03 June 2022

Amish Mafia. In COLOR!

Amish Mafia
Source: Discovery Networks

 So about eight or nine years ago, Discovery ran a show supposedly about The Amish Mafia. It centered on a Lancaster, PA man named Levi who never entered the faith but was tasked with "collecting" for an Amish benevolent society. His methods were... um... questionable. Part of the show took place in Holmes County, Ohio and centered on a religious zealot named Merlin, who would declare to the camera that "Amish do not..." whatever it is had his dander up that particular moment.

In interviews, Merlin would boast about how he was a wanted man in Holmes and nearby Stark County. 

Yeah. About that.

I am tangentially related to the sheriff in Holmes County. He was the one who got word back to my family that my dad died. His niece is my first cousin once removed. And her grandmother (my aunt) grew up Amish. So, what did the sheriff of Holmes County think of one of his most dangerous citizens having a reality show?

"Honestly, I never heard of him until this show came on the air."

It gets better. My cousin knows all about the Amish not only from her grandmother but from spending a good chunk of her childhood in Holmes County. You can't not do business with them, nor would you want to try. Fire wood, food, furniture, these are things they excel at and sell to us "English". Plus, they're the neighbors. Usually, good neighbors. So when my cousin tuned into this show listening to Merlin pontificate about what is and isn't Amish (or better still, watching Levi tool around greater Philadelphia in a Cadillac Bruce Wayne would love to retrofit for his fleet of Batmobiles), let's just say her head exploded.

My personal favorite was Merlin declaring, "The Amish do not drink!"

I heard some snickering coming from the direction of a cemetery in nearby Fredericksburg, where my parents are buried. In fact, given that I was in suburban Cincinnati at the time, I'd say it was a hearty guffaw from beyond the grave by my late father. Dad once informed me that the Amish not only drank beer, but they brew their own. And apparently, steeped in German purity laws (for they are German and Swiss), their beer will knock you on your ass. (And they don't sell it, which kind of sucks as I haven't known any Amish on a first-name basis since about 1990.) The Amish do indulge in a lot of things Merlin declares are just not done. But Amish communities are so insular and segregated that guys like Levi and Merlin can make a bullshit show depicting a supposed Mafia (of which both considered themselves dons.) 

In the interest of diversity, some of those on the show were Mennonites, 'cuz Mennonites have cars and electricity. However...

Quite a few have televisions. I assume not that many watched Amish Mafia. And then there are the Brethren. The show has them wearing a lot of flannel, suspenders, driving older cars, and basically being Amish for the twenty-first century.

Uh huh.

Allow me to set the record straight. I grew up Brethren. At the age of four, I discovered Star Trek when my parents subscribed to cable (In a valley. You watched cable or the NFL wasn't happening.) and bought one of those large color TVs that were basically furniture. My dad drove a 1971 Fairlane he bought new. Mom listened to Johnny Cash and Elvis. When I came of age, I blasted KISS and Blondie.

So, how does a Brethren family get away with that if Amish Mafia says their Amish-lite?

If you haven't picked up on it by now, Levi (who is also executive producer of the show. Hmm...) and Merlin are selling a fantasy. I suspect one or both of them read a lot of Elmore Leonard. Too bad we're not getting Justified out of the deal. Now that was a show. The Brethren do, in fact, have their roots in what's called the Anabaptist tradition. Which also gave us the Baptists. Who drive new cars, stream, and listen to a lot of Blake Shelton and Imagine Dragons. The Brethren are more Baptist-lite than Amish-lite. Indeed, my parents walked away because they leaned into the hippie movement more, and they wanted to be more traditional. The pastor when I was in junior high went to Woodstock, argued about the merits of Deep Purple with me (He was more a coffee-house acoustic guy), and was trying to restore a battered Alfa Romeo in his spare time.

In other words, they were no more bizarre than your office coworkers. (Bad example. Some of my coworkers over the years have left me questioning my own sanity.) 

Amish Mafia reached peak absurdity after it was canceled by Discovery. Levi and Merlin decided to appear on Dr. Phil so Phil could mediate their "dispute." They basically took over the show, which is the only time I actually sympathized with Dr. Phil. 

More recently, I sent out a novel for a read before I do final revisions and give it to my publisher. I got the most curious note back. "Is there really an Amish mafia?"

There's probably something like it, but, as the actual Sicilian mafia would say, "Our thing is secret." The Amish struggle with the same things as everyone else, which means someone somewhere in one of the communities is exploiting the culture's rigid customs to their advantage. It's hard to say because they don't call the police until it gets beyond their capacity to deal with it. Plus, with few phones (usually a community phone or an English neighbor's mobile), 911 is not the push of a button it is for most of us. 

But most Amish I've known over the years are honest, hardworking, and shrewd. I'd venture to say that my cousins with the formerly Amish mother got their business sense from them. Two of the brothers run a thriving angus farm that took over for their father's dairy operation while the oldest is a real estate wizard.

And not a Levi in sight. Unfortunately, because Merlin prowls my old stomping grounds in NE Ohio, I'll probably run into him at some point.

Maybe I'll ask him if he can get me Dr. Pimple Popper's autograph. My young cousin will think that's hilarious.


  1. I always knew that show was a fraud. Up here in South Dakota we have the Hutterites, who live communally, dress alike (much like the Amish, only the women wear kerchiefs and printed dresses, not plain), and are super-rich because they have massive communal farms and use modern technology out the wazoo on those farms. And they're pretty private, too. They speak English, but amongst themselves Hutterite German.

  2. Never watched the show, always assumed it was hogwash. But I wanted to say I went to a college that was founded by the Brethren and still had enough connections to do student exchanges with Brethren schools in Germany. I take great pleasure in telling people I went to a college founded by an organization that didn't believe in higher education. (It was founded as a place to send Brethren to become teachers, so they didn't have to send them to other schools.)


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