Hate Crimes on the Razor’s Edge
Last week, sixteen Amish men and women in Ohio were convicted of federal Hate Crimes and could serve several decades in Federal prison for cutting the hair and beards of other Amish in the course of a religious dispute.
In Federal prison (unlike State), there is no possibility of parole.
From the Reason link, here is how a (literal) Federal case was made of this:
“The government also had to cite an “interstate nexus” to justify federal prosecution. You might think that would be a challenge, since all of these crimes occurred within a single state. But hey, look, Dettelbach says: The “Wahl battery-operated hair clippers” used in the assaults “were purchased at Walmart and had travelled in and affected interstate commerce in that they were manufactured in Dover, Delaware.” The defendants also used “a pair of 8” horse mane shears which were manufactured in the State of New York and sent via private, interstate postal carrier to [a retailer] in Ohio for resale.” They took pictures of their victims with “a Fuji disposable camera from Walmart” that “travelled in and affected interstate commerce in that it was manufactured in Greenwood, South Carolina.” They used “an instrumentality of interstate commerce” (i.e., a highway) to reach victims in Trumbull County, Ohio. (They never actually left the state, but they could have.) The indictment also mentions a letter (carried by the U.S. Postal Service!) that was used to lure one of the victims. An embarrassment of interstate nexuses, in more ways than one.”
In a touch of irony, or perhaps the Old Testament justice principle of ‘a beard for a beard’, the convicted men may be required by prison administrators to trim their own beards.
And, for extra hair-related-comedy bonus, the Amish bishop ringleader’s name?
I am not minimizing what these guys did – this NYT article on the accusations against Mullet paints him as a sort of cult leader, with all the usual cult skeeviness. But this whole thing still seems kind of crazy, like a Mr. Show sketch: an Amish equivalent of an East Coast / West Coast rap beef in which no one got shot.
Assuming all victims were adults, does this sentence seem reasonable? (If the victims were minors, I say ‘throw that book, hard.’) The linked Salon article notes that the Hate Crimes definition in Ohio refers to ‘bodily injury, including disfigurement.’ Is forcible shaving ‘disfigurement,” even if done with the intent to shame? What say the legally-inclined here?
Don’t get me wrong – what these guys did is Not Right. If people held me down and forcibly shaved my beard I’d be terrified, even if not physically harmed (though some no doubt would think the results an improvement). This is Assault, and should be punished.
But several decades in Federal prison with no possibility of parole seems a bit harsh to me; and I am not sure about the ‘Hate Crimes’ part, either in this specific instance or in general.