Criminal Justice

How Sam Mullet, the Beard-Cutting Amish Bishop, Got Punished for His Religious Beliefs


Today Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of an Amish sect in Ohio, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for encouraging his followers to cut the beards and hair of Amish people who spurned his teachings. The series of bizarre assaults, though humiliating, did not cause any serious injuries and probably would have resulted in a sentence of a few years under state law. But Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, successfully argued that they amounted to federal "hate crimes," since the victims were chosen "because of" their "actual or perceived religion." The upshot was that Mullet faced a potential life sentence, which prosecutors claimed he fully deserved, suggesting that forcible beard trimming is a crime tantamount to mass murder. Mullet's lawyer more plausibly suggested that a term of two years or less would be appropriate. Since Mullet is 67, there may not be much difference between his actual sentence and the one prosecutors urged.

To federalize Mullet's crime, Dettelbach cited absurdly tenuous connections to interstate commerce, including the beard trimmer, shears, and disposable camera used by Mullet's followers. They were all manufactured outside of Ohio, you see, so clearly this was a case that cried out for the Justice Department's attention. And did I mention that the beard-cutting fanatics mailed a letter at one point and even used a highway (although they never actually left the state)? I got your federal jurisdiction right here.

While that sort of nonsense is sadly familiar, Dettelbach's grandstanding intervention in this case also broke new ground in the indiscriminate and unconstitutional use of federal power. It has always been true that hate crime statutes punish people for their bigotry, since the same actions are subject to more severe penalties when they are motivated by animosity toward the victim's group. But treating Mullet's offense as a hate crime sets another dangerous precedent, effectively punishing him for his religious beliefs. If the beard-cutting rampage had been motivated by political differences, personal animosity, or sheer orneriness, Mullet never would have been eligible for a life sentence. That became a possibility only because Mullet wanted to punish people he viewed as heretics. And by Dettelbach's logic, any assault stemming from internecine religious disputes is a federal hate crime, even though that is surely not the scenario members of Congress had in mind when they passed the law under which Mullet was charged.

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  1. Mr. Mullett got in trouble for cutting hair and beards? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

    1. For forcibly cutting hair and beards, it seems to say. That is assault, even if it’s a “minor” assault.

      1. I agree. Try ripping the burka off of a Muslim women and see what it gets you. Disclaimer: Don’t actually try this as the woman doesn’t need the hassle or humiliation.

        1. Question: do women have normal clothes under the burkas? Or is it understood that the burka itself is the outerwear so they pretty much have underwear, maybe t-shirt and shorts underneath?

          1. They wear really sexy lingerie and they’re all super hot.

          2. Question: do women have normal clothes under the burkas?

            I’m picturing a brass chastity belt with Quranic inscriptions engraved in it.

          3. I don’t know about burka-land, but some of the Saudi women I have a students have come to class in PJs under their abayas. You can tell when they cross their legs and you see a flash of pink My Little Pony pj pants.

    2. Weirdly, it looks like he shaves SOME beard (and moustache) but not all. How do they determine what to shave/cut?

    3. Sam Mullet got in trouble for RAPE and VIOLENCE!!! This article is bull shit!!

  2. OHIO!

    What a clusterfuck on top of a clusterfuck.

  3. The people who demand disproportionate punishment are assholes.

  4. Serious question: If Dr. Nidal Hasan had his beard forcibly shaved, would that be considered a “hate crime” as well, and would people’s reactions be different since Islam is involved and most people view Islam either differently or more negatively than The Amish, who people probably view as genial, quaint, rustic, horse and buggy folk?

    1. If Maj. Nidal Hasan has his beard forcibly shaved, it’s because he voluntarily contracted to join an organization that requires him to shave.

      1. Yes, but he arguably grew out the beard to irk the court, claiming his faith, and getting him to shave it is literally a Federal case. And he has yet to be either tried or sentenced, and has not shaved the beard AFAIK.

        1. If the court had any balls whatsoever, they’d have ordered him shaved months ago. This is settled case law in the military.

          The fact that they haven’t even managed to try him yet is also bullshit. The military can get this shit done way faster than civilian courts. The foot dragging is entirely politically motivated. Try him and hang him. If the Army can’t get it done, hand him over to Texas. They’ll handle it.

          1. I believe you said it to a….T!!


            But, seriously – what T said.

  5. Once Kelly McGillis took that spongebath, the Amish were finished.

    1. You be careful out among them English, Tim.

  6. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

    1. And with increasing numbers of crimes and lengthier sentences, soon we’ll live in a perfect world where people don’t do anything unless specifically authorized.

      1. Obama is planning a new compromise. Original American freedoms (plus the ones we’ve gained since) will be fully restored within each American’s domicile. However, once you leave, you’re under full Obamanation.

        1. Sort of like the Castle Doctrine? You only have rights inside your four walls?

          1. Yes. So, all the drugs and prostitutes you want. In your house.

            1. So basically, we’ll all stay entirely in our home and just order things via the internet?

              1. This future you speak of sounds vaguely similar to a crappy movie I may have seen a couple of times while unemployed.

              2. Yes. Amazon can deliver anything in two days or less and has its own currency.

          2. Do we have to pay taxes on money earned inside our four walls?

  7. Is there a statute of limitations on hate crimes? If so I want to prosecute the rabbi who cut off my foreskin in an act of religious hate against this now atheist. (just kidding, but wow does it open up a world of possibilities).

    1. Well if CA can retroactively tax businesses all the way back to 2008…

      1. I thought they were taxing them back to the stone age?

        BAH dum BUMP!

  8. OT:

    Forget Yoda prequel, Han Solo and Boba Fett to get movies.
    Boba Fett? It starts with his dad getting beheaded and ends with him in A Sarlacc bowel movement. Uplifting stuff.

    1. Depends what you consider canon. It might end with him killing Han Solo 15 years later.

    2. Actually, if the expanded SW Universe is to be believed, Boba Fett managed to set off a concussion grenade to get the Sarlacc to spat him out. Perhaps the fine folks at Disney can work with this angle as post-Sarlacc barf.

  9. Steven M. Dettelbach – Asshole. Not surprising, given that he is a U.S. Attorney, and that seems to be one of the qualifications for the position.

  10. I came here to say that federal prosecution of “hate crimes” has become a farce, but then I thought about it a little and realized that it was always a farce. We’re covered in farce from head to toe. Sinuses… packed… with farce.

    1. I came here to say that federal prosecution of “hate crimes” has become a farce . . .

      How awesome would it be to have somehow made it onto that jury and nullified, resultng in a hung jury (I’m sure you’d be the lone dissenter). Then, when interviewed afterward, said, “This case didn’t warrant prosecution in federal court, so I refused to convict.”

  11. I’m just spitballing here, but it seems to me every time somebody did the attempted (or successful) hair cutting, it would be assault with a deadly weapon, no? And old man Mullett would be either guilty of conspiracy to assault or an accomplice to the assault. I can see how to throw his ass under the jail without resorting to novel interpretations of law is all I’m trying to say.

    Having said that, I don’t much give a shit if he’s being punished for his religious beliefs. You don’t get to assault other people even if your religion calls for you to do so.

    1. It seems like the difference would be state/local vs. federal law. Perhaps the state/local gov’t wanted to prosecute assault charges, but then the feds stepped in and called it a “hate crime”.

      1. Probably. Grandstanders gonna grandstand, I suppose.

    2. You don’t get to assault other people even if your religion calls for you to do so.

      Yes, yes you do. I can’t find the link at the moment, but within the last two weeks I read a piece about a judge who let a Muslim kid off for nearly beating a non-Muslim girl to death, because the kid had been raise to believe it was his religious duty. I think it was posted on HyR.

      1. Wasn’t that in the UK?

        1. If it was statutory rape instead of a beating, yes.

  12. Hate crimes are bullshit to begin with. Its like he episode of South Park where Cartman gets sent to jail for a “hate crime”.

    1. “Hate crimes are bullshit”

      I agree. That’s nothing more than a “thought crime”.

  13. Thanks for the hat tip. Oh, I’m sure you were working on this story anyway.

  14. Amish Mafia is a great show. Mullet should have gotten the Amish Mafia to address his issues.

    1. He was discussed on the show. He was pretty much described as a cult leader who used his position of power to sleep with everyone’s wives and get his followers to do his bidding. The state doesn’t like competition. That probably has something to do with his sentence even though they will not come out and say that.

      1. Hate posting to HuffPo but a little more about him here.…..46129.html

        1. The key paragraph from the article..

          “As the leader of the community, Mullet imposed his brand of justice. Men who broke his rules were paddled and locked in empty chicken coops. Ex-followers said he had sex with the married women and, according to the federal prosecutors, committed incest with his daughters.”

          They probably couldn’t prove he raped his daughters so they made for it with overkill on the beard cutting sentencing. Not that that makes it right.

  15. tenuous connections to interstate commerce, including the beard trimmer, shears

    My understanding is that (some) electric clippers were used. Unless the accused (now convicted) could prove that all electrons were generated in Ohio, it is a plain case involving interstate commerce…

    1. My understanding is that (some) electric clippers were used.

      I thought they weren’t supposed to use electricity. Where did they plug them in?

  16. But treating Mullet’s offense as a hate crime sets another dangerous precedent, effectively punishing him for his religious beliefs. If the beard-cutting rampage had been motivated by political differences, personal animosity, or sheer orneriness, Mullet never would have been eligible for a life sentence. That became a possibility only because Mullet wanted to punish people he viewed as heretics.

    This doesn’t seem right to me. To be clear, I don’t believe there should be any special “hate crime” legislation or sentencing enhancements, etc etc. However, he didn’t just target them because his religious beliefs differed from theirs, he also assaulted them in a way designed to be specifically offensive to their religions. He assaulted them in a way designed to break their (shared) religious laws. It’s not just like he saw some heretics and decided to slash their tires or something. It’s definitely more offensive.

    1. I worship TV. If you steal my TV should you be treated more harshly than if you had stolen my neighbors’ TV – the one who rarely watches TV?

      I do have a quibble with the state having a monopoly on (the distribution of) justice – I think I should have a say in the value of what was taken from me as the victim of a crime and therefore what an appropriate punishment would be – but given the fact that the state does claim a monopoly on justice, cutting a beard is cutting a beard is cutting a beard. Equality before the law and all that.

      Once you start splitting hairs over who deserves what, there’s no end to it, and we all know deserves got nothing to do with it.

    1. See my comment above. I’m guessing they couldn’t prove anything worse so they made up for it by over sentencing on the pettier stuff. Which of course is not what they are supposed to do.

    2. He should have been charged with and tried for those acts then, not by the proxy of federal “hate crime” beard shavings.

      1. “should” being the key word. As I said they most likely didn’t think they could prove the other stuff.

        1. He could have easily claimed any sex with the married women was consensual, after all, they weren’t physically forced and were not underage or drunk.

          Somewhat I incline to give them a bit of the blame as well for being such idiots.

  17. if there ever was a case that CRIED out for jury nullification.

    jurors be dissapointin’ me. cmon step up to the plate. how can anybody with a conscience find the guy guilty knowing the penalty he was to receive. it’s simply gross

  18. ” But treating Mullet’s offense as a hate crime sets another dangerous precedent, effectively punishing him for his religious beliefs.”

    That’s the whole point of hate crimes – to increase punishment for people with unapproved beliefs.

  19. He is not being punished for his religious beliefs. He is being punished for attempting to force his religious beliefs on others through physical violence and humiliation. That is a worse crime than assault due to orneriness, and should carry a heavier sentence (although not necessarily 15 years). It is not his freedom that’s being attacked, he’s the one who attacked others’ freedom. His freedom to swing his fist (or shears) ends where another person’s nose (or beard) begin. Other people should have the freedom to make religious choices without fear of physical retaliation and ritual humiliation. Why isn’t a libertarian leaning site championing his victims’ freedom of choice, freedom of religion? Why isn’t Mullet portrayed as an institution leader, oppressing the individual? Instead, this piece is all about fed overreach, and not a complete, accurate picture.

    1. You might want to learn to read. Nobody here is saying he didn’t commit a crime.

  20. Smack my bishop, smack my bishop
    Smack my bishop, smack my bishop

  21. I don’t mind this too much. It’s excessive, but he definitely deserved some jail time. I just want Romney prosecuted for this next.

  22. It is not excessive if you take five minutes to look into the case which the author of this article obviously did not bother to do. Sam Mullet didn’t just trim a few beards, he is also widely known as a CULT LEADER who routinely employs VIOLENCE and RAPE to bend the wills of people he wishes to manipulate. Please look into the facts before crying out that this psychopath has been unjustly imprisoned. There are a lot of people– many of them victims–who are terrified of this man and he is behind bars for good reason.

    1. Absolutely correct

  23. This article is misleading and false! Sam Mullet is a dangerous man. The hair cutting incedent was nothing to what he threatened to do if he returned. Among other things he, threatened to make the Nickel Mine school killings look like a breeze.He was leading a cult and regularly slept with other mens women to disciplene them! I am Amish and have a close freind living within 20 miles from where this took place. Sam Mullet was leading a cult! He was not Amish!

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