Is Sam Mullet Outside both the Law and Age-Old Amish Traditions?

Sam Mullet, leader of the Amish in Bergholz, Ohio, is hoping to gain his freedom tomorrow, Monday, March 2, when a federal judge will re-sentence 16 defendants following an appeals court's decision to overturn their hate-crime convictions last August in the case that involved attacks on other Amish.

The victims asked for help because their traditions failed them. They simply do not have a way to deal with the threat of Mullet if he is allowed to return to Bergholz. It is unfortunate that this case has gotten bogged down in the politics of whether or not the attacks constituted hate crimes. We merely need to look at the facts to know that Mullet’s perceived enemies are not safe if he is allowed to go free. He sent his minions out to exact revenge on his enemies. And the reason he perceived them as enemies? They had dared to defy him. And now that he has spent time in jail, he might just want to make someone pay.

The Amish have a way of dealing with “sinful” behavior that goes back centuries. If someone has committed a wrong, he (or she) is to go to the bishop and confess. If the bishop sees signs of remorse, he will accept a public confession in a “members’ meeting” immediately following a church service. The “brother” who has erred normally makes his confession on bended knee and then he is welcomed back into the church.

Amish church discipline doesn’t always work. Some are incapable of feeling remorse. With his arrogant self-righteousness, Mullet likely hasn’t made a public confession since he was ordained. He held a position of absolute power in Bergholz, meting out whatever “punishments” he saw fit.

The Amish way of ordaining their leaders usually filters out those who are incapable of leading, those who would abuse their power, and those and who are known to be arrogant or egotistical or what the Amish call grossfeelich. Church members vote for a male who they think will make a good leader. Anyone with two (in some communities, three) votes are placed in the “lot.” As many songbooks as there are men in the lot are then placed on a table. Only one of those books has a slip of paper in it. Those in the lot file in and pick up one book each. Whoever picks up the book with the paper is ordained for life.

One way or another, Mullet did become bishop. After disagreeing with leaders in Holmes County, he decided to move his clan to Bergholz, where he didn’t have to answer to anyone—at least not until his victims called the police.

Mullet has been accused of being a cult leader, of committing hate crimes, and of being an adulterer. He has also been accused of “not really being Amish,” which implies that the “real Amish” don’t act this way.

I agree that Mullet is slippery and scary. But I also know the Amish culture, like any other in the world, does have problems with people of Mullet’s ilk. I know this because I encountered them in my childhood.

These kinds of personalities still scare me, but I now live in a society that has a solution for criminal actions. And there is at least some understanding of the psychological underpinnings for devious behavior, which most Amish don’t recognize.

I worry that a lighter sentence for Mullet will give him the feeling that he has won, which will only fuel his thirst for power. Reading the story of one of Sam Mullet’s grandsons who left after Mullet’s conviction gives a good sense of what this means for those in his clan. Hearing how Mullet’s wife justifies his actions is equally as chilling.

The people in Bergholz are not the only ones who have reason to fear. Those who snuck away in the dead of night to escape Mullet’s power and control are likely the most anxious about the outcome of the re-sentencing. It remains to be seen whether secular authorities can more effectively hold slippery Sam accountable than the Amish with their age-old traditions.

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Photo by Scott R. Galvin, Associated Press

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25 thoughts on “Is Sam Mullet Outside both the Law and Age-Old Amish Traditions?”

  1. Kristine Lange

    All I can say is “WOW!” I remember hearing about this years ago, but figured that it was Englischers against the Amish. Didn’t think too much about it until I read this. Maybe this is where they got the idea for the “Amish Mafia” show.

    1. Oh, goodness, I never thought about that… about Amish Mafia being conceived from the Mullet group attacks. Which would only make the producers look even more opportunistic than I’d already imagined them to be.

  2. The Amish in Middlefield are worried about this. Most of them know someone who was abused by Sam Mullet. As a non-Amish but as someone who works with the Amish and with others who have left abusive situations similar to Burgholz, I worry this will set up more people to be abused. Outside the Amish community I fear it sends the message to cult leaders that there is no consequence for their actions. And for the Amish, that they have no one who believes them and will protect them. Sam Mullet and his followers have hurt a lot of people. He needs to stay in prison.

    Thank you for your post. As always it is enlightening and encouraging.

  3. You worded this very well, Saloma. I followed the link to the article and I was wondering if any of the women that he persuaded/forced to have sex with him would be willing to testify rape against him. That could keep him incarcerated awhile longer. It’s such a sad and scary situation.

    1. Aleta, that is a really good idea, but I don’t know if there is anyone like that. I did read somewhere that one of the women who was released from jail after a year, chose not to return to Bergholz. But that is a long way from testifying against Sam Mullet. Some years ago, when there was a raid on the community, and they couldn’t pin anything on Sam, he turned around and sued the authorities. He is a conniving, evil man who seems to turn any attempt to curb his authority on its head. And his thirst for revenge would put anyone willing to speak up in grave danger.

      1. One man told me he knew for a fact that the sexual abuse happened, and that the court’s inability to prove it was proof of the terror Sam Mullet has created in the community.

        1. This is just about what I was saying in my comment above. The terror someone like Sam can strike in the hearts of the people under his power in that setting is beyond description.

  4. I can not imagine all the emotions throbbing in the hearts of the people involved with Sam Mullet from those that don’t want him on the loose and those that do.

    1. I wonder though… do you think anyone really does want him freed? They may as the Amish would term it “stick up for him” but deep down, I wonder? I know of only two people who have defected since Mullet has been jailed. It surprises me that people haven’t defected in droves.

  5. Pingback: Is Sam Mullet Outside both the Law and Age-Old Amish Traditions? | Former Amish News

  6. You really have some wonderful topics on your blog.
    I just finished reading “Renegade Amish: beard cutting, hate crimes, and the trial of the Berghotz barbers” by Donald Kraybill. It was listed under “True Crime” at my library. Very informative and very dark.
    Letting Sam Mullet out early is a disaster waiting to happen. I wish the victims would insist on him having a psychological evaluation by an expert in the are of cults.
    The people that left the Berghotz community should sleep with a revolver. You can’t reason with a person who is mentally ill and violent when they or their thugs come calling. Shooting someone in the foot for breaking and entering wouldn’t land someone in jail. But it would make clear they are going to protect themselves and their families. Well, I know that will never be.

    1. Hello Fran. Yes, the situation with Sam Mullet is pretty dark, especially for those who could be hurt by him. I don’t think I could sleep with a loaded revolver near me. But I wonder if those who are Mullet’s perceived enemies would wear those bracelets that they only need to push a button to call the police? Either way, I hope that law enforcement is extra vigilant and Mullet gets caught before a disaster happens.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Truth be told, I couldn’t sleep with a revolver either. The quick contact of the police via a bracelet sounds ideal.

  8. I wonder if the reason people have not “defected in droves” is perhaps similar to the reason abused spouses do not leave their abuser: Because they are never in more danger than the moment they decide to leave. They may well fear the consequences they have been repeatedly told they will face if they abandon this dysfunctional “community”: Both the violence of Mullet’s minions and the threat of hellfire.

    Mullet sounds like a master manipulator. Serial abusers, of any kind, usually are. They maneuver people into a position from which they cannot readily find or even imagine a way out.

    1. Trish, this is very insightful (and very chilling) description of the reality of this situation. Though, if I were in Bergholz, I would take my chances before he gets back from his stint in prison. I can imagine they have been experiencing a power vacuum… whoever has been filling those shoes would be best off splitting now… while he still has the chance.

  9. I have had the opportunity to talk with Amish friends in New York State. Several know Mullet and they all agree that he got what he deserved. Sounds like he hired a great lawyer, the best his money could buy. Tom The Backroads Traveller

    1. I am heartened by the judge’s decision. It shows him and many others than you DO have to answer to someone other than yourself. He had gotten used to his ultimate authority position.

  10. Saloma, I enjoyed hearing you speak at one of your book talks. I agree that all groups have their problem people and I have unfortunately known some. As one who has lived in a plain Mennonite church for 15 years, I am wondering if the teaching of Biblical non-resistance causes this kind of situation or if it is just something that a narcissist counts on when he/she victimizes people. How do you see it?

    1. Paula, thank you for your question. I don’t know whether narcissists and psychopaths are born that way or become that way. I think that is still being debated by psychologists. I sure don’t have the answer. But I do think you’re right about one thing, people like Sam Mullet count on the people in the culture being non-resistant. I think he lost sight of the fact that if pushed too far, the Amish will call on secular authorities for protection.

      Thanks again for stopping by and have a wonderful weekend.

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