Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mullet Cult Convictions Overturned

Remember the Mullet Cult? Amish bishop Sam Mullet and his followers, members of an Ohio group called the Bergholtz community, were convicted of hate crimes for several attacks in which they cut the hair and beards of fellow Amish who wouldn't defer to Mullet's authority. On appeal, a panel of judges has overturned their convictions, on the grounds that prosecutors failed to demonstrate a "religious motive" for their crimes.

A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel sided with arguments brought by attorneys for the Amish, convicted two years ago in five attacks in 2011. The attacks were in apparent retaliation against Amish who had defied or denounced the authoritarian style of Sam Mullet Sr., leader of the Bergholz community in eastern Ohio.

In a deeply divided decision, two of the three judges on the panel concluded that the jury received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks. They also said prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn't have happened but for religious motives.

"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the judges wrote.

They said it was unfair to conclude that "because faith permeates most, if not all, aspects of life in the Amish community, it necessarily permeates the motives for the assaults in this case."

It seems to me that if this is the way hate crimes statues are written, the law needs to be changed or at least amended. Hair and beards are of high religious significance to the Amish, so the crime of cutting them is far more serious to a member of their religion than to most other people. So I don't see why it should matter whether such an attack was motivated by family disputes or religion per se.

Let's say that a Muslim borrowed money and wouldn't pay it back as agreed. If the creditor then went to their home and dumped pig's blood all over their front stoop, it should certainly still be considered a hate crime even if the perpetrator was motivated by the lack of payment. The point is the exploitation of the target's religious beliefs to essentially terrorize them.

That's basically the same as what Mullet had his followers do. When interviewed before the trial, Mullet smugly questioned whether cutting hair and beards was even illegal. He clearly was hoping that religion wouldn't enter into the minds of jurors and that once cleared he would then be able to use this tactic on his religious rivals with impunity.

Prosecutors plan to appeal the decision so the case is still up in the air. But with a guy named Mullet who cuts hair, I'll be sure to keep you all posted as it develops.

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Unknown said...

The Mullets are one of the topics discuss on late night live on Australia's radio national (ABC) available though their website or the apple store. It's about half an hour in, but you may be interested in the rest of the discussions. Phill can be a bit self promoting but he does alright.

Scott Stenwick said...

Wow, I had no idea that if your name is Mullet and you become famous for cutting hair it warrants international attention! Thanks for passing this along.