We are not talking bodily harm here. Yes, they can grow back a beard. Its kind of having items stolen from you or house burning down. It is always replace it. There is an intent for violence but no inflicting wounds. There are other cases and stories which should take priority over this one. In the bigger picture of all the issues in the world and US, it looks silly.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  9. sid

    Oh come on, let them alone, donot you guys have anything else to discuss. Cnn is becoming fox news , BBC is still balanced

    November 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Me

      Do you really think that this calls for sarcasm?

      November 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  10. fern

    Beard attacks?! What a horrible way to start No Shave November.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  11. AP

    This is the Amish version of Mississippi Burning.

    No seriously though, I have done business with the Amish before. On one occasion, a Amish customer who was having nothing but bad luck with my company, told me with a calm void "I am at the end of my rope". That is about the angriest Amish person I have ever encountered.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  12. DarrellS

    Just goes to show you that any belief system can be perverted in the mind of a mad man, and there are enough weak people in the world who will do anything to belong.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  13. golderhawk

    All these religions are cults, born agains, amish, mormons, catholic, all of them. God is a fairy tale and never was.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Billy Gee

      Nah, this is Satan's way of telling us he's won: if the Amish are going postal you know Armageddon is near. And this is coming from a devout Buddhist. God IS the universe, try to put God in a box with human definitions and terminology and you are trying to limit (define) the limitless. Ain't never gonna work. Even for beard-whackers named 'Mullet".

      November 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • arthurrrr

      wow are YOU wrong and in for a BIG surprise.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • BethTX

      Preach it, Brother Billy! Hand out that Kool-Aid to the faithful.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Me

      But someone wrote these stories in a book! The must be true!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jonathan

      One day our world will be doomed due to these religious people. All of them beginning with Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, bla bla.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  14. Hooligan

    I find this story interesting on various levels. While I think ALL religion is just silly, I also know the Amish faith is one of those that actually PRACTICES what it preaches and is one of the reasons they do not implement modern society in to their lifestyle. In terms of their faith... sure I guess this splinter fraction could be considered a "cult", but the reality is ALL religion is a cult and each one was once just as obscure and blasphemous as the people pointing the fingers. This is how faith is born... people have different ideas as to how things should be run when it comes to faith and as such they will branch off it they feel their god does not like one thing or another.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  15. Juan Romero

    This is just to much fun. People fighting about imaginary things. Keep at it, you amuze Us. Thanks.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • arthurrrr

      so juan- are you an illegal alien?????????

      November 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  16. fritz

    Beard cutting? What's the world coming to? My id monster is laughing his but off over this one. Seriously, the cops need to grab their butterfly nets and go after this guy, Mullet! He's dangerous! Beard cutting could lead to more serious crimes like...forced crew cuts or baldies! Yikes!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • SeethrutheBS

      This booshdag, Sam Mullet, needs to read the local paper every now and then. If he was up on what was going on around him, he might realize that this dictator mentality has one ending...any guesses? That ish does not work...it is only a matter of time before he finds himself regretting his "tyrant" ways...Ohio...really? On another note, if some boosh was trying to prevent me from getting down with my Mrs., i remove the preventor. Maybe that involves too much technology. Choices!!!!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  17. Luposian

    This story has "crazy loon" written all over it. It's sad, ridiculous, abhorrent, and hilarious... all at the same time! And the Amish are all bent outta whack, because their beards are being cut? Gee... like beards don't grow back or something?

    I mean, if someone came to my house, pinned me down, and shaved my head and then ran... I'd be grateful I wasn't killed. Sure, it would be a little awkward having to wear a cap or something for a few weeks, but it wouldn't hinder my faith...

    Now, if these Amish were Nazarites and shaving their long beards made them weak and defenseless or something, I could understand, but... THEY'RE NOT! It's a crazy "religious gesture" by some crazies who are crazier than the rest, but not crazy enough to kill, thankfully. Move away, if you have to, but don't worry... God won't send you to hell for having a shorter beard for awhile, because some nutcase cut part of it off... really... trust me!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  18. Ben Jarvis

    "Mullet's name emerged recently after several Amish-on-Amish beard-cutting attacks." I can't take this story seriously. It sounds too much like a "Mr. Show" skit.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  19. SkinheadRob

    This is too much... My sides hurt and my eyes are watered up. You know the world is coming to an end when the Amish start using electric clippers to attack each others beards... Oh my... The Mexican cartels ain't got nothing on these thugs... they are some stone-cold shavers...

    November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  20. tstorm

    Slow news day?

    November 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.