CLEVELAND, Ohio - An Amish bishop and 15 followers have been convicted in the US state of Ohio of hate crime charges for a series of beard-cutting attacks against those they deemed had strayed from the faith.
Federal prosecutors argued that Samuel Mullet — who considered himself a god and above the law — unleashed a band of renegades who waged a "campaign of terror" against nine religious enemies and estranged family members last year.
"The evidence was that they invaded their homes, physically attacked these people and sheared them almost like animals," US Attorney Steven Dettelbach said on Thursday.
"Our community and our nation must have zero tolerance for this type of religious intolerance."
The four separate raids were mainly carried out at night, with the victims forced out of bed, their beards and hair chopped off with horse mane shears and battery-powered clippers, and the roughshod barber work documented with embarrassing snapshots on a disposable camera.
Beards and long hair are sacred symbols of an Amish follower's devotion to God, and to cut them is humiliating.
Defence lawyers argued that the beard-cutting forays never reached the level of a hate crime — for conviction, a religious motive and bodily injury, including disfigurement, must be proven.
They argued that love and compassion drove the hair-cutting conflicts, which were intended to compel the victims to return to a conservative Amish lifestyle.
Mullet, 66, was the religious and social leader of a breakaway settlement of 18 families in Bergholz, a pastoral farming community of rolling hills and valleys located about 160 kilometres from Cleveland.
The father of 18 children, and a multimillionaire, Mullet was charged with ordering the beard-cutting attacks, but not accused of participating in them.