Amish with guns, fancy cars: Really?

From Discovery Channel's new series "Amish Mafia": (from left) John, Alvin, Levi, and Jolin. While the show has broken viewership records, many locals in Lancaster County aren't buying it. "That fighting mentality," said a former prosecutor, "isn't even there" in the community.
From Discovery Channel's new series "Amish Mafia": (from left) John, Alvin, Levi, and Jolin. While the show has broken viewership records, many locals in Lancaster County aren't buying it. "That fighting mentality," said a former prosecutor, "isn't even there" in the community. (series "Amish Mafia": (from left) John, Alvin, Levi, and Jolin. While the show has broken viewership records, many locals in Lancaster County aren't buying it. "That fighting mentality," said a former prosecutor, "isn't even there" in the community.)
Posted: January 03, 2013

LANCASTER - Discovery Channel says its new series Amish Mafia has broken viewership records for its portrayal of previously unseen law-enforcers among the Amish community here.

A national ratings system and local feedback indicate people are tuning in in droves to watch Lebanon Levi, Jolin the Mennonite, and their gang of "protectors."

A Discovery executive insisted in a recent interview that the characters were not paid actors, but genuine Amish and Mennonite folks living in Lancaster County.

"They are actual people," said Laurie Goldberg, Discovery's vice president of public relations. "These are real people in the Amish and Mennonite communities."

The network also maintains that, while many events on the show are reenacted, they are based on actual happenings.

In its first three episodes (and a few spin-offs), the series depicts Levi's crew wielding guns in fancy cars while confronting violators of the Amish community.

Local viewers say they know better.

"That fighting mentality isn't even there," said Jeffrey Conrad, a local defense lawyer and former prosecutor, who said he had litigated "scores" of cases involving the Amish. "We can't even get them to file lawsuits when we suggest it."

Conrad said he recently did an interview for an ABC News show regarding Amish behavior here - Conrad believed it was in response to Discovery's series.

He said the interview was halted when he didn't tell stories of guns, avid partying, and other mayhem depicted in the series.

During his seven years as a local prosecutor, he said, he heard of no such "mafia" group. "We would have gone after them."

Other critics have created spoof social-media pages, including one by someone posing as Lebanon Levi, another by someone purporting to be Amish Alvin, and a catchall page, simply titled "Amish Mafia Is Fake."

On those pages, hordes of followers post wisecracks and take shots at Discovery's vision of the allegedly untold side of the Amish.

The debate rings on as the network stands by the events, as does a prominent player on the show, local lawyer Steven Breit.

"The show displayed another side of the Amish people," Breit said. "Folks in Lancaster County are having a hard time coming to grips with that. You've got people [here] looking at it with a jaundiced eye."

Breit said that he would not confirm or deny the events on the series, but that he had heard of such activity while defending many Amish folks over the years.

"The events are re-creations," he said. "I can't speak for the embellishments."


'Amish' Ambiguities

Local skeptics have questioned several aspects of Amish Mafia. Among them:

Lebanon Levi

On the show: Levi is the leader with a criminal past who meets clients and other appointments inside a hay-lined barn office. His alleged rap sheet was displayed in the debut episode as proof.

Reaction: Lawyer Steven Breit says that he has knowledge of Levi (though he never represented him) and that his criminal record is "verified."

Jeffrey Conrad, another lawyer, said he asked his Amish connections about such a person. "Who?" they responded, Conrad said. "Across the board, no one heard of him."

Bad business

On the show: Members of the "mafia" are shown walking out of stores tucking away envelopes of money, allegedly earned by protecting local merchants.

Reaction: At least one local business depicted in the show says it just isn't true. The business says it never paid protection fees.

Down by the river

On the show: Purporting to be based in the heart of Amish country - south-central Lancaster County - one scene shows characters John and Esther chatting on a riverbank.

Reaction: Locals are shaking their heads at this one, too. Many recognized the backdrop as a riverside park in Columbia, where the Amish population is next to nil. And the location is on the county's western edge, which would represent quite a trip in a horse-drawn buggy.

One Columbia resident said: "I actually saw them setting up for the scene at the Columbia River Park while I was working. Totally staged."

But are they Amish?

On the show: Look no further than the series title for proof that Discovery is presenting the characters as genuinely Amish (though Discovery's Laurie Goldberg said some characters are Mennonite).

Reaction: There is a big difference between the two faiths. Also, a local professor pointed out, Levi is touted as being an Amish man who was never baptized. Baptism is essential in the Amish faith: Either you're in or you're out, said Elizabethtown College professor Donald Kraybill, a prominent researcher of

Anabaptist culture.

Also, Kraybill and others observed, genuine Amish folks wouldn't appear on camera, as the faith forbids it.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|