Amish splinter group in Ohio convicted of hate attacks
Members of splinter group cut off neighbours' hair and beards as acts of humiliation
The leader of a breakaway Amish group and 15 followers were convicted of hate crimes in Ohio for a series of beard-cutting attacks against rivals in the community.
Federal prosecutors argued that Samuel Mullet - who considered himself a god 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," said US prosecutor for Ohio Steven Dettelbach. "Our community and our nation must have zero tolerance for this type of religious intolerance."
The five separate raids were mainly carried out at night, with the victims forced out of bed and the roughshod barber work documented with embarrassing snapshots.
For the Amish, beards and long hair are sacred symbols of a follower's devotion to God, and to cut them is humiliating.
Defence lawyers argued the beard-cutting never reached the level of a hate crime, saying that a religious motive and bodily injury, including disfigurement, must be proven for a conviction.
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's sister, Barbara Miller, was among the victims of the attacks. She covered her face with her jacket as the judge read the verdict and declined to comment outside the court. Mullet's lawyer vowed to appeal the verdicts.
Mullet, 66, was the religious and social leader of a breakaway settlement of 18 families in Bergholz, a farming community 160 kilometres from Cleveland.
Described by witnesses as an iron-fisted autocrat, Mullet read and censored all incoming and outgoing mail, punished wrongdoers with spanking and confinement in chicken coops, and had sex with several young married women under the guise of marital counselling and absolution.
Mullet was charged with ordering the beard-cutting attacks, but not accused of participating in them. Three of his sons were also convicted of conspiracy and hate-crime charges.
Prosecutors said that because the crimes were violent and involved kidnapping, the minimum sentence was 17 years in prison. Sentencing was set for January 24.