On December 12, 2012 Discovery aired the first episode of Amish Mafia. It opened with a disclaimer telling viewers that the Amish Church denies the existence of the Amish Mafia and to protect participants and their family members some identifying information has been changed. There aren’t any scenes that have that little ‘Dramatization” disclaimer in the corner, so I’m led to believe that the entire thing is a re-enactment. In fact, as the show goes off there’s another disclaimer that reads, “Recreations are based on eye witness accounts, testimonials, and the legend of the Amish Mafia.” So in other words, what you have just seen is totally fabricated based on stories the producers were told.
Even with the disclaimer, Amish Mafia has been catching heat for not being a reality show. So much so that last week another new episode aired that gave cast members the opportunity to ensure viewers that what they were watching was real. As evidence they produced a local geneology book that records all Amish births in the area. Sure enough, their names were in there. And that proves, what? That they were born Amish? The show explains that the Mafia members haven’t been baptized into the Amish Church so they can operate outside it’s laws. I’ve never heard of a show that had to air a special to validate itself. But as much as I hate to admit it, I’m entertained by these guys. Just as with some of the haunted house stories we’ve written about, we have to ask if the quality of the story is worth foregoing a basis in reality.
In case you haven’t caught the phenomena that is “Amish Mafia,” the show is set in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where a large Amish population lives. The show revolves around Lebanon Levi and his gang of thugs. Levi is described as the protector, judge, and jury for the Amish community. He describes his role as “keeping the peace and making sure everyone’s following the rules.” I suppose he and his gang are exempt from following those rules? The Discovery Channel website says that Levi exists above the law.
Nevermind the fact that the show seems to depict Levi and his gang breaking numerous laws on camera without any concern. Either they really are above the law, or the stunts were staged. More on that later. Similarly, the Discovery Channel’s show “Moonshiners” depicts a handful of rednecks making illegal liquer. I find Moonshiners entertaining as well, especially when it comes to Tickle, but I wonder how the cast can continue to make moonshine after they’ve been on TV doing so. Wouldn’t local law enforcement just stake them out until they busted them? I’m starting to see a pattern here.
During the first episode rap sheets for Levi and the others were shown and started a big controversy. The arresting agency appears as the Lancaster County Police Department. Locals were quick to point out that there is no such agency. There is the Lancaster County Sheriffs Department and the Lancaster City Police Department, but the Lancaster County Police Department does not exist. The criminal records are real, to an extent. Records have been found for four of the show’s cast members. Levi was arrested in Shelby, OH for DUI, and has also been arrested for public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and two other DUIs.
Esther’s Twitter account was active after the show’s premiere, touting her new relationship with Twitter user @TheRealMirkat, a rapper who took to the site to brag about the sexual exploits that went on between the two. Esther, posting as @ecstasy686, and Mirkat tweeted back and forth about how in love they were. Mirkat wasn't shy about posting pictures that seemed to show him using drugs. Since then both the accounts have been deleted.
Depicted on the show as Levi’s right-hand man is Alvin. He’s the quiet, might-be-crazy one. “Nobody gets to Levi without going through Alvin.” Alvin Stoltzfus Lantz has a criminal record for a DUI and for fleeing from police. On his arrest records his occupation is listed as ‘construction’ so he may actually work for Levi.
Several articles quote people who live in the Lancaster area and know the cast members. They say they are nothing like the characters depicted on the show. Levi seems to have been a party guy for a while, but had settled down somewhat, until he became the leader of a religious organized crime syndicate. The residents deny the existence of an Amish Mafia.
Others say the Amish make an easy target to exploit because of their beliefs. Most do not watch television or even have their picture taken, so they’re not likely to come out with a public argument against the show. The racketeering that is depicted on the show would be of interest to FBI’s Violent Criminal Organizations unit and subject to RICO charges. Local law enforcement officers have went on record saying that if there was any such organization in the area they would know of it.
So what do I think of Amish Mafia? I wish they had done what the History Channel did with the Haftield’s and McCoys; made a mini-series. Instead of exploiting an actual tragedy, make one up, cast a gang of Amish thugs to fight back, and let me watch it. Just don’t claim that it’s real. Give the viewers some credit. It’s like professional wrestling. It doesn’t take the fun out of it just because it’s fake. With a little polishing Amish Mafia would have some great characters and potential storylines. Don’t put a pothead on screen bumbling around trying to act out tall tales. The Amish Mafia has become a legend, but legends aren’t reality. They do make great TV movies though. Amish Mafia belongs on Showtime or HBO, not the Discovery Channel, but we’ll support another season.