TLC’s Breaking Amish has been one of the surprise reality successes of the year in terms of ratings even with allegations of fabricating the cast’s back-stories and fudging plot holes when they were caught in a lie. The show was mostly contrived for ratings, although some of those allegations were addressed in later episodes and during part one of the reunion.
It’s not surprising then that sister network Discovery is taking a stab at its own embellished-for-ratings reality/ docu-series show about the Amish, titled Amish Mafia.
This time, the subject isn’t people who left the Amish years ago who are pretending to use electricity for the first time. Instead, it’s a mix of Amish and Mennonite governing their own community without the interference of local law enforcement. Preferring to take the law into their own hands and using “violence” to “intimidate” fellow locals into submission.
The series centers around cast member Lebanon Levi and his “henchmen” Alvin, Jolin, and John. Filming in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (the location where some of Breaking Amish was filmed May this year).
Here’s more information about the show that, unlike its predecessor, admits it’s re-enacted in part.
TLC were less-transparent about staging scenes and lying to their audience. It appears Discovery knows better, and admits upfront that Amish Mafia is (at least partly) fake with some scenes recreated “to protect identities.” And if the show feels familiar it’s because Levi is an overbearing, violent felon who’ll be sucking up a lot of screen time. Sound familiar?
His name is Lebanon Levi, and he’s the chief enforcer and focal point of Amish Mafia, a new docu-series premiering next month on Discovery.
The series, which follows on the heels of sister network TLC’s top-rated (and extremely controversial) Breaking Amish, centers around tough-guy Levi and his henchmen Alvin, Jolin, and John who quietly enforce justice and protect the Amish community in Lancaster, Pa., while church elders look the other way and no one asks questions.
“The [Amish] Church denies that the Amish Mafia exists. Yet, like any other person in a community who holds power, the Amish know who to go to if there’s a problem,” says series executive producer Dolores Gavin, who notes that it took producers about two years to gain admittance into the Amish Mafia’s inner circle.
The group’s undisputed, feared boss is the imposing Levi, a full-fledged member of the Amish community who, because he was never baptized, is not a member of the church and can operate by his own set of rules.
“Levi is able to wield his influence in a way that few others can,” Gavin says. “He is at arm’s length from the church, which gives him more power in dealing with the outside world… Levi is a man who straddles both worlds. He genuinely feels as though he is a help to the community and yet he has a propensity for violence and intimidation.”
And that’s no exaggeration: Levi’s past includes a guilty plea in 2000 for an unspecified crime (his rap sheet is briefly flashed on-screen).
“The Amish don’t have insurance like we do,” Gavin says. “They all pay into a community fund, which is run by Levi. He decides who gets what money.”
Levi also decides which internal problems he and his cronies… lifelong friend/confidante Alvin; Jolin, a Mennonite foot soldier; and John, the son of Levi’s predecessor… will pursue with their brand of justice.
That includes busting into a motel to catch an Amish man cheating on his wife with a prostitute, a scene captured by cameras as it happened (other scenes are re-enacted to protect identities). In another instance, the crew threatens an Amish guy who’s been pressuring a distraught Amish woman for sexual favors in exchange for lending her money.
“What’s particularly interesting is that it is extraordinarily difficult to find police reports of Amish crimes,” Gavin says. “They don’t go to the police and they aren’t cooperative with police. What we realized was… navigating between two different worlds often yields provocative results.”
Amish Mafia premieres Wednesday, Dec. 12 (9 p.m.). – via New York Post.