Samuel Mullet Sr was found guilty of orchestrating the attacks on the Amish community (Smoking Gun)
Samuel Mullet Sr was found guilty of orchestrating the attacks on the Amish community (Smoking Gun) Reuters

Sixteen members of a breakaway Amish group have been found guilty of hate crimes after brutally removing the hair and beards of rivals in the community.

Samuel Mullet Sr and 15 followers, including members of his own family, were found guilty of the attacks on nine Amish men and woman in eastern Ohio.

Sentencing takes place on January 24, and each of the 16 members faces at least 10 years in prison.

Beards and long hair are sacred symbols of an Amish follower's devotion to God, and to cut them is considered humiliating and even an act of deformation.

The five separate raids were mainly carried out at night, with the victims forced out of bed before the attackers chopped off their beards and hair with shears and clippers.

One of the accused, Lester Miller, even took part in the forced hair-cutting of his own parents because he felt they had drifted too far from their religion.

US Attorney Steven Dettelbach said:"These were no mere haircuts. These were violent attacks that left the victims so shaken, degraded and scared that they felt compelled to call on local law enforcement for their own protection, even though they do not typically do so.

"The evidence was that they [Mullet's clan] invaded their homes, physically attacked these people and sheared them almost like animals.

"Our community and our nation must have zero tolerance for this type of religious intolerance."

Mullet, who had 18 children, was charged with ordering the beard-cutting attacks, but not accused of participating in them.

All 15 of Mullet's followers, including four of his sons, were convicted of at least one charge in addition to conspiracy.

The defence said the acts were a result attacks were the result of family or financial disputes and not religious differences. They argued Amish live by rules guided by their religion and that the government should not get involved in what amounts to a church dispute.

The defence attorneys claimed the hair cuttings were motivated by the defendants trying to help others who were straying from their Amish beliefs.

However, prosecutors said all of the victims in the attacks were people who had disputed Mullet Sr over his authoritarian rule in the community.

Mullet Sr was described in court as a "Svengali-like character" who allegedly made members of his group sleep in a chicken group for days on end and had sex with some of the married woman in the clan under the guise of "sexual counselling".

Prosecutors said Mullet Sr thought he was above the law and free to punish people who went against him based on his religious beliefs.