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Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers

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Overview

On the night of September 6, 2011, terror called at the Amish home of the Millers. Answering a late-night knock from what appeared to be an Amish neighbor, Mrs. Miller opened the door to her five estranged adult sons, a daughter, and their spouses. It wasn?t a friendly visit. Within moments, the men, wearing headlamps, had pulled their frightened father out of bed, pinned him into a chair, and?ignoring his tearful protests?sheared his hair and beard, leaving him razor-burned and dripping with blood. The women ...

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Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers

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Overview

On the night of September 6, 2011, terror called at the Amish home of the Millers. Answering a late-night knock from what appeared to be an Amish neighbor, Mrs. Miller opened the door to her five estranged adult sons, a daughter, and their spouses. It wasn’t a friendly visit. Within moments, the men, wearing headlamps, had pulled their frightened father out of bed, pinned him into a chair, and—ignoring his tearful protests—sheared his hair and beard, leaving him razor-burned and dripping with blood. The women then turned on Mrs. Miller, yanking her prayer cap from her head and shredding it before cutting off her waist-long hair. About twenty minutes later, the attackers fled into the darkness, taking their parents’ hair as a trophy for their community.

Four similar beard-cutting attacks followed, disfiguring nine victims and generating a tsunami of media coverage. While pundits and late-night talk shows made light of the attacks and poked fun at the Amish way of life, FBI investigators gathered evidence about troubling activities in a maverick Amish community near Bergholz, Ohio—and the volatile behavior of its leader, Bishop Samuel Mullet.

Ten men and six women from the Bergholz community were arrested and found guilty a year later of 87 felony charges involving conspiracy, lying, and obstructing justice. In a precedent-setting decision, all of the defendants, including Bishop Mullet and his two ministers, were convicted of federal hate crimes. It was the first time since the 2009 passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that assailants had been found guilty for religiously motivated hate crimes within the same faith community.

Renegade Amish goes behind the scenes to tell the full story of the Bergholz barbers: the attacks, the investigation, the trial, and the aftermath. In a riveting narrative reminiscent of a true crime classic, scholar Donald B. Kraybill weaves a dark and troubling story in which a series of violent Amish-on-Amish attacks shattered the peace of these traditionally nonviolent people, compelling some of them to install locks on their doors and arm themselves with pepper spray.

The country’s foremost authority on Amish society, Kraybill spent six months assisting federal prosecutors with the case against the Bergholz defendants and served as an expert witness during the trial. Informed by trial transcripts and his interviews of ex-Bergholz Amish, relatives of Bishop Mullet, victims of the attacks, Amish leaders, and the jury foreman, Renegade Amish delves into the factors that transformed the Bergholz Amish from a typical Amish community into one embracing revenge and retaliation.

Kraybill gives voice to the terror and pain experienced by the victims, along with the deep shame that accompanied their disfigurement—a factor that figured prominently in the decision to apply the federal hate crime law. Built on Kraybill’s deep knowledge of Amish life and his contacts within many Amish communities, Renegade Amish highlights one of the strangest and most publicized sagas in contemporary Amish history.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Salon - Laura Miller
For the dimwitted habitues of comments threads, it was the news item that launched a thousand lame puns. But the case of the Bergholz Barbers is funny only as long as it remains a sound bite. Donald B. Kraybill's new book, "Renegade Amish: Bear Cutting, Hate Crimes and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers," digs deep into a story that, for all its seeming quaintness, has the power to both rock the underpinnings of hate crime legislation and to break the human heart.
The Times - Damiam Whitworth
Kraybill tells this fascinating story clearly, and has the knowledge and contacts to penetrate a tight-lipped community.
Library Journal
09/01/2014
Kraybill (distinguished professor and senior fellow, Young Ctr. for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, Elizabethtown Coll., PA; The Riddle of Amish Culture) is an authority on Amish society. Here the author details vicious Amish-on-Amish attacks in Bergholz, OH, a rarity since the Amish people are regarded as peaceful and forgiving. Cutting off a man's beard or woman's hair is considered an abominable crime within the Amish community, and that's what happened in the one run by Bishop Samuel Mullet (who did not participate in crimes himself). Those who failed to heed his orders or challenged him were threatened or excommunicated. Mullet handed out harsh punishments and took advantage of women by making them live with his family to receive "marriage counseling" to help them learn how to improve sexual relations with their husbands. The FBI became involved and 16 assailants were found guilty of 87 charges, including federal hate crimes through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. VERDICT The author goes into too much detail at times, which makes the story hard to follow, but with his knowledge of Amish culture, he provides an insight into how the society functions. This book is for libraries in the regions near the area that the crimes were committed and those with reader interest in the Amish but is otherwise an optional purchase.—Michael Sawyer, Pine Bluff, AR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781421415673
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 9/4/2014
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 282,248
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald B. Kraybill is a Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than a dozen books on Amish culture, including The Riddle of Amish Culture and The Amish, also published by Johns Hopkins, and Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2014

    Highly recommended

    A very interesting read. The Amish are a somewhat misunderstood group which this book addresses. The U.S legal system is forced to deal with criminal activity which some find is debateable. Religous freedom should be protected and is as this book shows. Everyone should be held responsibe for their actions.

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