Shameful Amish Mafia Season Two Sets New Low Standard

On September 24th, as the Second Season of Discovery Channel’s so-called “reality series” AMISH MAFIA was drawing to a close, the hour-long episode “Judgment Day” was devoted to answering viewer questions, providing a re-cap and, it appears, setting things up for a Season Three.

Rather than try to review all that happened in Season Two, let’s look at some of the comments made during this episode and talk about a couple of the characters.

We begin with the assertion, yet again, that the cast members are Amish. Born to Amish parents, and because his name appears in the genealogy known as the FISHER BOOK, Lancaster Amish Mafia boss “Lebanon Levi” argues that of course he is Amish. The truth is that being born into an Amish family means nothing more than that. In the FISHER BOOK you find the names of people, including many not even born into Amish families, who are descendants of Amish dating from the 1700’s and 1800’s. So, Levi, why not tell the cameras that only by being baptized and making the lifelong commitment to family and community are you considered to be Amish.

Amish is a religion, not an ethnic group. If Donald Trump had been born to Amish parents, left without ever having been baptized, and then forged his business empire, would we consider him Amish? I think not. Finally, the show’s producers have admitted (might our series had something to do with it?) that the actors are not baptized church members, although they fail to acknowledge that they are therefore not Amish.

The fact that the characters speak the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) dialect creates the impression of their “Amish-ness.” However, there are many who speak the dialect, including my Lutheran grandmother. Being Amish and having Amish background are two very different things.

A few other random Mafia observations…

Lebanon Levi administers Amish Aid? Money is indeed collected and administered in time of need by the church.  Levi Stoltzfus, who in real life owns C&L Siding & Treated Decks in Richland, PA, has nothing to do with administering any aid to any Amish. Although, if you need siding work done, maybe engage Levi when he isn’t busy with the show. His website is Business must be good, as evidenced by the internet posted photos of his cruise to St. Thomas.

Whenever “Amish church” is mentioned, viewers see a church steeple and cross. Time for another “Amish Mafia” truth break — the Amish have no church buildings. Nor do the Amish display or wear crosses. Amish districts choose their own ministers and bishops, and the Amish worship in each other’s homes.

When local criminal defense attorney, Steve Breit, is asked about the existence of the “Amish Mafia,” he cleverly avoids a yes or no answer. “It’s not contrived. It’s not made up. The individuals on the show that I’ve represented have committed some serious criminal activity,” a real “reality” that the series has embraced and incorporated into its storylines. In a Nightline ABC-TV interview, Breit offers the perspective on Amish youth that, “By numbers, they’re doing the same amount of this type of activity that mainstream American kids are doing today.”

Significant time has been devoted to genetic disorders, psychological problems, and even an Amish rehab facility where “untrained people brainwash” the troubled.

One of the psychologists interviewed in that segment, Dr. Jean Cirillo, was kind enough to speak with me a few days after the episode aired. I make no comment on her observations or conclusions. Her website notes that she has been seen on hundreds of national television shows. When I asked her to comment on the show, she said that she felt the “Amish Mafia” probably depicts a smaller group or sub-culture, and that the behavior portrayed is not representative of the majority of the Amish.

She added that every culture has an anti-social, even criminal, element and mentioned the Italian Mafia as an example. When I asked if she thought there really was an “Amish Mafia” she said, “There are always people who take it upon themselves to be a watchdog.” She explained that such groups allow for a permissive anti-social behavior otherwise frowned upon, at the same time providing a protective function for the community.

This behavior set in Amish Country creates instant shock value as the unsavory characters we meet are either portrayed as, or somehow connected with the Amish, long seen as peaceful, non-confrontational people. Dr. Cirillo observed that “it is entertaining to show the lesser known variations of behavior in Amish society, otherwise it wouldn’t make for interesting TV.”

An example of a “lesser known variation” (more an outright falsehood) would be the bare-knuckle fist fights we are led to believe are used to resolve Amish disputes. While for some it may make for good TV to witness hay bales arranged in a circle with a midget bringing down a man four times his size, such conflict resolution among the non-resistant Amish is so ludicrous as to defy explanation.

In this final episode we meet a new character named Flip, introduced as the go-to man for organizing wild Amish parties. (When the parties were being filmed, local non-Amish were being offered parts as “extras.”)  Flip too apparently comes with a criminal record. It remains to be seen what his role will be next season.

We also learn that “armed Amish” from Kentucky are being recruited to engage in the power struggle for control of the Lancaster Amish Mafia empire which, as I recall, is basically where we left things at the end of Season One.

“Judgment Day” also gave us a further look at the producer’s fictional view of shunning, claiming that when someone is about to be shunned, a Bible is placed outside the transgressor’s door. Let me say flat out that the Amish would not treat a Bible in such manner — thus, once again, making a fiction “fact” in the interest of entertainment.

Another scene has us observing members of the “Amish church” forcibly entering the home of a man being shunned and proceeding to sell off his belongings. This would, of course, be breaking the law and is but another figment of the imagination of producers. When we asked a local Amishman about this, he said sadly, “Where do they get these ideas?”

Moving on, imagine our excitement as a number of men (in a white van with no license plate) chase down and kidnap wayward church members and take them away to impose Amish discipline. Really? Can anyone help me with another, better, stronger word for “ridiculous?”

In this regard, much is made of the disappearance of Caleb, who had arrived at the beginning of Season Two as one of Levi’s new henchmen. Being Brethren, he can “do things the Amish can’t do,” and thus became one of Levi’s enforcers. The handsome Caleb’s affair with “the bishop’s daughter” (as if there were only one bishop), led to Levi being criticized and to the conclusion that Caleb be disciplined. We hold our collective breath as we last see him spirited away in a black car and led into a remote barn by mysterious men wielding baseball bats.

The producers claim not to know what happened to Caleb. They first became worried when Caleb didn’t show up for an interview. The shocking news at the end of the show was that no one has heard from Caleb. Levi refused to discuss his whereabouts or punishment. Is Caleb locked in a silo somewhere or, worse yet, was he thrown into the Susquehanna River wearing concrete boots never to be seen again?

The investigative team here at AMISH COUNTRY NEWS, dispatching 20 of our best reporters and forensic scientists, aerial helicopters, search dogs and bloodhounds, and consulting a local gypsy of great repute from Lebanon has solved the Caleb Contrivance…

I called Caleb’s father. He says he doesn’t watch AMISH MAFIA, and he laughed heartily when I asked him if knew his son was missing. “You don’t actually believe what they say on that show, do you?” No, but obviously some people do. So I asked if Caleb was OK. “Well, he was the last time I saw him.” I then asked when that was. Imagine my relief when he told me, “I saw him 30 minutes ago.”

So there you have it. The show aired on Tuesday, September 24th, and the very next day we had located Caleb. The producers’ investigative talents must surely be exhausted having to concoct such totally unreal, unbelievable scenarios and then losing sleep wondering if their audience might find any of it even remotely plausible.

It will be interesting to see if Caleb shows up again. But, dear readers, if nothing else in my ramblings has been the least bit edifying, rest assured he is fine, and we know where to find him.

Viewers far from Lancaster may find the series amusing, or believe some, or perhaps all, of what they see on AMISH MAFIA, which is being aired in Europe and, we hear, even in China. For us, we find it distasteful and nothing more than an inexcusable mockery of a peaceful, religious sect, with absolutely no conscious for what’s portrayed on the screen.

The Amish obviously can neither protest or boycott the Discovery Channel nor the sponsors of the series. They are the easiest of prey. Indeed, without TVs, few Amish have ever seen an episode.

The Discovery Channel’s disgraceful portrayal of the Amish cannot be compared to the physical torture their ancestors suffered centuries ago because of their religious beliefs. Yet, is this not a modern, subtle persecution that should bring shame to any of us who take the time to think about how a gentle, religious people who only wish to be left alone are presented to the rest of the world?

The Tour That Never Was…But Would Not Go Away!

For those of us who know, understand and respect our Amish community here, the debut of Discovery Channel’s AMISH MAFIA Series was, in some ways, our worst nightmare. However, for the Discovery Channel and Hot Snakes Media which produces the Series, an unexpected nightmare awaited them as well.

This unlikely dream sequence took the form of our little Amish Country tour company’s decision to develop an “Amish Mafia – Chust Nonsense!” tour debunking the series’ offensive and disgraceful portrayal of Amish life. Obviously irritated by the tour company’s audacity, the Discovery Channel wrote the Amish Experience claiming that the tour could not be called “Amish Mafia – Chust Nonsense!” with or without a disclaimer. Notwithstanding the merits, or lack thereof, the name was changed to what is also the name of this blog, “Is There a Mafia? – The Amish Tour.”

Enter Hot Snakes Media, equally annoyed when we announced we would be stopping at actual film locations, including the beautiful and historic Silverstone Inn where much of the local “Amish” filming took place. A cease and desist letter went out to the Silverstone owners demanding that the Inn stop associating with the tour and not allow it on their property. Understandably intimidated, Silverstone backed out of its agreement and the tour was shuttered. Goliath had won, but only momentarily…

Telling the Amish story, accurately and respectfully, has been our goal since 1959. Explanations as to the how’s and why’s of Amish culture have always been central to the tours. Thus, it would take little to set the AMISH MAFIA record straight – simply state the AMISH MAFIA’s Amish “facts” and then explain the truth about Amish life, all the while driving through beautiful countryside along farms as picturesque as you’ll find anywhere. So instead of restricting our comments about this series to a special tour just once a day, it will now be part of all four of our regular Amish Farmlands tours every day! Visitors will receive a tabloid revealing much more about the show and its “cast.”

For visitors who want to meet and talk to the Amish, the Visit-in-Person Tour makes three Amish visits so that guests can reach their own conclusions about the Amish way of life from the Amish themselves.