BERGHOLZ, Ohio (AP) — The leader of a breakaway Amish group said an attack on fellow Amish in which a man's beard was cut off was a religious issue stemming from long-standing resentment of his group's treatment.
Sam Mullet, 66, said the goal was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.
"We'd like to get up in the morning, be left alone, live like normal people," Mullet said Monday. "They won't leave us be."
Mullet said he didn't order the hair-cutting but didn't stop two of his sons and another man from carrying it out 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 the Holmes County group changed the rulings of the church and were trying to force his community to change.
"We know what we did and why we did it," he told The Associated Press outside his house on the outskirts of Bergholz, a village of about 700 residents. "We excommunicated some members here because they didn't want to obey the rules of the church."
Mullet said he's upset that his 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 to the hilly area in 1995 just to be by themselves.
"We're not a cult. We're just trying to live a peaceful life," said Mullet, who spoke with occasional bursts of passion for about an hour as children played nearby, a horse tethered to a buggy rested and men and women did chores. "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?"
Amish men typically grow beards as adults and stop trimming them when they marry, and the beards are held in high esteem.
On Saturday, Jefferson County authorities 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 Holmes County. The three men were being held in Jefferson County jail on $250,000 bond each pending extradition to Holmes County and couldn't be reached for comment.
Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said Monday he expects two more arrests this week. He said the men hired a driver to carry them to Holmes County and to Carroll County, where a similar attack was carried out. He said the driver didn't know what the men were doing.
A similar attack happened in Trumbull County in September, Abdalla said.
Five people were assaulted in Holmes County, including women who had their hair cut off, said Abdalla, who disputed Sam Mullet's account, alleging the group's leader ordered the punishments.
The men entered the home and said, "Sam Mullet sent us here, and we're here on religious business," Abdalla said.
He said they used scissors and battery-powered clippers in the attack.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus