BERGHOLZ, Ohio — Myron Miller and his wife, Arlene, had been asleep for an hour when their 15-year-old daughter woke them and said that people were knocking at the door.
Mr. Miller, 45, a stocky construction worker and an Amish bishop in the peaceful farmlands of eastern Ohio, found five or six men waiting. Some grabbed him and wrestled him outside as others hacked at his long black beard with scissors, clipping off six inches. As Mr. Miller kept struggling, his wife screamed at the children to call 911, and the attackers fled.
For an Amish man, it was an unthinkable personal violation, and all the more bewildering because those accused in the attack are other Amish.
“We don’t necessarily fight, but it’s just instinct to defend yourself,” Mr. Miller recalled.
The attackers, the authorities said, had traveled from an isolated splinter settlement near Bergholz, south of the Miller residence. Sheriffs and Amish leaders in the region, home to one of the country’s largest concentrations of Amish, had come to expect trouble from the Bergholz group. It is said to be led with an iron hand by Sam Mullet, a prickly 66-year-old man who had become bitterly estranged from mainstream Amish communities and had had several confrontations with the Jefferson County sheriff.
But the violent humiliation that men from his group are charged with inflicting on their perceived enemies throughout this fall, using scissors and battery-operated clippers, came as a bizarre shock.
The assaults — four are known to the authorities — have stirred fear among the Amish and resulted in the arrests, so far, of five men, including three of Mr. Mullet’s sons, on kidnapping and other charges. Officials say that more arrests are possible.
In the first incident, on Sept. 6 in the town of Mesopotamia, a married couple who had left the Bergholz community four years ago, Martin and Barbara Miller, were attacked at night by five of their own sons and a son-in law, along with their wives, all of whom had elected to remain with Mr. Mullet, according to the victims. The gang left the father with a “ragged beard,” as a sheriff’s report described it, then turned on their mother — who is Mr. Mullet’s sister — and chopped off large patches of her hair.
“The beard is a key symbol of masculine Amish identity,” said Donald B. Kraybill, a sociologist and expert on the Amish at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. The women view their long hair, kept in a bun, as their “glory,” Dr. Kraybill said, and shearing it was “an attack on her personal identity and religious teaching…”