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Amish group found guilty of hate crimes

A group of 16 Amish men and women who cut the hair and beards of rivals in a religious dispute have been convicted of hate crimes.

Samuel Mullet, the 66-year-old leader of a breakaway group, orchestrated the attacks while 15 of his followers carried them out. Victims, men and women, would be dragged out of their beds in the night and had their hair or beards forcibly cut, sometimes to the scalp.

The hair-cutting was carried out to punish and shame members of the Amish community in eastern Ohio who Mullet believed were straying from the true path of belief. Cutting hair was chosen as it was considered to shame the victims because of its spiritual significance to Amish people, who are more often considered peaceful, pious and to live simply, eschewing modern technology.

The defendants, who had maintained their actions were not hate crimes but reasonable religious discipline, now face jail terms that could be more than 10 years long. Mullet denied orchestrating the attacks but witnesses told the trial he had complete control over the community.

Rhonda Kotnik, one of the defence lawyers at the Cleveland court, warned that Mullet's community of about 25 families would be "ripped apart" by the verdicts. The defendants, including six couples, have a total of about 50 children.