Mostly, they came at night. Two or three people would hold down the victims, who were often elderly, while another person used battery-powered clippers or scissors to shear the victims' beards or hair. When they were done, they would take pictures.
The 16 Bergholz barbers, as they have come to be known, carried out five attacks on Amish men and women in Ohio over the course of three months in 2011. Often, they were the sons or daughters or in-laws of the victims. All of them were part of another putatively Amish community of roughly one hundred people who lived together in the Yellow Creek Valley in central Ohio, a few miles east of the town of Bergholz. In February of 2013, they were sentenced to prison terms ranging in length from one to 15 years, becoming the first-ever Americans to be convicted of hate crimes under a federal statute. On Wednesday, this conviction was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; two judges on a three-judge panel upheld counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI, but said the attacks didn't meet the standard of a hate crime.
As judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the majority decision, there is nothing typical about the Bergholz case, from its setting among the normally peaceful Amish communities to the nature of attack—shaving people's hair and beards. In the initial trial, after five days of deliberation, the jury concluded that these were religiously motivated attacks. But in their decision to overturn this conviction, the Sixth-Circuit judges held that it's not fair to say that faith "permeates the motives for the assaults in this case, no matter how mundane the personal, power, or getting-one’s-way disputes that formed the backdrop to these assaults. Even people of the most theocratic faith may do things—including committing crimes—for non-faith-based reasons." It’s a fascinating question: For people like the Amish, whose lives are almost completely defined by religious devotion, is it possible to extricate faith from anything they do?