Amish leader gets 15 years for beard-chopping attacks

The leader of a breakaway Amish group who ordered his followers to chop off his rivals' beards was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of hate crimes.

Fifteen others convicted in the attacks, including three of ringleader Samuel Mullet's brothers and six women, were given lesser sentences of between one and seven years in prison.

Federal prosecutors said Mullet, 67, a religious leader in the small Amish community of Bergholz, Ohio, had ordered a "campaign of terror" against nine people, including estranged family members, who had challenged his leadership.

Prior to the sentencing, Mullet was quoted by WKYC television as saying: "If somebody needs to be punished, I'll take the punishment for everybody... Let these mothers and fathers go home to their children."

"My goal in life has been to help people that are the underdog, to help people who are frowned on, mocked."

The group carried out five attacks between September and November 2011, in which they broke into homes and used horse mane shears and battery-powered clippers to violently shave off victims' beards and hair.

The attackers then took snapshots of the victims and circulated them, a sign of humiliation in the community, which views beards and long hair as a sacred symbol of devotion to God.

Mullet, a multi-millionaire and father of 18 children, was charged with ordering the attacks but was not accused of participating in them.

Defense lawyers had argued that the hair-cutting was motivated by love and compassion, and was intended to compel the victims to return to a conservative Amish lifestyle.

The case attracted widespread media attention, providing a rare window into the historically reclusive and peaceful Amish society, which embraces a traditional lifestyle devoid of much of modern technology.

During the trial, witnesses portrayed Mullet as a fire-and-brimstone preacher and iron-fisted autocrat who imposed strict and often bizarre discipline on his flock of 18 families. Several labeled the group a cult.

Mullet read and censored all incoming and outgoing mail, punished wrongdoers with spanking and confinement in chicken coops, and had sex with several of the young married women under the guise of marital counseling and absolution.

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