Amish arrested over hair and beard attacks

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The Independent US

Police in the United States have arrested three Amish men suspected of breaking into another man's house and cutting off his hair and beard in an unusual outbreak of violence in the deeply conservative, normally peaceful community.

The attack on the 74-year-old man in Holmes County, Ohio, was intended to degrade and humiliate the victim, according to the sheriff's department.

The incident, on Tuesday, followed a spate of similar incidents in four rural counties at the heart of Ohio's Amish community. It was believed that they were carried out by a breakaway group who have been disowned by the mainstream community.

During the incidents, large groups of men barge into properties and drag the occupants into the street. They are then held down and attacked with scissors. According to police reports, 27 men carried out one of the attacks, shouting that they were part of the "Bergholz clan".

The breakaway congregation is led by Sam Mullet, an Amish bishop,who was believed to have been shunned by the church after his property was raided by police in 2007 following allegations of sexual abuse, according to news reports. The local sheriff, Fred Abdalla, last week said he believed that the hair of the victims had been delivered to Mr Mullet after attacks to prove they had been carried out.

Two of those arrested are believed to be Mr Mullet's sons – 38-year-old Johnny Mullet and Lester Mullet, 26. A third man, Levi Miller, 53, was also arrested. The trio were charged with aggravated burglary and kidnapping and were due to appear in court. A fourth suspect was released after what US media reported was a case of mistaken identity.

The act of cutting off facial hair is deeply insulting to the Amish – a fundamentalist branch of the Mennonite Church, whose followers shun modern technology – because male followers are required to grow long beards and women are not allowed to cut their hair. Amish women have also had their hair shorn in the incidents.

Some attacks have been carried out with gardening shears, with the result that victims have suffered minor injuries.

Last month a 57-year-old woman blamed her sons and a son-in-law for an attack on her husband, but did not press charges. "They did this to me", she said, according to a police report, pointing to bare patches on her scalp.

The investigation has been hampered by the closed nature of the Amish community and its members' unwillingness to ask law enforcement agencies for help.