CLEVELAND — Sixteen Amish men and women were convicted Thursday of hate crimes for a series of hair- and beard- cutting attacks on fellow sect members in a religious dispute that offered a rare and sometimes lurid glimpse into the closed and usually self-regulating community.
A federal jury found 66-year-old Samuel Mullet, the leader of the breakaway group, guilty of orchestrating the cuttings last fall in an attempt to shame mainstream members of his community who he believed were straying from their beliefs. His followers were found guilty of carrying out the attacks, which terrorized the normally peaceful religious settlement that aims to live simply and piously.
Prosecutors and witnesses described how sons pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off 2 feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.
The defendants face prison terms of 10 years or more. Prosecutors say they targeted hair because it carries spiritual significance in their faith.
All the defendants are members of Mullet’s settlement, which he founded in eastern Ohio near the West Virginia panhandle. The Amish eschew many conveniences of modern life and embrace their centuries-old roots.
Federal officials said the verdicts would send a message about religious intolerance.
Defense attorneys said the defendants were bewildered by the verdicts.
‘‘They really don’t understand the court system the way the rest of us have, being educated and reading newspapers,’’ said Joseph Dubyak, whose client, Linda Schrock, was convicted along with her husband.