Lancaster County

Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Looking for a tough group to interview? Try doing cold-call visits with the Amish

Julie Zauzmer seems to be the Washington Post’s down-in-the-trenches reporter these days who gets to slog about places like rural West Virginia, Concord, N.H. and Virginia Beach to get interesting stories outside the Beltway.

Must say I appreciate it when journalists get off the phone and go on the road. Her latest is based out of Lancaster County, Pa., where there’s an effort going to get the reclusive Amish to sign up to vote for President Donald Trump in 2020.

There’s only one problem. Amish folks aren’t hot on being interviewed. Read the beginning of the piece:

MANHEIM, Pa. — In 2016, when more than 6 million Pennsylvanians voted in the presidential election, the state’s 20 pivotal electoral votes were decided by a margin of less than 45,000 voters.

Pennsylvania is home to more than 75,000 Amish people, and most who are eligible don’t vote.

For two Republican operatives, those two numbers add up to one major opportunity — to convince the traditionally reluctant Amish to come out to the polls, where their votes might be tremendously influential…

What they came up with was a group called the Amish PAC, which hopes to keep Pennsylvania — always a vital swing state — Republican in 2020.

Amish people tend to align strongly on policy with Republicans, who share their opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. But making voters out of the Amish, who forgo television and the Internet and believe fiercely in the separation of their religious community from government intrusion, may be a steep goal.

No kidding.

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Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

Washington Post digs into the nitty-gritty of how the Amish offered forgiveness

For those with long memories, Oct. 2 was the 10th anniversary of the massacre of several Amish school children in Lancaster County, Pa.

Lots of news outlets did anniversary stories about the event. As I’ve scanned a few of them, I noticed the Washington Post interview with Terri Roberts, mother of the man who murdered five girls and injured five more.

What I noticed was how the reporter got access to survivors –- and their parents –- that I hadn’t seen other mainstream reporters get. Unless you have major contacts inside such a community, first-person interviews with the Amish are notoriously tough to find.

Yet, here were several such interviews, all on the theme of how do the major players of such a drama deal with each other when the son of one of them has done the unforgivable?

NICKEL MINES, Pa. — A single word in black cursive font hangs above a large double-pane window in Terri Roberts’s sun room. It says “Forgiven.”
The word -- and the room itself, a gift built by her Amish neighbors just months after the unimaginable occurred -- is a daily reminder of all that she’s lost and all that she’s gained these past 10 years.
The simple, quiet rural life she knew shattered on Oct. 2, 2006, when her oldest son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on a clear, unseasonably warm Monday morning. The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.

The story of how the Amish gathered around the Roberts family is well known. But what happened after that?

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