WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury has indicted 12 members of a breakaway Amish group over a rash of bizarre beard-cutting incidents against fellow Amish in Ohio, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
In a statement, it linked the accused — including the leader of the group and two women — to what it called five “religiously-motivated assaults” between September and November this year.
“In each assault, defendants forcibly removed beard and head hair from the victims with whom they had ongoing religious disputes,” it said.
“As set forth in the indictment, the manner in which Amish men wear their beards and Amish women wear their hair are symbols of their faith.”
Named in the seven-count indictment are Samuel Mullet, the bishop of the Amish community in the village of Bergholz, Ohio, and 11 of his followers, many of them members of his own family.
“As a result of religious disputes with other members of the Ohio Amish community, the defendants planned and carried out a series of assaults on their perceived religious enemies,” the Justice Department alleged.
“The assaults all entailed using scissors and battery-powered clippers to forcibly cut or shave the beard hair of the male victims and the head hair of the female victims,” it alleged.
“During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims (and in some cases) injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims.”
Mullet and 10 others were indicted for violating a federal law against causing, or trying to cause, bodily harm with a dangerous weapon because of the actual or perceived religion of that person.
In addition, Mullet and three others, including one not indicted for bodily harm, with concealing or trying to conceal evidence, including photographs and an over-the-counter drug allegedly placed in a beverage consumed by one victim.
The Amish, a close-knit Mennonite Christian community that predominantly dwells in the central US states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, shun modern conveniences such as electricity and motor vehicles.
Tuesday’s indictments came as police in northeast Ohio investigated the fatal shooting last week of an Amish teenager who was returning home alone in a horse-and-buggy from a Christmas party.
Local media quoted Holmes County sheriff Timothy Zimmerly as saying that Rachal Yoder, 15, was apparently hit by accident by a round from a muzzleloader rifle that a local resident had fired some distance away.
Medical examiners had earlier concluded she had been the victim of homicide, with no suggestion of any link between her death and the beard-cutting incidents.