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Lebanon Levi, Alan Beiler, Alvin, Esther, John, Jolin, Merlin, Vernon, Wayne, Crazy Dave and Caleb as "Themselves"
Paul Asay
Amish Mafia

Amish Mafia

I think I could pitch a great reality show to Discovery Channel.

I'd claim to unveil the secret, sordid world of Christian critics, with cameras dogging every step the Plugged In staff took. The tagline might read, "By day, they review entertainment. By night, they enforce it." It wouldn't make any sense, but would that matter? One episode might document how we crashed Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's latest Hollywood party, raining down righteous anger on the unconscionably immoral mayhem we found there. Then we'd all slam back a few martinis.

It'd be complete hogwash of course—a fiction from beginning to end. But even so, it might be more truthful than Amish Mafia.

The one-time trusted educational channel dubbed Discovery got in some hot water during its 2013 "Shark Week" when it televised a supposed documentary titled Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives. It doesn't. Faked footage and phony scientists triggered some pretty severe outrage from viewers and pundits—but anyone who has watched Amish Mafia saw the template for phony reality at least a year earlier.

Discovery admits that the Amish community denies the existence of an embedded mafia, of course. And it tells us that some of what shows up onscreen are reenactments based on "the legend of the Amish Mafia." Sort of like that supersized shark, apparently.

Of course, most Amish couldn't care a buggy-driven whit about reality TV. Their entire culture sort of works against crass self-promotion, and it's that reluctance to draw attention to themselves that, presumably, has kept Amish leaders from showing up on Fox News to vehemently debunk this travesty.

But don't tell that to Lebanon Levi, the supposed godfather of this Lancaster, Penn., outfit, ostensibly tasked with keeping peace and harmony (through superior firepower) within the tight-knit Amish community. Levi is, according to Discovery's website, "above the law and occupies the role of police, judge and jury," and is tasked with keeping "outside forces from infiltrating the Amish community." (Excepting reality television film crews, we're to believe.)

Levi's joined by a tight cadre of gun-toting assistants, most of whom (like Levi himself) have criminal records: Alvin, Levi's former right-hand man who found a bit of trouble down in Florida and is now struggling to get back in Levi's good graces; Crazy Dave, who was arrested for drinking and driving; and young upstart Caleb—a semi-outsider who, not being beholden to the church's strict rules, is tasked with doing Levi's most dastardly deeds.

"I can sin, I can dance, I can f‑‑‑, I can fight," he tells the camera crew. "What more do you need?"

Not everyone is thrilled with the way Levi does business, of course. Esther and John, sister and brother, were one-time confederates of Levi but are now on the outs. Jolin, Levi's former muscleman, seems to be a freelance enforcer these days. Alan wants revenge for Levi getting him thrown in the clink. And then there's Merlin, a rival godfather from Ohio who, with his dwarf-sized enforcer, Wayne, is determined to lay Levi low.

Though we're frequently told how religious the Amish are, you can already see that that doesn't stop the main players in Amish Mafia from drinking, fighting, swearing (lots and lots of that) and threatening folks. We see them smash car windows and steal horses. Sometimes the show can even take a tawdry sexual turn. The Discovery editing team even hopes you'll believe that Levi and his crew are actually offing other Amish and burying them behind the barn. "The last person who betrayed Levi, we don't know what happened to him," says John with a knowing look.

Could Levi, or somebody like him, actually have some connection with the Amish community? "Is there any population in which you can't find a few badly behaving, exploitable or shamelessly colorful individuals on which to base a trashy television show?" asks David George at "Obviously you can find such people in any community."

But most experts believe that Amish Mafia is almost complete fabrication—a sense magnified by the outlandish and suspiciously telegenic cast of characters that has sprung up in the second season. "My sense is this Amish mafia is about as real as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in The Office," Professor Donald Weaver-Zercher told And, indeed, when you're watching, the thing feels about as credible as a Nigerian email scam.

And, indeed, we should hope so.

I don't think I'm the only one around this review table who has a great deal of respect for the integrity of the Amish community—as so many live in such a way that they hope pleases God and brings them closer to Him. "The Amish people live a peaceful, Christian lifestyle, dedicated to serving God in the simplest manner," Jolin says. And I'd like to think that most Amish do just that.

So to have a show that singles out that faithful community for a frivolous and foul basic cable show seems not just a shame. It's almost an affront.

Episode Reviews

"Wayward Sons"

When Levi hears about a guy selling phones to Amish children out of the back of his car, he sends Caleb to take care of it. Caleb does so by smashing the car's windows and taillights and swearing the man off the property. If he comes again, Caleb tells a cameraman, "He's not going to be driving his car home. He's going to be riding in an ambulance."

Amidst characters quoting from the Bible, expressing faith in God and praying, violent threats abound. A house is broken into and ransacked, an ax found buried in a table. Jolin avenges a theft by stealing. Wayne breaks up an illegal milk-selling ring, smashing bottles (and cutting himself in the process).

We hear at least 35 bleeped s- and f-words. Also, "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑," "p‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "b‑‑tard." We see the Amish drink and smoke. Someone undergoes an exorcism.

"Devil Comes Calling"

Merlin, an Amish "godfather" from Ohio, saunters into town, ostensibly in the hopes of "freeing" Lancaster County from Levi's control (and bringing it under his). He proceeds to enter a "pimped out" buggy contest, wowing the faithful with his flat-screen TV, stereo speakers and cross-shaped bling. He promotes his buggy through a series of profane rants as he sprays champagne.

John orchestrates a barn fight (money is made through liquor sales and betting pools) in which Jolin participates. After being hit repeatedly, he "chokes out" his opponent. We see other fights, all featuring MMA-style violence. Later, Jolin ushers Esther into his room. "If we're really going to do this, we're going to have to turn off our mics," he says as they shut the door.

"Interviewees" imply that the Amish are poorly educated and women are forced to be submissive. Insinuations (verbal and visual) are made about the violent capabilities of the Amish mafia. We hear about a former Amish who was caught with a car full of drugs. Esther says Levi was "p‑‑‑ed off because [the guy] didn't give him a cut of it." We hear that Merlin spent time in jail for selling marijuana, and he says he had to be smart to avoid being someone's "b‑‑ch." About 15 obscenities (either s-words or f-words) are partially censored. We hear "a‑‑" a half-dozen times, along with "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," colloquialisms for the f-word and misuses of God's name.