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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. Burnz

    You're all idiots. I'm serious none of you actually read/understadn the article. No one, not the witnesses or the author actually care about Amish people. It's those poor beards, that are being made homeless. It happens in every hair based ecosystem,; mullets push out the beards. Cut a mullet save a beard!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • christ jones

      Hear here!!

      November 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  2. neverwas

    are you sure this isn't a southpark stunt?

    November 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  3. Ren

    The Power of the Mullet!!

    If this guy weren't Amish he'd probably drive a Pontiac Trans Am!!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  4. SocialistZero

    I live fairly close to Bergolhz and I know the Corrections Officer who was on duty when the three offenders came in. The word around here is, and im fairly certain it is accurate is that the beard cuttings where supposed to shame people who where taking there work out of the Amish community. And as far as this "old world life style go's" my buddy was saying the three of them where complaining that they wanted Mountain Dew and a T.V. No joke either. I really cant belive this story is front page new's on CNN. It diddnt even make front page in the local paper.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  5. Timothy

    This is what happens when you wander too far off the beaten path. Amish are already a cult so why should anyone be surprised that a cult within a cult forms? All cults are dangerous and the government should keep a close eye on them.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • hez316

      I would much prefer Amish as my neighbors compared to 90% of the population. The ones I have known have been very kind and generous people.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • SocialistZero

      Yeah right. I live not far from Amish Country and ill tell you for a fact that you cant even try speaking to them if your not part of the Amish community. Granted there are a few who do some really nice carpentry work and associate with people outside there little compounds, I just had my bathroom redone by an "Amish" guy. But he certinally was no Mennonite.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • leecherius

      Then I guess Catholicism is a cult.... really , the media throws these terms out just to instill fear and cast the subject in a negative light. It's a cult...owwwwwwww.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Grumpster

    This article was horribly written. Yeah....I get the point...and it's important, but the writing style is like someone dropped out of high school and forgot to take the journalism 101 writing class or something. Fragmentation 100%. Get some cohesion, please.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Disney

      Speak for yourself.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  7. leecherius

    Say what you will , but these people are off the grid and laughing all the way to the bank.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  8. asdf

    Yeah, they are a CULT who BRAINWASHES people.

    Not like the rest of the amish, who just refuse to live in the modern world until they need medicine or anything important, and refuse to educate their kids past thirteen. Oh and they don't care if you come on your modern bus to amish country and buy their crappy overpriced quilts with your electrically-produced cash.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • hez316

      So I guess were brainwashed because we buy their crappy, overpriced quilts with our electronic money.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  9. bluecollarcat

    Well that beats all.I never thought I'd see the return of the 'mullet'.(Is Joe Dirt a member?)

    November 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  10. Katherine

    I have never seen an Amish person act any other way than peaceful. THis Mullet guy has to go, he's not in keeping with the Amish values. There's one nut in every religion and the Amish isnt any different. Weed out the bad ones now before it spreads and creates disharmony.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  11. Wha

    Story of the year, right here...I don't see anything beating this in the foreseeable future. Oscar please.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  12. JT

    they all look like a bunch of fugly inbred tards

    November 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Katherine

      Im sure they say the same about us. Please respect others free will to live however they want to be. Dont be an ass yourself.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • hez316

      @Katherine Thank you.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  13. TRH

    A cult within a cult...fascinating.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Kierra

    A cult within a cult ... interesting.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  15. David

    SO easy to make fun of this story due to the last name's of the alleged perpetrators, but it boils down to the fact that this is a religious hate attack and that disgusts me. Whoever is guilty, must be punished to the absolute fullest extent of the law. Absolutely unacceptable to do this to any culture/religion in USA, but feels particularly egregious against the Amish.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  16. Misha Gastonai

    The time is now for an "CSI: Amish Country".

    November 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Normon

      Nice!
      ...pull up in their fancy SUW (sport utility wagon) and get out the "black light" candles to check for blood. All the while, Sarah Sidleson is capturing the scene with the expensive new technology, an easel and oil paints.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Fookin' Prawn

      THIS. Amish CSI will not be allowed to use technology, though, which will make the show even more interesting.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  17. gummyballz

    creepy...

    November 1, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  18. TR

    Just keep them away from ZZ-Top.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  19. Sarah

    Does anyone realize that the amish steal jobs from tax payers. They bid low on construction jobs and get the job. They don't pay taxes. Why should our tax money be spent on protecting them or investigating their stupid antics?!

    November 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Denvercherub

      retard

      November 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • M3

      ...because they are still human beings.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • leecherius

      Whatever...they actually do produce some of the finest craftsmanship to be had. That's the result in taking pride in your endeavors.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Katheryne

      You're right. They don't pay taxes. They don't use the public school system. They don't apply for unemployment, disabitlity, social security, medicare, or medicade. IF they use something like an ambulance they pay one hundred percent of the cost themselves.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • asche

      are you dumb? you realize there are like 5 Amish people in the world? they don't even register on the national economic meter or the jobs pool.

      November 1, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Mctaket

      Not sure where you get your information about taxes, but you're wrong. Amish pay federal, state. property and sales tax. The ONLY tax they are exempt from paying is the Social Security tax if they are self employed. They pay the SSt ax if they are employed by others. The SS exemption was approved because the elder Amish are taken care of by family and the community and do not accept Social Security payments. I'm sure someone will come up with a rare exception, but it would be rare. They believe if they are true to their faith, they will have all they need within the community.

      November 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • hez316

      I don't believe they received Social Security either

      November 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  20. james

    OMG somebodie's BEARD WAS CUT!?!?! Call in the Marines!

    More CNN anti-Christian propaganda.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • kinglywarrior

      You do know Amish people are Christian right?

      November 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Normon

      More Christian conspiracy theories...

      November 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • asdf

      What? what about this was 'anti-christian'?

      seems to me like they are trying to highlight a problem among the amish, who are christians...

      November 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
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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.