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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. Dan

    After reading this article on this so called cult, the one thing I find the most interesting is the fact they can use doorbells!! Now when they say doorbell, do they mean one that runs off of some sort of electrical power, or is there a rope with a bell tied to it?? Other than this little detail, I do not care what goes on there!! They should NOT have the RIGHT to call the local authorities because these authorities are paid for by TAX MONEY and work for the same govenrment they choose to not observe!!! And how ironic is it that a group on MULLETS cut off a bunch of BEARDS???? funny stuff..................

    November 2, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Pointless1

      You're special, I mean they truly can't teach that type of stupid in schools..

      November 2, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • AW

      They actually do pay taxes.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  2. ThankYouGunny

    Amish Paradise forever!

    November 2, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  3. sean burns

    Ah, religion! ALL religions! What zany, insane, wacky, often funny (and too often EVIL) impulses it stirs in the "faithful". I wonder: does religious belief MAKE you stupid, blind, and unquestioning, or is it just that it ATTRACTS the gullible and sheep-like?

    November 2, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • Thenextstep

      To be Amish or a Meninite is a way of life..... Not a religion you nincompoop..........

      November 2, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • JT

      Kind of like being Baptist is a way of life?

      November 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • sean burns

      To Thenextstep: They are all ANABAPTISTS, mennonites being a less- strict sect. If i used that word instead of referring to them as "Amish", I was afraid the nincompoop contingent (of which you are a clueless leader, it seems) wouldn't understand.

      November 3, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  4. Bob

    It becomes a cult when one person takes over the whole group and starts making up his/her own rules, which are generally unrelated to the original groups doctrine. Also when he/she retaliates against people trying to leave or helping others trying to leave. That's a cult. If that is what this guy is doing, and the evidence appears to support it, then they should be investigate like any other cult organization. Leave the rest of the peaceful Amish communities out of it.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Brad

      So in other words, religion in general is a cult lol. Most people in any religion listen to their religiouse leaders words instead of doing their own research. It is their own fault for being suckered. Truth sets everyone free, if you chose not to find the truth, it is your own fault. No sympathy for these idiots.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  5. Epidi

    Why is it so surprising to people that mental illness exists in every community regardless of culture and religion? The Amish communities would do well to shun him as they do other offenders in their faith. They are peaceful pacifists as a rule. Those I've met here in PA are wonderful people though they do keep to themselves but that is just thier culture. They came here to America to escape religious persecution just as many of our ancestors did.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  6. Plain Jane

    Remember the 80's Mullet hairdo? Beard-snipping is the new, Amish-version!

    November 2, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  7. Plain Jane

    Two Amish men! Two Amish men!
    Diggin' in a ditch!
    One said to the other,
    Your beard's ready for a snip!

    November 2, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  8. Sechsvonacht

    Since when does a farm become a compound, I like the way reporters try to make thing seem different than what it really is!

    November 2, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  9. jdcma

    "An Amish 'Cult'"? Sounds redundant to me.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Gunny

      A local boy kicked me in the butt last week
      I just smiled at him and turned the other cheek
      I really don't care, in fact I wish him well
      'Cause I'll be laughing my head off when he's burning in hell
      But I ain't never punched a tourist even if he deserved it
      An Amish with a 'tude? You know that's unheard of
      I never wear buttons but I got a cool hat
      And my homies agree, I really look good in black...fool
      If you come to visit, you'll be bored to tears
      We haven't even paid the phone bill in 300 years
      But we ain't really quaint, so please don't point and stare
      We're just technologically impaired

      November 2, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  10. buffin

    How cool, a cult within a cult-This is kind of like when the Beverly Hillbillies went to visit their Aunt Kate in Petticoat Junction, though that visit was a lot more peaceful and fun for everybody.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Gunny

      Hitchin' up the buggy, churnin' lots of butter
      Raised a barn on Monday, soon I'll raise another
      Think you're really righteous? Think you're pure in heart?
      Well, I know I'm a million times as humble as thou art
      I'm the pious guy the little Amlettes wanna be like
      On my knees day and night scorin' points for the afterlife
      So don't be vain and don't be whiny
      Or else, my brother, I might have to get medieval on your heinie

      November 2, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • Bob

      We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
      We're all crazy Mennonites, living in an Amish paradise
      There's no cops or traffic lights, living in an Amish paradise
      But you'd probably think it bites, living in an Amish paradise

      November 2, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  11. jonnyflyboy

    more religious nuts thats all this country needs
    GOD help us ????

    November 2, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • Gunny

      As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain
      I take a look at my wife and realize she's very plain
      But that's just perfect for an Amish like me
      You know, I shun fancy things like electricity
      At 4:30 in the morning I'm milkin' cows
      Jebediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows... fool
      And I've been milkin' and plowin' so long that
      Even Ezekiel thinks that my mind is gone
      I'm a man of the land, I'm into discipline
      Got a Bible in my hand and a beard on my chin
      But if I finish all of my chores and you finish thine
      Then tonight we're gonna party like it's 1699

      November 2, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Bob

      "We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
      We're all crazy Mennonites, living in an Amish paradise
      There's no cops or traffic lights, living in an Amish paradise
      But you'd probably think it bites, living in an Amish paradise"

      November 2, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  12. TG

    My father-in-law was dominating and abusive. Because of raping his daughter (my wife now) when she was 16 years old (she is now 56) when drunk, and physically and emotionally abusing his five other sons, he left an indelible imprint on all his children. His youngest son has developed an internal hatred.

    My wife, from the moment of the beginning of our marriage, was suffering both mentally and emotionally, with the damage intensifying until she ended up in 4 mental health hospitals within a six year period. The destructive damage continued further until it caused a severe neurological problem, her becoming paralyzed on the left side of her body and mentally ill, requiring 24/7 care. I am her care giver.

    Jesus said that "because of the increasing of lawlessness, the love of the greater number will cool off."(Matt 24:12) The real guilty party here is an unseen spirit, formerly a spirit "son of God", called Satan, that has the entire world within his grips, for Revelation 12:9 says, after his ouster from heaven in 1914 following Jesus enthronement as king of God's kingdom, that "down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth, and his angels were hurled down with him."

    It is Satan that is manipulating the masses of mankind, like string on a puppet, to do his bidding (and personality–loveless), and that the vast majority are completely unaware that this is the case. Jesus said almost 2000 years before Satan's ejection from heaven: "Now there is a judging of this world; now the ruler of the world will be cast out."(John 12:31)

    November 2, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • buffin

      I never did those things.
      DAD

      November 2, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • teresa, ohio

      TG: you are right ... it is satan... ( lowercase S there). Guess what? WE are satan. satan made us do it. we did ti.
      we are satan. Deep concept. Most of us dont want to accept it as truth.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • buffin

      Me thinkist Thou hast made your wife sickest with your religious rants.
      brother paul winchell & jerry mahoney
      intecourse, pa

      November 2, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  13. Ken

    Way too long a story and seemingly way to inconsequential/unnewsworthy to read, but that's some wicked beard and haircut on the left.

    November 2, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  14. Amish & ANDY

    IT IS A CULT!! 'CAUSE HE SAID IT WASN'T!!

    November 2, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  15. rickinmo

    Obviously, many of the people commenting on this story don't understand what a cult is and the dangers it presents to its members and the community at large. When you have one person making up his own rules, doling out punishments that are not questioned, ruling with an iron hand, seeking revenge on members who leave or even talk about the group and exerting influence over the group who blindly follow without question you are headed for trouble. The Amish, in general, do not operate in this manner. People are free to come and go as they please and operate under a set of rules agreed upon by all. Jonestown did not start out as a group of suicidal idiots. They accepted Jones as their leader and the community grew into a cult totally under the leaders control. The beard cutting is just a symptom of a larger problem. People blindly following a leader they believe has the right to decide who is and who is not worthy to wear the beard, who is punished and how they are punished. The Amish themselves are not a cult. Membership in the group is voluntary. There are obvious differences in the two groups and once one person obtains control things always escalate until the group implodes, usually in disaster.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • thomas32565

      You are correct Rickmo. for all intent the Amish are not a cult. For one thing they do not recruit members and every member is free to leave the community at any time should they choose to. Good luck to anyone that might want to convert to Amish, they're standards are pretty high.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Sammy

      Rickimo your definition of what defines a cult was created by you or whoever taught that to you.....its not the textbook defiinition. isolating members, rulership by one person, harsh punishment etc... no more define a cult than reading the holy books and singing songs. the need to declare "those people over there" as a cult is nothing more than a way religions exalt their own belief system....but none of that is included in the definition of the word 'cult'

      November 2, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  16. Jane

    If he's Amish he wouldn't have a doorbell. They don't use electricity ...

    November 2, 2011 at 6:39 am |
    • Jon O

      You're making assumptions about the nature of the doorbell.

      November 2, 2011 at 6:52 am |
    • bruce

      battery powered you moron !

      November 2, 2011 at 6:53 am |
    • onthewildedge

      He would if it were the wireless battery operated ones.

      November 2, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • your great great grand-daddy

      They use the same doorbell as the Flinstones, there's a Teradactyl on the other end of the button that hits a gong with it's beak.

      November 2, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Jon O

      The original doorbells were quite literally bells... with manually run clappers.

      Batteries not required. Electricity not required.

      Wow.

      November 2, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • T N A

      reread the story... where does it state a doorbell was used?

      November 2, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • NODAT1

      Expand your knowledge before you type.
      Use the keyboard in front of you and do a search on non-electrical doorbells next time

      November 2, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Dan

      Doorbells are the devil...........even battery powered ones I would think would classify as "technology" I would think, but it is anotherone of the "Amish loopholes" that allow them to continue!

      November 2, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • buffin

      actually it was a non-electrified door bell, just like the one that the ADams Family uses.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Foreverlawst

      "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."

      Seems to me like it says DOORBELL.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  17. N

    Al religions are stupid. They make people insane. It's a poison to a healthy normal bran.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:33 am |
    • rudolph

      everybody loves bran...

      November 2, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • Sam

      i love me some Raisin bran

      November 2, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • T N A

      Mmm... a nice tall glass of Metamucil!

      November 2, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • TG

      Not all religions are "stupid", for the one true religion is identified by genuine love.(Eph 4:5) Jesus told his eleven faithful apostles: "I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”(John 13:34, 35)

      The religions of both Christendom and of those who are "breakaway" religions do not apply the "kingly law of love" (James 2:8) that Jesus displayed and in so doing cannot know his Father and our Creator, Jehovah God. Even the Jews who were born into a dedicated relationship to God did not know him, for Jesus said on the night before his death, classifying the Jewish nation as among the "world: "Righteous Father, the world has, indeed, not come to know you."(John 17:25)

      Psalms 25:14 says: "The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him". This "fear" is not a morbid fear, but of lovingly fearing to displease him, for the apostle John wrote that "God is love."(1 John 4:8) Jehovah God gave life and the earth to all of mankind, but only a few return his love.

      November 2, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Cherry

      Al bran---lol

      November 2, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @TG: You said, "Not all religions are "stupid""

      Yeah they are. Your zombie worship is no exception.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  18. Sam

    these people are seriously missing out on the iPad

    November 2, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  19. Ninjaman

    For those who haven't heard it yet:

    What goes clipity clop, clipity clop, clipity clop, bang bang bang, clipity clip, clipity clop, clipity clop?

    An Amish Drive By Shooting

    November 2, 2011 at 6:28 am |
    • buffin

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
      u b won funnee m.f. er

      November 2, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • theG

      I can't stop laughing...

      November 2, 2011 at 8:02 am |
  20. unowhoitsme

    Actually it's TWO cults...one violent, one peaceful.

    November 2, 2011 at 6:25 am |
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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.