Jul 31, 2016

Grandson details life in Ohio 'beard-cutting' sect

Canton Repository

By Charita M. Goshay
Repository


Jul. 30, 2016 



Johnny Mast's parents have not seen their first-born grandchild, nor do they ever intend to see her. They are devout acolytes of Bishop Sam Mullet, the ultra-conservative Amish church leader imprisoned for hate crimes against other Amish.

Mast's parents refuse to have any contact with him because he left their community and their faith.

Mast, 26, shares his life as a grandson of Mullet in his new book, "Break Away Amish: Growing Up With The Bergholz Beard Cutters."

"There were a lot of people who wanted to know what was going on," he said of the book. "I figured that I would I put my story out there, and they can read the truth."

In 2012, Mullet, his three sons, a daughter, and 11 of his followers were convicted in federal court of hate crime charges. Those involved the kidnapping, assault, and forcible shavings of beards of Amish men and the hair of Amish women whom he believed opposed him.

Bergholz, located in Jefferson County just east of Carroll County, is a village of about 600 residents, about 300 of whom are Amish.

In his book, Mast details how Mullet kept an iron grip on his followers and grew increasingly radical in his beliefs and in his treatment of those he determined were "sinners."

"It happened very slowly," Mast said. "Sam was a very, very persuasive person. He got people to start believing in him. He predicted what was going to happen, and some things actually did. After that, some people believed he was a prophet."

 

Beards: A sacred identifier

 

Mullet's punishments for sinners and doubters, Mast alleges, ranged from forced labor, beatings, bread-and-water diets, sleeping in barns and chicken coops, and finally cutting the beards and hair of those deemed by the bishop to be rebellious.

"I wouldn't have put up with that, but it never happened to me," Mast said. "It was no longer about serving God and doing right. It was all about control."

Mullet's followers took pictures of the attacks using disposable cameras, further infringing upon the victims' religious rights. Among Mullet's many victims was his own sister.

Mast, who was tasked with hiding the disposable cameras, testified against Mullet in court.

Beards are a sacred, central identifier for married Amish men. The tradition began when Jakob Ammann broke from the Anabaptist church in the Alsace region of Switzerland, in the 1790s, over his belief that it was becoming increasing secular. Followers of the new faith originally were called "Ammann-ish" and distinguished themselves from other men of the period by not growing a mustache, which they considered a vanity.

Amish women do not cut their hair but do keep it tucked under bonnets. To this day, the Amish eschew many modern conveniences including electricity, store-bought clothing, bright colors and motorized equipment. In addition to English, they speak Swiss-German or "Pennsylvania" Dutch, depending on the region in which they live.

 

Mast contends that his grandfather impregnated a niece by marriage, and seduced other women, including his own daughter-in-law, under the guise of counseling them.

As such incidents found their way to the outside, the Bergholz Amish found themselves isolated from their Amish neighbors, which made it easier for Mullett to exert control.

"In a normal Amish community, they have a means for removing a bishop," Mast explained. "(Other bishops) tried to step in and take control, but they couldn't."

Mast writes that when he was 17, Mullett ordered him to move into his home, which meant that any money Mast made from working in construction went to his grandfather, and not his parents, as is Amish tradition.

Mast said at one point, Mullet ordered his group to stop attending church and reading the Bible amid claims that Satan was twisting the Scriptures.

 

"Still in control"

 

Mullet, who could have received life in prison, is serving at least 10 years. Subsequent appeals for leniency have been rejected by the courts.

"He's still in control and has been the entire time," Mast said. "He makes at least 15 calls every day and writes letters" of instruction.

Several ministers under Mullet have been released from prison, including his nephew and niece-in-law.

"The last I heard from one of my cousins still living there is that both of them are in living in Sam's house," Mast said. "(Mullet's) instructed women he was sleeping with, to choose seven men to be in control."

Today, Mast lives with his girlfriend and baby in Middlefield, where he works as a full-time farrier.

He no longer attends church.

"For me, it's not about going to church," he said. "I still believe in God; I try to treat other people as I'd want to be treated."

Mast said he doesn't know if his parents are aware of his book.

"The biggest thing I want people to realize and learn is you have to be careful about listening to what someone tells you," he said. "You have to make up your own mind and live your own life."

Mast said that, in his opinion, Mullet's sect is a cult.

"At first, when it happened, I was still living there," Mast said. "I thought (the prison sentence) was pretty harsh. But after being away for three years and looking it from the other side, I think it fit. I think he got what he deserved.

"But as far as I know, he still doesn't think he did anything wrong."

The book is available from Amazon.com and Christian bookstores throughout the U.S.

 

 

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