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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. snaporaz

    Man, why couldn't they have run this picutre BEFORE Halloween? I could've used a fresh idea!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  2. Johnny

    Is this story for real?? lol

    November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  3. Nick

    I would look into the state's castle laws and blow those guys away with a shotgun

    November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  4. Tiny Tim

    Gee I see the three stooges in that line up 🙂

    November 1, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  5. kevin

    Well if they were Muslims they would be cutting off your head instead of your beard.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  6. IndyJim

    Send in Al Yankovich, problem solved.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  7. vanessa

    sheez now there is evil in the amish community, i can wait to see what happens next hanging, shooting,killing, not even the amish are safe

    November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. AL

    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 mornin' I'm milking cows
    Jedediah feeds the chickens and Jacob plows, fool
    And I've been milking and plowing so long that
    Even Ezekial 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 going to party like it's 1699

    We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
    I churn butter once or twice, living in an Amish paradise
    It's hard work and sacrifice, living in an Amish paradise
    We sell quilts at discount price, living in an Amish paradise

    A local boy kicked me in the butt last week
    I just smiled at him, and I turned the other cheek
    I really don't care, in fact I wish him well
    'Cause I'll be laughin' my head off when he's burnin' 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
    { From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/w/weird-al-yankovic-lyrics/amish-paradise-lyrics.html }

    If you come to visit, you'll be bored to tears
    We haven't even payed the phone bill in 300 years
    But we ain't really quaint, so please don't point and stare
    We're just technologically impaired

    There's no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury
    Like Robonson Crusoe, it's as primitive as can be

    We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise
    We're just plain and simple guys, living in an Amish paradise
    There's no time for sin and vice, living in an Amish paradise
    We don't fight, we all play nice, living in an Amish paradise

    Hitchin' up the buggy, churnin' lots of butter
    Raised a barn on Monday, soon I'll raise a nutter
    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 pioust guy the little Amletts want to be like
    On my knees day and night scoring points for the afterlife
    So don't be vain, and don't be whiney
    Or else my brother might have to get medieval on your hiney

    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
    Yeah

    November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  9. Bonez

    Looks like they're "Munsoned" in the middle of nowhere.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  10. me

    This is headline news?

    November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Brenda

      Yes it's news. Clearly abusing someone–attacking them–by the tenants of their religious canon is not the American way. The beard is important to an Amish man. Although it is not my faith I will honor his choices. And buzzing off his beard is no different than force-feeding pork or tearing off a burkah or saying "heil hitler" to jewish folks. C'mon people! Show some decency and sympathy for another soul's person being offended by a bully.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Eagle Eye

    Hmm, sounds like Mr. Mullett is a fan of Sharia Law and radical feminism as his 'ways' sound strikingly like those of current family law here in the US. I guess it takes those simple Amish to figure out that's the wrong way to go about things. Just an FYI, the Amish have very little incidence of the same illnesses that affect most Americans..cancer,diabetes, mental illnesses – they also dont generally flouridate or immunize either. Those crazy bearded simpletons!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • BethTX

      High incidence of incest, though. My mother was a social worker in Amish Indiana and she had some heartwarming stories about father-daughter love.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Pat

      a fan of Radical Feminism? You mean the opposite, right? Because he obviously is no fan of women of any sort.

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

      Oh, and let's not forget the high instance of genetic disorders from all the inbreeding. Those clean-living Amish sure got it right!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • ready

      THOS COMMIES WONT GET MY PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  12. kevin

    Cheaters are using an electric buzzer to cut the beards!

    November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  13. msellers481

    we are not ready for another waco. we need to solve this problem before it gets to the point that we stop school so our children can see us take another compound with bullets and tanks, i had to see that as a kid and it has taken me 15 years to realize what that day realy ment to our humanity

    November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • kevin

      Really?! A bunch of extremist lock themselves in a compound and shoot it out with the ATF has alot to do with our humanity?

      November 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      I have a solution to the problem; make it illegal to teach religious delusions to children under 18 years old. That should just about do it. In a few years, none of "these" problems anymore.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      yes, kevin, it does.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      "make it illegal to teach religious delusions to children under 18 years old. That should just about do it. In a few years, none of "these" problems anymore."
      Didn't work in Russia.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      In Russia, they tried to force people. That never works. If it's illegal to have se x with a minor because they can't consent, then it should be equally as illegal to teach them lies and ra cist ideologies, at least to the age of consent. We know how good the law is already at stopping the s exual abuse of minors, especially in this god-fearing world, so we can't expect too much. But it would give the victims more courage to stop this abuse if it was illegal.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  14. clinky

    I suspect disgruntled ZZ Top fans had a hand in the beard-napping (sorry, I mean no disrespect, but couldn't resist a ZZinger)

    November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Brenda

      Heh. That was funny. "Every girl crazy for a sharp-dressed Mennonite!"

      November 1, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  15. BethTX

    So give them all Kool-Aid and let them go to it. I don't see the problem.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • irishdog75

      Totally agree!

      November 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  16. Ray

    Fred Phelps, anyone? Proof positive that being a fruitcake has a strong genetic component.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  17. moreh2004

    "Myron and Arlene Miller heard their doorbell ring."
    Aren't they Amish? How do they get the electricity to run a doorbell?

    November 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • BethTX

      It's wind-powered?

      November 1, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      Why do you think a doorbell always requires electricity?

      November 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • gborobrad

      There were door bells before there was electricity. You ring the doorbell by rotating a crank outside the house, which moves a striker inside the house that hits and rings a bell.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • runner15

      Maybe it"s a bell with a string attached where you move it from side to side. Those don't require electricity.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • CommonSense

      I believe they mean it literally. As in a bell. On your door.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Maybe it's an animals tail, like in the Flintstones.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  18. Cassarit

    Ah yes!

    The Reformed Sourthern Amish....

    November 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  19. Bill

    Lol, media taking jabs at areas of society that aren't glued to their flickering tubes all day. Cute. Thanks for the propaganda and the laugh CNN.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Everything in Moderation

      CNN didn't walk into a community and start digging around, this cult went and did something bizarre enough to attract attention. All CNN did was pay it.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  20. Mark

    Sad little men. Your beard is hair. Next you'll be telling us that your boogers represent your faith.

    November 1, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • BethTX

      BLASPHEMY! Thou shalt not poke fun at the holy mucus! The Flying Spaghetti Monster forbids it.

      November 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Nick

      It's no different than a yamaka or a crucifix

      November 1, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Mike

      It's not just that they were shaved, but that they were held down and forcibly shaved........

      November 1, 2011 at 5:52 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.