WASHINGTON – "Duck Dynasty" is not the only unlikely reality show hit with Middle America.
When "Amish Mafia" debuted on Dec. 12, 2012, the show following a group of Amish men who deal with wrongdoings and misdeeds in their community scored the highest ratings among men for any Discovery Channel launch in the network's history, attracting more than 3 million viewers.
As the show enters its third season Tuesday night at 9 p.m., it ranks as the network's third highest-rated program – consistently attracting 2.5 million viewers.
For one cast member, the show is more than a job and a paycheck. It's a way of fostering understanding about his community among what he calls "the English" and also leveraging the show's popularity to get the Amish more politically active nationally.
Merlin Miller has ventured to Washington in his traditional dress to meet with members of Congress and his unofficial "political adviser" – none other than WND's founder, editor and chief executive officer, Joseph Farah, who will make an appearance in a future episode of the show this season.
"The reason I like being a part of the TV show is not to only show America how the Amish are, but to show that there are people, like me, who want to bring change to the Amish community," Miller told WND-TV in a recent in-studio visit in which the producers also recorded an exchange between Miller and Farah.
One of the changes that Miller represents for the Amish community is the willingness to go on camera.
"At one time, the Amish would've never gone on camera, but that's changing," he said. "The Amish are starting to go on camera more. We're realizing if we don't speak for ourselves, someone else will."
One of the attractions for the show is the seemingly incongruous title. Aren't the Amish non-violent? How could there be such a thing as an "Amish Mafia"?
The Amish of Lancaster County, Pa., like many other Amish communities, believe in self-sufficiency and the kind of isolation necessary to preserve their lifestyle. Thus, untrusting of outside law enforcement, some have for many years turned to a small organized group of men for protection and justice.
The entire nation became aware of why protection is needed following the 2006 school shootings in which five young Amish girls were killed and five more seriously injured by a non-Amish milk truck driver.
But is the protection really Mafia-style?
While Miller doesn't use the phrase "Mafia" to describe the structure that he is a part of, he says it was chosen to help the average American better grasp how they operate in the Amish community.
"The name Mafia helps English people better understand how the Amish subculture is structured. We have a bishop, we have the preachers and different people like that who watch out for the people of the community," Miller said.
He said the show's focus on a different side to Amish life is a strong reason for its success.
"I don't know if I have the answer to what the secret ingredient is for the 'Amish Mafia's' success other than the outside world being able to see what goes on in the Amish world," Miller said.
While many Americans consider the Amish quaint folks who live a "backward" lifestyle devoid of many of the benefits of technology, Miller doesn't see it that way.
"I don't think we do – we live our lives with family structure, moral structure and a great work ethic," he said.
He also pointed out some common misconceptions of the Amish people.
"We pay taxes just like anybody else. We have our own healthcare – it's called Amish Aid," Miller said.
Some Amish even use modern means of communication.
"We do use phones – we have what we call phone 'shanties' and in some places, some Amish are even allowed to have cell phones," Miller explained.
The reality TV show star had some final advice to give to the American people – a lesson they can learn from the Amish.
"My advice to non-Amish people is to keep family, keep your moral values, a good work ethic, and believe in your freedoms and the freedoms that our forefathers gave us," Miller advised.
It's advice with which his political adviser concurs wholeheartedly.