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. Manny

    Does their cult have a Facebook page ?

    November 2, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • uncleOsama


      November 2, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  2. anon

    Does anyone else find it funny that none of them are reading this?

    November 2, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  3. Roger Ogilivy Thornhill

    The cult of The Mullet

    November 2, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  4. phoodphite

    Bizarre. Well, aside from these beards, does this break-away Mullet family sport hairdo's that match their name?

    November 2, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • phoodphite

      OK I see the pics of the suspects now. Looks more like bowl cut hairdos – maybe done with a flowbee. But I don't remember there being a manually-powered flowbee.

      November 2, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  5. TheBossSaid

    I used to belong to a "Christian" commune. It not only destroyed my marriage but resulted in the death of my wife. I have since then never referred to myself as a "Christian" and never will again. I do however believe in Jesus as the son of God and will follow him. As for all "Christian" denominations, no matter whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Amish, Hutterite... – they are all pagan cults that have virtually no resemblance to the original Christian church that lived 2000 years ago. Today, they are all nothing but rubbish.

    November 2, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Gadflie

      I strongly suspect that your religion is the same. There is so little information about early Christian practices that pretending that yours are similar is just that, pretending.

      November 2, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  6. Boris

    Boy, these guys are ugly.......

    November 2, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Trez

      But I must know how this ends!

      November 2, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  7. Manny

    The perfect punishment would be to tattoo large handlebar mustaches on all of them.

    November 2, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  8. Steve

    There is so much ROFL with this story its sickening.

    November 2, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  9. lance corporal

    4 generations back my family was amish in pennsylvania, I am soooooo thankful my great great grandfather left, during summers as a child we would go visit some of our relatives who still lived in the area, my mother always romanticized her amish relatives and ancestory, I didn't get it as a kid and I don't now, nothin but love and respect but I can't imagine the limited life I would have in that community and can only think that familial pressure and eventual brain washing is the only way people stay and this story certainly bears that out, the phelps is a family church too, when ever you have a patriarch (or matriarch) with too much power you can count on some form of perversion of truth and mass weirdness by the followers

    November 2, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  10. lance corporal

    it is funny, when a christian sect does some crazy sh-t and all of a sudden the "real" christians are out there saying well they're not actually christian.......... I guess it's the same way some of us aren't "real" americans. sorry they most certainly are christians, they have the same basis to their faith and they agree with you waaaaaay more than they disagree. this is part of your family, if one of your kids does something stupid do you say, well he's not a "real" smith......

    November 2, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • John Smith

      Very good point, I would never say one of my kids is not a "real" Smith. The fact that we are using the internet makes me think none of us have a whole lot in common with these people...

      November 2, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  11. Dianne

    That is cruel !!!! It is certainly against the law outside of the Amish to do that and assult them without their permission. They should take Mullet and shave his head and see how he likes it. It is not okay to treat this group of people this way even though they "shun" the modern world and it is just cruel and wrong to do this and take advantage of their nature that way. They need to be punished by the Amish community or the outside world or both for their actions.

    November 2, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  12. Chuck

    I see after looking at the picture of the 5 guys that there is more inbreeding at the Mullet house than there is in the south where they just wear mullets...mullets equal inbreeding....who knew.

    November 2, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  13. Kevin

    Weird Al tried to warn us about this Amish thug life....

    November 2, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  14. RoyMunson

    So the convenience of electricity is prohibited but battery operated clippers are ok? To me batteries seem more convenient but probably less effective and reliable when trying to de-beard a rival member in the Amish community. I heard the reason they didn't get all of Myron's beard was the clippers' batteries died. Can anyone confirm this? I have not been this disturbed from reading a story since Leroy "Reverend" Beard and his cronies terrorized their local trailer park by cutting off the mullets of several dissenting members. The things Beard did to those mullelts is almost as devastating as the things Mullet did to those beards.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  15. RS 12234

    How does his "doorbell ring" if they don't have electricity ??

    November 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • 4mercy

      Haven't you ever seen a true 'bell'...the kind you ring by pulling a rope?

      November 2, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Gadflie

      An old fashioned twist bell. No electricity needed.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  16. robby

    i have to admit i found the storyline of the article kind of enticing, like a dramatic episode of little house

    November 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  17. Blessed Geek

    Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Amish.

    November 1, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Mary

    I always thought there were only THREE stooges?

    November 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • clearfog

      What about shemp?

      November 2, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  19. Roger Ogilivy Thornhill

    The anti-technology, closed community of Amish say that one of their members is running a cult. That's a joke, right?

    November 1, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • robby

      well it could be argued that all religions are rather cultish. look at christianity. they symbolically drink the wine as a symbol of the blood of christ. so , by drinking the wine u could say they are all symbolically indulging in vampirism

      November 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • bobdole

      Yea and those stupid native americans believing in spirit animals. Sounds cultish too. The Amish give their children the freedom to leave if they want. Granted they can not comeback but they none the less give them that right. So no not even close to being a cult.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • 4mercy

      actually, robby, no, you can't say that at all. oh brother.

      November 2, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  20. Wo0F

    Amish Paradise lyrics
    Songwriters: Stevie Wonder;Jr. Ivey;Larry Sanders;Alfred Matthew Yankovic;Doug Rasheed

    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

    November 1, 2011 at 11:35 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.