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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. tldixon

    religion just breeds whack-jobs...it's getting creepier out there every day-if any book gets burned it should be the bible...

    November 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • TRUTH

      So true.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • n.k

      That is ridiculous, I am not religious but there is no need to bash religion. In general the Amish are the most peaceful of the Christians and there are crazy people in every religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, they all have a few whack jobs. Atheism also has those people. Your comment should be against people who commit crimes and are violent not general religious people

      November 1, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • sybaris

      Uh n.k, there's every reason to bash religion, it's a huge waste of time and money based on myths and legends. Some people (George Bush) even justify killing people through their religion. Religion and mental disorders provide the only two excusable catalysts for committing crimes. One because they can't help themselves, the other because it has mass approval.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • BigMike619

      Ame....damn it!!!!

      November 1, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • USU_PSU

      I'm an atheist and find MUCH fault in religion, but I have to agree with n.k.

      November 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • ReligionIsEvil

      "Amen" to that!

      November 1, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • RealityCheck

      You must have been so busy dreaming up attacks on religious people to ignore that fact that the founder and president of the American Atheists was murdered by one of the atheist members. Typical atheists. Try google.... Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

      November 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Hadenuffyet

      sybaris...prove it.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  2. bill

    lol.... they cut their beards and taped them on to the back of their heads.

    their last name IS mullet

    November 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  3. c000

    Seriously, even the Amish are getting divorced now? What's wrong with us? Surely it's the gay people right (please note sarcasm).

    November 1, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  4. justme

    Nothing compared to the atrocities against women and children that go on in Colorado City, AZ due to a mormon cult. They practice poly gamy. Women are married off in arranged marriages sometimes as young as 13 yrs old, beat up, and their wills crushed. "Excess" boys are killed or thrown out the complex w no money or education, some starve to death, others have no idea what to do without any education. All in their name of god, from a religion that claims so much love and morality. Much worse than a few hairs on your face cut off. Religion is a disease.

    November 1, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  5. gbdavis

    Sorta sounds like a more antiquated version of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

    November 1, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  6. Deesnutz

    Take all the cult members and put them in jail, soon they will start murdering people like all cults do. Cutting hair is just the beginning.

    November 1, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Salvuccino

    Thumbs Down CNN.com.
    Come On!!
    Seriously you didn't have anything better?

    Religion Is both explaination and reason

    Who has no faith, has given them up

    November 1, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Greta

    Tonight we're gonna party like its 1699.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  9. Zebediah

    And my homies all say that I look good in black fool.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  10. someoneelse

    The only difference between a religion and a cult is societal approval. There is no actual difference.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • sigh

      No, no, no, a cult threatens those that leave or try to leave it and promotes isolation within the cult by forcibly cutting off communications with those who are not in the cult. A religion does no such thing (and if it does it is a cult). Do you know a normal, neighborhood Christian who is not allowed to speak to his/her Jewish friends? I don't think so.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • justme

      @ sigh, from Webster dictionary:
      Cult
      1: formal religious veneration : worship
      2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents

      All religions are cults. It all depends on how messed up you think it is. "Cult is in the eye of the beholder". I'm sure many members of the taliban and amish people see christians as members of a cult, while you think most other religions are a cult.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  11. thespiritguy

    If I looked like the guys in the photos, I'd pay someone to cut my beard. "Thou shalt not have both a beard and a bowl haircut at the same time" .

    November 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  12. Duncan

    The Amish are not just a simple primitive people living in rural Pensylvania. They are all a dangerous cult if you look at the facts. They refuse to let women be educated beyond the 8th grade even though the state law requires education through age 18. In what society other than some in the Middle East of Africa is that tolerated? They do not allow their children to be educated so that they can function in the modern electronic world, and that borders on neglect and abuse because they lack the skills to leave should they desire to. What would you say to a friend who said that they were going to educate their children like it was 1835? Its just not OK. Finally if you do not have their tribal "permission" to cross land they believe is theirs, even if it is federal or state property they are not shy of technology. Yes, they will use shotguns to defend what they feel is their property even if it by law is not. On numerous occasions the Pennsyalvania police have been called to escort legitimate bicyclists across parks in Pennsylvania that the Amish feel they own. That is to protect the bicyclists from terrorism on the road! While Amish may be "cute" and it is quaint to have a group of people living in the past, the federal laws on education are very clear yet unenforced in Pennsylvania. Just because a culture has some specific religious practice it is not necessarily a good thing to preserve. The actions of the Amish are as backwards as the Taliban, and they deserve to be retired to the history books in the same way.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • c000

      If my understanding is correct, they don't educate their men beyond an 8th grade level either.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • justme

      In what other society this happens? Right here in USA!!!!!! Many areas of Utah and Colorado City are just like you describe. Even worse when poly gamy and incest is encouraged by their bible. Just google Colorado City, child brides, Under the Banner of Heaven, or Escape by Carolyn Jessop. You'll be surprised. Even more surprising is the amount of money that the federal govt pays in welfare to continue the tradition of poly gamy and incest, because all this old guys with 30 "celestial" brides have 70+ kids considered "single mothers" and receive millions of dollars in federal money.

      At least the Amish have the decency to not drain or tax money.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Betty775

      Seriously Duncan you have NO clue what you are talking about. I live here in lancaster county PA. I have my entire life. My family would help an amishman with milking the cows and I played with their children. They do NOT threaten people who come onto their property. In fact they would welcome you. They are giving, loving people who will give the shirt off their backs for anyone who needed it. Your house burns down, they are there to help rebuild. They may be different and have different beliefs, but they shouldnt be chastised for it. You've got one renegade idiot who is condoning beard cutting. He gives the old order amish a black eye. They are incredible farmers and supply this country with alot of things besides furniture. Everyone should have the priviledge of knowing an amish family.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • umm

      Amish haha you hardly ever see them in the news and when you do.. Guess what it is over Beard cutting.. I think Amish are the most peaceful ppl I can think of.

      November 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  13. Jak3

    Why must everybody who does not approve of religion have to slam religion. I don't understand y should you care about it if you do not believe in what others believe. Just leave it alone and remain calm. >.>

    November 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • aaronb

      I guess because religous people go around killing folks who don't believe as they do.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  14. godott

    This brings up harsh memories for me. When I was a small child, I got involved with a pe nis cutting cult. They chopped off a chunk of little kids pe nises without their consent. Often they prey on babies and chop them before they can even talk, probably this is done to prevent the child from talking to authorities about what was done to them. I understand this pe nis cutting cult is still active in many parts of the US.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • tex9400

      now thats funny!! LOL

      November 1, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Carole Clarke

      Are you talking about the Jews? Why not come right out and say you are an anti-Semite, don't bother to get cute about it.

      November 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  15. Meuus

    Religion=large group following a dogma, cul= smaller group following a dogma, manmade religions=cults

    November 1, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  16. SconnieGuz

    At least they are not suicide bombers!

    November 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • lance corporal

      yet................

      November 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  17. Greg

    Very poor journalism. I suspect, as any intelligent person should, that the clear agenda here of the secular bias, once removed, will reveal that those men who had their beards shaved were committing adultery outside their marriage, and completely disrupting this little community. The cult leader invites the journalist to actually do his job and do some real investigative journalism. However, it makes a simpler read to just paint a picture of a starkly different culture and innocent victims. It is a more complicated mess if a community leader in a non-violent way is punishing those who are threatening to destroy families. The journalist never bothers to follow up. He never asks those who had their beards cut off what they were doing to destroy other's marriages. Pretty obvious, actually.

    November 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Chili Reverse Blowout

      It's pretty obvious you put way too much thought into this. The truth is that it does not matter. Let this cult handle their own filthy matters and keep your twisted opinion out of it.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  18. Marcus

    And the leader of that cult was actually Mitt Romney! omfg

    November 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  19. Thatguy371

    Gotta look out for those rogue Amish... especially the Mullet cult... watchin' Nascar and drinkin' PBRs while planning their next dastardly caper. Who knows where this senseless beard stealing violence will end? Removing the orange triangles from the back of buggies? Stealing buttons from their overalls? Wiring their homes for electricity?!?!?!? Oh the humanity of it all!!!

    November 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  20. sybaris

    Just say "No" to religion.

    November 1, 2011 at 7:55 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.