'Amish Mafia' has officially moved in, taking over its Pennsylvania hometown with toy guns and other tributes to its reality-TV tough guy.
Locals in Lancaster County — part of an area famed for its large population of the pious sect — are cashing in on the Discovery Channel series about vigilante law enforcement in the traditional Mennonite community.
Store owners in the area have put up signs and handed out toy guns in response to the show, an unlikely hit since its debut last month.
“We’re kind of making fun of it,” said Jackie Kissel, a worker at Art & Glassworks, a store in the town of Lancaster that made a brief cameo. “We thought the show was hysterical.”
Presented as a reality series, the program exposes the rough-and-tumble exploits of Lebanon Levi, described on the show’s Web site as the “boss of the Amish mafia.”
Since the series’ debut, Levi and his gang of made Mennonites have overseen a “brutal Amish barn fight,” thrown a kegger for young people and shared their thoughts on “Merlin,” a rival Amish alpha in Ohio.
With peak ratings of more than 3 million viewers, “Amish Mafia” has caused critics to buggy out, with detractors blasting the show as anything but a Pennsylvania Dutch treat.
Instead, opponents call the series an organized crime against the Amish, claiming it offers a false portrait of the community and disrespects its values. The show itself admits to taking certain liberties, opening with a disclaimer acknowledging the use of “select re-enactments.”
While the Amish themselves have remained silent — community tradition forbids most types of electricity, including TVs — their neighbors in Lancaster are taking the show in stride, sending it up in public even as they grumble about how the area is portrayed.
“The thing that’s disconcerting is that they’re portraying Lancaster as though we have gangs and need protection,” said Kissel, who referred to the show’s star as an “actor.”
Nevertheless, the owners of Art & Glassworks have put up a sign reading, “This store is protected by Lebanon Levi” — a reference to a scene showing him exiting the store with an envelope presumably filled with protection money.
Recently, Kissel said, the owner of nearby Ziggy’s Magic Shop stopped by with a toy gun, joking, “You might want one of these.”
But while the show has been a popular topic of conversation, “Amish Mafia” hasn’t led the store to get mobbed.
“We had a nice retail season” before Christmas, Kissel reported. “Maybe we’ll have more tourism in the summertime.”
As for the actual Amish, Kissel questioned whether a true member of the community would participate in the show. “If you want to buy an Amish doll around here, it doesn’t even have a face on it,” she said, referring to the community’s ban on “graven images.”
“They’re private people. They don’t want to be on TV.”