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Paula Stromberg

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Associated Press

BERGHOLZ — U.S. authorities raided the compound of a breakaway Amish religious group Wednesday and arrested seven men on federal hate crime charges in haircutting attacks against Amish men and women.

Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. Authorities have said several members of the breakaway group forcefully cut the beards and hair of Amish men and women in September and October.

Among those arrested were the group’s leader, Sam Mullet, and three of his sons, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland. Authorities were planning to hold a news conference Wednesday to explain why they charged the men with hate crimes, Tobin said.

The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles. They strongly believe that they must be forgiving in order for God to forgive them, which often means handing out their own punishment and not reporting crimes to law enforcement.

Mullet told The Associated Press in October that he didn’t order the haircutting but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to local Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

“They changed the rulings of our church here, and they’re trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we’re not going to do that,” Mullet said.

Those arrested were in custody and expected to be arraigned Wednesday.

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