Amish experience: Tourism dollars and televised depictions

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It’s that Old World charm of the Amish that draws 8 million tourists – and $1.9 billion – each year to Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, home of the nation’s largest Amish community of 31,000.

What the Amish don’t do, supporters say, is tote rifles as part of a violent protection racket – as depicted in the television show “Amish Mafia” – or regularly defy their religion, like in “Breaking Amish” and “Breaking Amish: Brave New World.” And, Amish horror stories are not the norm, despite the plot lines of the upcoming “Amish Haunting.”

Filmmaker Mary Haverstick is leading a push to eject the shows, airing on the Discovery Channel and related networks, from Lancaster County. The movement is gathering support because of what some see as a demeaning, inaccurate portrayal of the gentle, devout group. But some wonder if the hard-edged reality TV approach is that different from the soft exploitation of the Amish by the local tourism industry. In both, the Amish are unpaid, costumed “extras.”