12-07-2016  2:36 am      •     

BERGHOLZ, Ohio (AP) -- In an unusually public display of trouble among the traditionally guarded Amish, a breakaway group is accused of attacking mainstream members by cutting off their beards and hair, which carry spiritual significance in the faith.

The leader of the breakaway group told The Associated Press in a rare interview this week that one recent attack was a religious issue stemming from long-standing resentment of his group's treatment.

The goal was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for their treatment of the community, which has been called a cult, said Sam Mullet, 66.

"We'd like to get up in the morning, be left alone, live like normal people," Mullet said Monday, speaking at his farm outside Bergholz, a village of about 700 residents where he established his community in 1995. "They won't leave us be."

Authorities in Jefferson County, home to the world's largest Amish community, on Saturday arrested two of Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny Mullet and 26-year-old Lester Mullet, and another man from the community, 53-year-old Levi Miller, on burglary and kidnapping warrants out of nearby Holmes County.

The three men had a hearing Tuesday and were to be moved to Jefferson County from the jail in Steubenville, about two hours away. Similar attacks against several people, some of them women, have occurred in recent weeks in the area, and authorities have said two more arrests are expected this week.

In one attack, men are accused of entering a home and saying, "Sam Mullet sent us here, and we're here on religious business," Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said. Scissors and battery-powered clippers were used in the attack.

Amish men typically grow beards as adults and stop trimming them when they marry, and the beards are held in high esteem.

The Amish are known for careful selectivity of technology, their peaceful ideals and close guarding of their privacy. Such divisions are rare, and it's even rarer still for legal authorities to get involved.

Mullet said he didn't order the hair-cutting, as Abdalla has suggested, but didn't stop his two sons and the other man from carrying out the attack last week on a 74-year-old man in his home in rural eastern Ohio.

"I didn't order anything like that," he said, and added: "I didn't tell them not to; I'm still not going to tell them not to."

Mullet said he's upset that his breakaway group, about 120 people living on several small farms, has been called a cult by detractors. He said he moved the members of his group about 100 miles from Richland County just to be by themselves.

"We're not a cult. We're just trying to live a peaceful life," Mullet said. "I was hoping I could move here, try to start a group of church people, do things in school and church the way we wanted."

Mullet said he should be allowed to punish people who break the laws of the church, just as police are allowed to punish people who break the laws of the state.

"You have your laws on the road and the town - if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish them. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?" Mullet said. "I just let them run over me? If every family would just do as they pleased, what kind of church would we have?"

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus

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