The den of Amish beard thieves arrested last fall by the FBI for a series of facial-hair shearing attacks were convicted on Thursday of federal conspiracy and hate crimes.
As a result of federal prosecutors' risky gambit to apply a 2009 federal hate-crimes law to the sect's violent efforts to humiliate Amish rivals, Samuel Mullet Sr., the leader of what the New York Times describes as a cultish, "renegade Amish sect" and 15 follicle filching followers now face some seriously lengthy prison sentences. Though Mullet — described throughout the trial as a particularly icky cult leader who'd force errant followers to live in chicken coops or pressure married women (including his own daughter-in-law) into sleeping with him — didn't personally participate in the beard-cutting attacks, prosecutors described him as the "mastermind," and testimony throughout the trial showed that would he accept bags of beard trimmings from his followers after a successful attack.
Beards and hair are pretty important in the Amish community, central to an Amish man or woman's religious identity. Prosecutors argued that Mullet orchestrated the attacks against dissenters from his sect, while the defense tried to make the case that the attacks were merely the result of personal grievances, and not, rather, motivated by religious conflict. Though none of Mullet's followers denied their roles in the attacks, Mullet at least plans to appeal his conviction, largely on the grounds that he'd rather not be convicted of hate crimes because that would mean an especially long prison sentence.
Jury Convicts Amish Group of Hate Crimes [NY Times]