Since the first airing of “Amish Mafia,” on the Discovery Channel the show has garnered success from viewers, but criticism as well.
The Amish communities in southcentral Pennsylvania are some of the largest in the country, according to one member of the Amish community in Lancaster County who wished to remain unnamed.
According to U.S. Census of Religion, there were 397 Amish congregations in Pennsylvania in 2010. In Ohio, there were 432. In Indiana, there were 300.
Lancaster County has the largest Amish population in Pennsylvania with over 26,000 members. By comparison, York County has about 260 members.
Residents of York and Lancaster counties are used to seeing Amish folks around town, at local markets and driving their buggies along roads.
But viewers across the country do not necessarily have the same exposure.
Brenda Sweitzer has been the manager of Porky’s Place at The Markets of Shrewsbury in Shrewsbury Township in for six years. Each week she works with Amish vendors at the market and has become good friends with many of them.
When asked about the behavior depicted in the show “Amish Mafia,” Sweitzer said, “It doesn’t sound like the Amish to me.”
The Amish vendors and workers at the market are talking about the show, but “they keep their business their business.”
Which is why the show’s premise seems so disingenuous, she said. It’s not a part of their culture to share private thoughts and feelings, especially on television because most Amish don’t own one.
Steve, a member of the Amish community in Lancaster County who wished only to share his first name, has seen a couple of episodes of “Amish Mafia.”
“I’ve seen enough (of the show) to know it’s so inaccurate,” Steve said. “It’s not even close.”
Is he concerned that the show is portraying the Amish in a less than flattering light?
Yes and no, he said. No, because it’s so false that it’s not really giving a view into Amish culture. And yes, because the characters are real people from Lancaster County and their families will not appreciate this exposure.
“It would be one thing if these were actors from Hollywood,” Steve said. “But they grew up in our culture. They’re real people and they should know better.”
The show does post a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode that states: “The Amish Church denies the existence of the Amish Mafia. To ensure the safety of the innocent Amish, select re-enactments of events must be used.”
One Amish community member, who identified himself as the cousin of Lebanon Levi — the main character on “Amish Mafia” — has not seen the show.
“I just have what I hear,” he said. “And I’m not here to talk against Levi. For all I know, things (with the show) might have gone way out from what he expected.”
He acknowledged the “rest of the world” might be getting an inaccurate picture of Amish culture, but “if it’s not the truth, then it shouldn’t offend us.”