OHIO AMISH COUNTRY -- The Amish community will keep tabs on the trial of Sam Mullet Sr while keeping its distance.
In places like Apple Creek in Wayne County, to the larger Amish communties in nearby Holmes County, the federal trial of the accused ringleader of a series of beard-cutting attacks is big news.
"They talk about trial all the time, just like any of us would," says College of Wooster Professor David McConnell, an expert on the Amish and a confidante of Ohio's Amish communities.
"They will be reading the newspapers and talking among themselves about the proceedings."
"Most of the Amish that I've talked to really have distanced themselves from Sam Mullet and his group," McConnell told WKYC. "They actually use the word 'cult' to describe the Bergholz group."
McConnell noted that no other Amish districts or groups of churches will affiliate themselves with Mullet's group of about 18 families in Jefferson County, in southeast Ohio.
"To me, that says how much of an out-lyer Sam Mullet and his group really are. Those are the comments I hear from my Amish friends about this case," said McConnell, who has authored books about the Amish and teaches a course on Amish life and culture at the College of Wooster.
"I've had Amish friends tell me those guys aren't Amish and they really do not represent out community," the professor related, "and I think the real fear is about the wider society, where there is a tendency to paint the Amish with a single brush, to view them as a monolithic group."
"They may continue to see this Mullet group as just part of the Amish whole, and not make the kind of distinctions necessary to see how far out in left field Sam Mullet really is."
McConnell has not heard complaints that the federal government interfered in internal Amish religious affairs by arresting Mullet and a number of followers and charging them with hate crimes and other federal felonies.
"The fact that the Amish bishops who were targeted in these attacks did turn to the authorities is a testimony to the fear and the concern they had, that if they tried to settle this internally, things might get out of hand, violence might go on, and their people could be in jeopardy."
"To some degree, there has been a long-standing suspicion of government interference, but the Amish welcomed this federal role in this particular instance. The matter is so serious it requires some kind of governorment intervention."