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. JW

    Make the guy break his own rules. Send some people into his house, make him get violent or call the police to get them out.

    November 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  2. Steve

    The brainwashed got brainwashed, shocking.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  3. Woody

    Amish Guy: "Don Mullet, I come to you for justice".

    Don Mullet: "Don't worry, I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse. Tom, send in Luca and tell him to bring his scissors"

    Mario Puzo, eat your heart out.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  4. phoodphite

    I'll say the same for this story as I did for the one on Paganism. Monthy Python needs to resurrect itself!! There's is just too much good material here for them to use.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  5. OldNick

    Well that's the pot calling the kettle black...

    November 2, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • ImmaHappy

      OldNick ~ Why you gotta make this about race??? 😛

      November 2, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  6. Daydreamer

    Those are the goofiest looking guys I've seen in a long time.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:30 am |

    well i guess they are not living in an Amish paradise anymore.
    also all religions are cults and evil

    November 2, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • yep

      opinions...you know what they say about those

      November 2, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  8. wearejustparticles

    So he let Mullet come and "take " his wife? He let an old run down farrt take his wife? what am I missing here?

    November 2, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Truefax

      The old fart was her daddy, she's brainwashed.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  9. silveo

    I'm scared.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  10. rui

    Islam is satanic.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • hippypoet

      thats irony!

      November 2, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  11. Jim G

    The Mullets! Hilarious. Honestly, thank Christ for the Americans.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  12. CJ


    November 2, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  13. hippypoet

    i think its awesome that they have there own type of cult like normal people have nike sneaker wearing punch drinking crazies..they have beard cutting lunes. Its cute!

    November 2, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  14. mark

    this is nuts

    November 2, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  15. turtletown

    Im sorry, but the haircuts are very funny looking and this whole story seems funny................like nerds taking revenge on other nerds. I am hoping no serious harm comes to anyone here..............but to the outside world this just seems like a parody on saturday night live.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Melissa

      Turtle...not everyone shares your opinions, so don't bring us in to try to validate you.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • phoodphite

      oh, but you can be sure that, as we blog, the SNL writers are mull(et)ing over something to do about this story.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • AW

      Mellissa chill out. It is all pretty funny. Not the cult part so much or the fact that this guy could be hurting people, but the beard cutting is pretty funny. Not that it's right by any means. Just saying. =)

      November 2, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Barber nightmares

      In this case it's party in the front, business in back ...

      November 2, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  16. Sammy

    It should be noted that ALLLL religions fit the dictionary definition of a "cult"...it means nothing more than a system of religous beliefs and/or its members. This story illustrates the problem with all so called holy men. people convince themselves that some dude was sent by god and they do all manner of idiocy because if the holy dude says it, god musta told him to. its insane that in this day and age people refuse to think for themselves

    November 2, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Evan

      If all religions fit the definition of cult then why would two terms exist? Cults do not exist past their original leaders because the purpose is blind devotion for the sake of power rather than the search for an explanation of existence through more coherent means. Your statements are stereotypes. Like saying all atheists promote eugenics.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Reality or fantasy

      There are two terms because religious people need a judgmental name for other religions.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Sammy

      did you seriously just ask me why there are two words with the same meaning? is that your first experience with such a thing? c'mon now

      November 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Larry P

         [kuhlt] Show IPA

      a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

      an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.

      the object of such devotion.

      a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.

      Sociology. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • It's Evil vs. Good

      Cults brainwash vulnerable people into obeying psychotic dictators to avoid abuse. Religions teach people that obeying God's laws will bring them closer to Him and His love/blessings for them.

      November 2, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Sammy

      oh i see what ya did there Evil vs Good. larry posts a very clearly worded definition for the word cult and since as i said, every religion fits that definition, you decided to close your eyes and your mind and RE-define the word so you dont have to believe your in a cult. the force is strong with this one!

      November 2, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  17. Bresilver

    My husband's family is from this area and his grandfather still lives down the road from Sam's Compound so I've been hearing stories about him for years. I had heard the story about him forcing his daughter to leave her family often over the last several years. I've also heard some very serious aligations about his conduct with the women and children. I hope and pray that they are able to get this man behind bars and help those who are trapped in his cult.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  18. Chuck Anziulewicz

    This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes. QUESTION: What goes "clop clop clop BANG! clop clop BANG! clop clop clop?" ANSWER: An Amish drive-by shooting.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Phyl

      YOU are SICK!!!! That is NOT funny....you have NO respect for anyone inluding yourself....: (

      November 2, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Shifflinger

      Chuck, that is frigging hilarious!!!!! LOVE IT! Clop, clop....HAHAHAHA

      November 2, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Papillion

      Relax Phyl, it's a joke, please don't have a nervous breakdown reading comments on CNN.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • AW

      I lived near amish all my life and even they think that joke is funny. chill out phyl!

      November 2, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Good One

      I thought the poor horse's legs were falling off, one-by-one ...

      November 2, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  19. Kathy

    Living near the Amish in Lancaster, PA, .... these are peace loving people of faith. It is not a cult. Anyone who says that is truly ignorant. Just because someone lives a very different life than you, you should not result to name calling. That is bullying. The person who is orchestrating these acts is a bullyer too. You have much in common. To you cutting a beard means nothing, to them it is a mark against their faith. Maybe if we were all more Amish like (have faith in God and choose to be peaceful) our world would not be in the shape it is today.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Melissa

      I don't think that anyone was calling the Amish a cult. They were, however, calling this Sam Mullet and his followers a cult. It clearly stated that his rules were not of the normal Amish beliefs. This is someone who is going on a power trip in the name of their faith. An extremist. The writer of this article was not making fun of the beard cutting, but was trying to let people know what was going on. The ONLY "bullying" going on is by Sam Mullet and his family. I think you need to re-read the article and gain some perspective.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • k

      You clearly did not even bother to read the article. The entire point was this is not a "normal" Amish group and people are scared including other Amish.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • heyitsme

      No Kathy, Sam's compond is a Cult. And by technical definition, if you wipe out all Gov't structure around you – and you function within yourself – that IS a Cult. Regardless if you are peaceful. You can live without anything you want, that's your right, however, there are reasons you shouldn't cut out certain things, because sooner or later you will breed the dominerring that want to create their own world.... IE Sam??????????

      November 2, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • pamelahaley

      Um... Hi. Yeah... It's not outsiders calling Amish a Cult. It's Amish calling a separated sect a cult. They may be Amish but, are still outsiders due to separation. Just READ before you comment.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Shifflinger

      In addition, Kathy....you are RETARDED!

      November 2, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • OldNick

      Being a Lancastrian... even despite the the secular divide in this case, the Amish are the textbook definition of a cult, pious or not. A society that reduces women to breeding stock, restricts education and promotes forced child labor, abuses their animals and claims to be the divine exception... it's pretty clear cut. They obviously have you brainwashed as well.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • JT

      Cults are simply all other religions but mine and religions that have no political clout.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • hippypoet

      ok time to move on children. the fact is that all religions are cults by the definition of cult. get over it. oh and all religions are based upon an idea, nothing more! ah the power of thoughts.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  20. Russell

    Sounds like it would make a great season for "Whisker Wars"

    November 2, 2011 at 8:36 am |
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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.