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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. snooper27

    Larry L. May I say (pardon the expression) Amen to that!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  2. Dizzyd

    Amazing how evil ppl are – and I don't just mean that Mullet guy!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  3. JP

    All religions are cults and their followers are ignorant freaks and fanatics. So what else is new?

    If you need to believe in some Big Daddy in the sky and fear his wrath in order to act like a civilized person, then you've got a serious character flaw to begin with.

    Maybe someday the human race will evolve enough intelligence and common sense to realize what of ridiculous load of BS religion actually is. More likely we'll wipe ourselves out in the name of some "God" or other.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  4. Really?

    The assumption being that one splinter faction of Amish is somehow more ridiculous that the "true" Amish. What a joke. All religion is cultish, the only thing that legitimizes on over the other is the number of followers and the time it's been around. 2000 years and a billion people and you're a world religion. Twelve 30 year old dudes with beards in your mom's basement and you're the Manson Family.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Pete

    wow, keep your livestock locked up around these guys. Strange looking dudes and that's not a comment about the Amish. I know lots of Amish and lots of Old Order Mennonites. Those groups are just trying to live their lives simply. But these guys in the lineup look like extras from Childern of the Corn and The Hills Have Eyes.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  6. Ky

    well they certainly are very UNATTRACTIVE with all that stupid facial hair, it is really gross

    November 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  7. No time for Cults

    Typical of the Amish to act dumb or "ignorant" in order to shirk the law, but Mullet takes it to a whole new level by asking: "Beard-cutting is a crime, is it?" No Mullet, beard-cutting is not a crime, but assault on another person is. Arrest this cult leader already and save the children from a life of abuse!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  8. DSNesmith

    Guys.
    Guys, seriously.
    Guys, this isn't front-page news.
    Seriously, guys.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • The First Jeff

      Says the guy with the cut-off beard...

      November 1, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Jason

      They had to...... *gasp*..... put LOCKS on their doors?! I am humbled to know there are people around here who would think that is a drastic action.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  9. bluecollarcat

    I love all the atheists speaking up on this.How about a nut job running around telling people to attack you because of your belief.Would that be any different?

    November 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Brian Macker

      I'm an atheist. This looks like your average farm. I like how they are calling it a compound. Makes me think the lefties at CNN are hoping for another massacre of some minority religious followers.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Foodle

      You religious nutcases have been doing that for thousands of years.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  10. Kurt

    Compound? Really? Nice choice of words.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Dave

      Have you looked at the photo? Large, fenced-in area...yep, a compound.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • The First Jeff

      Yeah, I'm pretty sure that a group of residences within a fenced-in area is the EXACT definition of a compound. So I'm not sure it's a "nice" choice of words, but it's definitely the right choice of words.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Kurt

      We refer to them as farms in the midwest. Unless of course the author is trying to apply a negative connotation. Waco, Bin Laden, etc...

      November 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  11. Bill

    How about "Boycott Hawaii" unless and until they comply with the wishes of the people investigating the birth certificate. Again folks "BOYCOTT HAWAII". take your convention and vacation dollars elsewhere.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • James

      Are you serious? your an idiot!

      November 1, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • sadlyperturbed

      Really? You are still holding onto that sad delusion? Let it go. Just put it down and walk away slowly. It won't hurt you.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • The First Jeff

      I hope you're kidding, but if you aren't, I heard Branson, Missouri has entertainment more your speed.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  12. Mit

    LOL! now THIS is a story, worthy of my time.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
  13. JT

    Is that lineup the GOP candidates for president? I just can't pick out Cain for some reason.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  14. Ben

    All religions are "cults" by definition. I wish the media would quit using the word cult like it implies something else.
    Definition of CULT:
    1: formal religious veneration : worship
    2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents

    November 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dave

      No, "cult" has negative connotations, and usually describes a smaller group of people who have beliefs perceived by the majority to be bizarre or abnormal. They're not recognized as official religions and are often headed by one crazy dude. American Journal of Sociology 85 (1980), p. 1377: "Cults[...], like other deviant social movements, tend to recruit people with a grievance, people who suffer from a some variety of deprivation."

      November 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  15. Saxxon

    Gangsta...Amish-style!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • guest

      hahaha... i do believe i've read everything.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • JP

      Now that's damn funny right there!

      Pretty much sums up this silly-assed story in a nutshell!

      November 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  16. government cheese

    Sounds like Obama's cult.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • The First Jeff

      Huh???

      November 1, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  17. borysd

    They look like the Taliban!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  18. COUNTRYCOOK

    WOW, those men look like they could be part of the Taliban terrorist. Haven't they ever heard the old saying "What would Jesus do" ? Well fellows He wouldn't be braking into someone's house and assaulting them. Looks like you guys need a little beard trimming yourself.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • The First Jeff

      Jesus would have a better grasp of the english language.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  19. ohh wow

    SERIOUSLY YOU THINK THIS STORY IS WORTH AN ARTICLE????? 🙂 Amish beard massacre FAIL

    November 1, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  20. Jeff Youngblood

    Poison KoolAid dude "Oh yeah!"

    November 1, 2011 at 6:00 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.