CLEVELAND (AP) — An Amish bishop concerned about cult-style "brain-washing" by a breakaway group testified against 16 fellow Amish Thursday and said his chest-length beard was chopped to within 1½ inches of his chin in a late-night home invasion.
"I saw the flash of scissors right by my head," Myron Miller, 46, of Carrollton told a U.S. District Court jury, holding up two fingers to demonstrate the open blades.
The jury is hearing evidence in five attacks labeled by the government as religious-based hate crimes. The defense calls them internal church discipline.
"I tried to get away," said Miller, testifying how four or five men dragged him by the beard out of his farmhouse last Oct. 4 and wrestled him to the ground. His beard has grown back nearly to mid-chest.
Hair and beards have spiritual significance in the Amish faith. Amish men do not shave their beards after marriage, believing it signifies their devotion to God.
Miller testified that the beard-cutting left him in shame. "It was humiliating," he testified as dozens of Amish watched from the public gallery. "Did I look different? Definitely."
Under questioning by the prosecutor, Miller testified that he was concerned about "cultic" brain-washing in the breakaway community. Prosecutors say the leader, Sam Mullet Sr., was involved in "sexual counseling" of women in his community. He hasn't been charged with sex-related crimes.
Pressed by the prosecutor to specify his concerns, Miller mentioned without details "cultic" activities and reported "brain-washing" of community members required to submit to Mullet's authority.
Miller testified about a long-running dispute with Mullet, whose son moved to Miller's community and later got embroiled in a child custody dispute.
Ed Bryan, defense attorney for Mullet, asked Miller whether the dispute involved personal issues instead of religious differences as the government has argued in calling the attacks religion-based hate crimes.
"I have nothing against Sam Mullet," Miller responded. "What's going on in that community, or was going on, we were very concerned about interaction with any of our members."
Trying to cast the issue as personal, Bryan asked Miller about a horse-and-buggy dispute with Mullet that came to a head last fall and asked, "Less than a week later your beard's cut, right?"
"Correct," Miller testified.
The defendants, who live in the Bergholz settlement in eastern Ohio, could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on charges that include conspiracy and obstructing justice. Mullet has denied ordering the hair-cutting but said he didn't stop anyone from carrying it out.
Attorneys for the defendants have not denied that the hair cuttings took place and said in the opening statements that members of the breakaway group took action out of compassion and concern that some Amish were straying from their beliefs.