Je’dult met aundre
Part 1: The Amish Sam Mullet Gang.
Forgive the terrible pun, but two recent news items have given ethnic Anabapatists cause to consider the definitions and boundaries of the ethnic-religious cultures and how these cultures are seen by those looking in from the outside.
Renegade Amish leader (now a cliché) Sam Mullet is being arraigned for potential hate crimes against fellow Amish. His defense, that this a matter internal to the Amish community.
Meanwhile, a tax dispute between Mexico’s Manitoba Colony of Mennonites and local authorities are leaving ethnic Russländer Mennonites wondering if they are being targeted for exploitation. Is Mexico really taking a page from Europe’s Medieval past to pass off its financial excesses onto the backs of “ethnic minority enclaves” or ghettos?
In the first instance, Pennsylvania and the United States are wondering if the Amish have lost their ability to tolerate each other (mutual internal toleration). In the second, is the Mexican majority losing its ability to tolerate minority cultures (external cultural toleration)?
The Sam Mullet gang, including Mr. Mullet and six of his followers, is being held in Ohio on hate crimes charges – or for assaulting their fellow Amish based on their religious differences, namely in retaliation for shunning Sam Mullet and his break-away Amish community.
The New York Times quotes US Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, “We believe these attacks were religiously motivated … While people are free to disagree about religion in this country, we don’t settle disagreement with late-night visits, dangerous weapons and violent attacks,” (Erik Eckholm, NYT see below).
While there is no disputing that terrible crimes have occurred, or the absolute inexcusability of Mr. Mullet’s actions (or even beliefs), there are perhaps a couple of interesting issues inherent in Dettelbach’s determination to prosecute these actions as hate crimes.
Sociologically, Dettelbach has potentially demonstrated two disturbing attitudes in his comments. The first is a general condescending paternalism towards an ethnic culture. His comments are addressing process, procedure and internal self-governance of a culture rather than the renegade evil of an individual’s transgressions. The above quote contains a decided attitude of “we” Americans, and “them” Amish. While the greater Amish (and Mennonite) community would probably agree with Dettelbach and are thankful for his intervention, it would be dangerous in the long-term if such attitudes leached out into other cases and as a general tendency to see the Amish as naïve, needing outside sponsorship or protection, or generally incapable of governing their own internal behaviors. The general tone of the Times piece is one of teaching the Amish how to handle this situation properly.
“We do not ban.” “We do not discipline our children in that way.” “We do not force our children to perform manual farm chores.” “We do not feed our children raw milk.” “We do not educate our children in German.” Once this attitude has taken root, where will the imperial we end and the inclusive us begin?
Dettelbach would have better spoken had he said that Sam Mullet’s actions are consistent neither with the values of the greater Amish Community nor with the laws of the our nation and Mullet will be held accountable for his actions.
|(c) NBC News|
Secondly, I would be very interested to ask a psychologist whether or not Dettelbach might be feeding into a potential martyrs’ complex for the Mullet Clan. Anabaptist ethnic culture is based in part on a feeling of being outsiders who have survived centuries of persecution, such persecution shaping the core identity of Anabaptist culture today. The we / they language employed by Dettelbach might make good headlines, while in actuality preventing the courts from clearly confronting the Mullets and Millers with the true inappropriateness of their actions. I am given to understand that in cases with other ethnicities, more care is generally taken to be as ethnic-appropriate to all parties as is possible.
Finally, the Hate Crime charges against the Mullet gang have entered a new philosophical (again, I am not talking about the actual legal status) question – that of the internal boundaries of ethnic-religions.
The rhetoric seems a bit confused – TPM Muckraker’s Jillian Rayfield headlines that Mullet’s attorneys are arguing that the hate crimes law under which the Mullet gang have been charged is ‘unconstitutional.’ Reading her article, it seems more likely that the attorneys are arguing rather that it is being applied in an unconstitutional manner in this case. She quotes the attorneys, “the alleged intra-religious actions between private individuals do not fall within the statute or federal authority. The actions are not alleged to have been taken out of prejudice or hatred against the Amish religion. Rather, the alleged acts are doctrine-based Old Order Amish beliefs,” (Rayfield, see below). While there are some additional arguments and comments, the gist seems to be that the hate crimes are alleged because a religion is involved, not because the victims were being attacked for having different religious beliefs. In other words, two Amishers involved in a dispute or crime is not a hate-crime, but rather an internal Amish squabble (furor mennoniticus).
For my interests, I am trying to follow this trial to determine two things – is Sam Mullet confronting the Old Order Amish with the reality of being a diverse ethnic religion that is defined by a lack of diversity in religious identity. This would be an interesting point. Secondly, it seems that in this case, the Amish community is confronting definitions regarding who is Amish and who is not, how those boundary definitions might be enforced, and maybe even whether or not an ethnic definition of “Amish” might not become useful in the future to complement the more rigid religious definition. Certain reports have even indicated that regional Amish families have stockpiled Mace™ and even allowed shotguns into the home (for defense), which if true, would mean a further dialogue as to the meaning of Amish and the relationship between ethnic identity, religious ideals and practical implementation of beliefs.
There is no excusing Sam Mullet’s actions and it is entirely appropriate for the courts to intervene. At the same time, Mullet’s trial is intriguing for this very public look deep inside the personal relationships that bind the Amish culture together, the pressures that often rend it apart, how the culture is perceived and treated by the non-Amish and what the consequences of Mullet’s trial will be for the definition of and boundary maintenance of the greater Amish cultural identity.
Note: In a separate case involving the defrauding of the Mennonite and Amish community by investment specialist Monroe Beachy, the same, aforementioned Dettelbach has also rejected the ability of the Mennonite and Amish community to handle that matter internally and has similarly created a potential sense of confusion between religion, spiritual morality and the legal precepts of the external state.
While not making a value judgment on Dettelbach's perspectives, he might all the same end up having as much influence on the future of the Mennonite and Amish identity in the United States as any theologian or sociologist.Possibly, one might continue to see a growing trend towards cultural paternalism on the part of the American government not so dissimilar from that of the 19th Century Russian Tsars towards the Mennonite colonies/culture in Ukraine.
- Associated Press, "Ohio man to plead guilty to defrauding fellow Amish in 29 states..." The Washington Post, 13 March 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/ohio-man-set-to-plead-guilty-to-defrauding-fellow-amish-in-29-states-out-of-nearly-17-million/2012/03/13/gIQA8IM19R_print.html, downloaded 14 Mar 2012, 00:12 am.
- Ove, Torsten, “Lawyers: Amish sect leader prosecution is unconstitutional,” post-gazette.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, 07 Mar 2012.
- Eckholm, Erik, “7 in Renegade Amish Group Charged With Assults,” The New York Times, New York, NY, 23 Nov 2011.
- Rayfield, Jillian, “Attorneys for Amish Haircutting Mob Argue Hate Crimes Law is Unconstitutional,” TPM Muckraker, 07 Mar 2012, http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/03/attorneys_for_amish_haircutting_mob_argue_hate_cri.php, 08 Mar 2012.