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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Sep 19, 2014 3:23 PM
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Photo by AP Photo Scott R. Galvin

Freeman Burkholder carries his son to the school house for a ceremony to mark the end of the school year Tuesday, April 9, 2013 in Bergholz, Ohio. Burkholder, and 13 others from this tight-knit community in rural eastern Ohio went to prison on hate crimes convictions for hair- and beard-cutting attacks against fellow Amish.

What to look for on Smart Talk Monday, September 22, 2014:

The words hate crimes and Amish aren't often seen in the same sentence.

The Amish in Central Pennsylvania and everywhere else for that matter are pacifists who don't believe in violence.

However, hate crimes and violence became part of the discussion when a clan of Amish in Ohio took it upon themselves to lash out at other Amish who they thought had strayed away from the Amish way of life and religious beliefs.

They did so by cutting the beards and hair of the Amish people they disagreed with.

Most of the attackers were related to Bishop Samuel Mullet who prosecutors accused of being the mastermind of the attacks.

A new book -- Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers -- chronicles the unusual case and subsequent trial.

The book's author, Dr. Donald Kraybill, the Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, appears on Monday's Smart Talk to tell the story.

Just three weeks ago, a federal appeals court overturned a hate crime convictions -- the most serious of the charges against the defendants.  The court concluded instructions to the jury were in error.

During the trial a significant question was whether hate crimes could be committed against victims who are of the same religion as the perpratrators.

It's a subject we'll discuss on the program.

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Dr. Donald Kraybill, the Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

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  • Lisa img 2014-09-22 08:17

    Wondering if Samuel Mullet was born into the Amish community or joined later (or his family joined later) and what impact that would have had on his "interpretation" of Amish society. Mullet doesn't strike me as an Amish name.

  • Elam Zook img 2014-09-22 10:38

    The prosecution of the Bergholz beard cutting defendants under the hate crime statute is a miscarriage of justice and Donald Kraybill's media campaign to ostracize them as not Amish is a shameful scapegoating ploy that is harmful to the Amish community as a whole.
    Michelle Alexander, in her book, "The New Jim Crow" clearly establishes that our system of justice doesn't always serve justice, but can be manipulated for nefarious reasons. At Bergholz, a stunning percentage of the Amish population was incarcerated for relatively minor offenses. Both parents of families were incarcerated, leaving dozens of minors orphaned. The entire ministry team is currently behind bars. The Bergholz Amish community is relatively small and isolated, not only geographically, but also ideologically , meaning that other Amish are less likely to step in and lend a hand. It's almost as if the goal is to cripple this community.
    Given that the beard cutting incident arose over religious differences, one would think that the State, who's constitution forbids the establishment of religion, would have taken a minimalist approach. What is wrong with defining that assault is not acceptable, but not interfering so much that the dispute can't go on, because one party has been incapacitated?
    The issues evident in the beard cutting incident are inherently and fundamentally Amish issues. From how much authority a bishop has, to shunning, to the prevalence of schisms and their isolating effect, not to mention the authoritarian and patriarchal nature of Amish society, these issues contributed to the tension of the beard cutting incident and it behooves Amish society as a whole to own these issues and to acknowledge that Sam Mullet is a by product of Amish society.
    It is from this context that Kraybill's campaign to discredit and marginalized the Bergholz Amish is revealed for the shallow scapegoating ploy that it is. Kraybill's work on the Amish is more of an advocate function as opposed to being truly academic. He has made a career out of marketing an image of the Amish, an image that is largely his own creation as opposed to a reflection of what is really there. Kraybill's function is like that of a public relations position.
    The tension evident in the beard cutting incident reveals the unattractive underbelly of Amish society. Kraybill's function is to spin the incident in the best possible light so as to protect the image of the product he is marketing. From working with the prosecution for several month and serving as an expert witness during the trial, to the media campaign he is waging,Kraybill's influence is everywhere. Given that the defense didn't have an expert witness who worked for their side, Kraybill is singularly responsible for the convictions that were achieved in this case.
    He is very good at what he does, but his efforts are papering over the real issues the Amish community needs to address if they are to remain a viable religious community.

  • Don Kraybill img 2014-09-22 11:12

    Unfortunately Mr. Zook is not informed of the facts of this case; by facts I mean those pertaining directly to the Bergholz community's behavior over seven years prior to the beard cutting attacks and also those pertaining to the legal investigation and the reasons why the United States Justice Department was invited by the state of Ohio to handle the prosecution.

    It is true that the defense offered no witnesses. It's not clear to me why the defense offered no witnesses.

    I fail to understand why Mr. Zook is so annoyed that I describe the Bergholz Amish as having violated more than two dozen fundamental tenets of Amish faith and for that reason I consider them not an Amish group according to any conventional historical standards of Orthodox Amish behavior. I fail to understand why he is so eager to call them Amish.
    We could have a more reasonable conversation if he informed himself of the facts regarding the activities of the Bergholz community, and the prosecution. All of this information is available in the public record in the transcripts of the trial. He also might want to read my book to obtain some of the facts as well. Until he informs himself of the facts of this case it will be difficult to have a meaningful or useful conversation.

  • Elam Zook img 2014-09-23 11:27

    I would love to have a discussion, but it is very hard to do that with you Mr. Kraybill. I've repeatedly asked questions of you in public forums, but it seems you have zero academic curiosity regarding the subject you study. Just last week, I called in to ask a question on WHYY NPR Philadelphia. In response to my question of whether choosing to prosecute the beard cuttings as hate crimes didn't equate to the government choosing sides, you patronizingly responded that the first amendment doesn't excuse assault. Do you really think that I'm so ignorant that I don't know that, or were you just avoiding my question?
    I give you a well reasoned argument for why I think it is problematic to label the beard cutting defendants as not Amish, but it seems you think engaging with me on the the subject is beneath you. You make a big deal of how I don't have the facts, yet you won't specify exactly what my error is, only that you are right and I'm wrong. Here is a fact for you. A fundamental, elementary criteria, that is universally accepted, to determine the credibility of an ethnographer, is whether they can speak the language of the culture they study. It is my understanding that you fail that test.
    In none of your work on my people, do you critique them. From my perspective, that is an insult! You treat my people as if they are lab rats, their only value being what your studies contribute to non Amish society. Yet, in this one instance of the Bergholz Amish, you magically are capable of rational critique. Care to explain that inconsistency?