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Alamo, Tony

News Summaries from ICSA Periodicals

Cult leader Tony Alamo dies; former members of ministry describe freedom, relief “Evangelist and cult leader Tony Alamo died Tuesday in a prison hospital in North Carolina. Alamo, whose real name was Bernie Lazar Hoffman, was sentenced to 175 years in prison in 2009 for transporting young girls across state lines to have sex. Some girls, as young as 8 years old, had been forced to become Alamo’s ‘wives.’ Alamo, 82, died at Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., according to an email from Justin Long, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Long said his office couldn’t reveal the cause of death. … Former Alamo followers claimed in federal court filings that they had been brainwashed, imprisoned, routinely beaten, starved as punishment for perceived wrongdoing, and forced to work long hours without pay—often to make sequined denim jackets that were sold to Hollywood stars. … ‘The victims I've spoken with are feeling a new sense of freedom,’ Carter said. ‘A couple of them weren’t even sure this day would come. They were raised to believe Tony Alamo was a prophet and that he spoke for God. In some cases, their own parents handed them over to Alamo rather than face eternal damnation for disobeying the “prophet.”’ …‘In the end, Alamo was nothing more than a narcissistic pedophile who wrapped his sadistic abuse in the cloak of religion.’ … Rebecca Gay, 42, who now lives in Georgia, spent the first 14 years of her life at the compound on Georgia Ridge, just north of Dyer. She posted a message Wednesday on Facebook about Alamo’s death. … Dorothy Curry, 72, of Fort Smith, said she had mixed emotions. ‘I don't rejoice, but I’m kind of glad,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to celebrate somebody’s death. I’m not jumping up and down. ... We were all hurt by that ministry—spiritual abuse is what you call it. Some people have gotten over it and some haven’t.’ … Tony Alamo was born Sept. 20, 1934, in Joplin, Mo [sic]. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Romania who, Alamo claimed, had been dance instructor for Rudolf Valentino, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. … Alamo claimed he recorded a hit record single in the early 1960s called ‘Little Yankee Girl’ and was even asked to manage musical acts including the Beatles, the Doors, and the Rolling Stones. There is no evidence of those claims. … While in a business meeting in Beverly Hills, Alamo claimed, Jesus came to him and told him to preach about Christ’s second coming. He and Susan, who was also of Jewish descent, converted to Christianity and began a Hollywood street ministry, preaching particularly to drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes. In the mid-1970s, they moved the ministry to western Arkansas, where Susan Alamo had grown up. … Alamo was found guilty July 24, 2009, on 10 counts of taking underage girls across state lines for sex. Four months later, he was sentenced to 175 years in prison and fined $250,000. In February 2014, a Miller County judge awarded $525 million in damages to seven former members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. It was the largest personal-injury judgment in Arkansas history.” (Arkansas Online, 05/04/17) [8.3]

Tony Alamo Church Empire Dismantled 

While Tony Alamo, whose Christian-ministry empire stretched from California to Arkansas, was living in the small town of Fouke, Arkansas, his crimes landed him behind bars. Alamo is now 79 years old and serving out his 175-year sentence in Tucson, Arizona for a long list of offenses that include battery, false imprisonment, and marrying his victims, including children as young as 8 years old.

In 2008, the dismantling of Alamo’s million-dollar ministry began. FBI agents raided his home and seized seven girls, later believed to be Alamo’s child brides. A year later, he was sentenced to life in prison. The women were awarded more than $1 billion by an Arkansas judge. Alamo also owes $30 million to two men who were beaten, starved, and denied education while being raised in the ministry.

Several of Alamo’s properties have already been sold to help satisfy the court judgment including his church building in Fouke. Prosecutors say some of Alamo’s property sold for as much as a quarter of a million dollars. The individual who bought the Fouke church building donated it to the Sanctuary of Hope Church in Fouke. Judy Frazier, a longtime Fouke resident and member of the nondenominational church,says that when the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry signs are taken down in Fouke next month the whole community will be celebrating. “…I never dreamed that one day He would put that property into our hands.”

In an ironic twist, one of the properties belonged to former Judge Jim Hudson, who presided over the child-custody hearings. After Hudson’s death in 2009, prosecutors say Alamo followers purchased the home. Now it’s being sold, and the money will go to Alamo’s victims.

The city of Fouke has found some closure with these properties sold, but unfortunately Alamo, who is still in prison, has followers in other places. “Tony Alamo is still preaching his word from prison and his message is still getting out because his followers are able to obtain that material,” said Jeanne Philyaw, a member of the group Partnered Against Cult Activity (PACA). She actively spoke out against Alamo during his trial, calling him the worst kind of predator, using the name of God to abuse children. “As long as that kind of hatred can be put out, there will always need to be prayer and people watching,” said Philyaw. (KTBS News, 8/13/14) [IT 5.3]

Douglas Christopher, 59, a member of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for transporting three young girls, all minors, across state lines for sex. The girls were the daughters of a woman Christopher married in 2000. Tony Alamo is serving a 175-year sentence for similar crimes. (Texarkana Gazette, 1/13/14) [IT 5.2]

Members of Alamo Christian Ministries are reportedly gutting six of the organization’s Fort Smith, Arkansas, properties in anticipation of a public sale of the properties to pay judgments against the organization. Lawyers for victims of the ministry who are supposed to benefit from the sale have persuaded the court to bring in the U.S. Marshals Service to secure the properties and their contents. (Texarkana Gazette, 12/20/13) [IT 5.2]

Circuit judge Kirk Johnson has entered a default judgment in Miller County, Arkansas and ordered imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo individually to pay more than half a billion dollars in damages to seven women he sexually and physically abused. Six of the women were taken by Alamo as “spiritual wives” when they were children. The seventh was being groomed to be a wife in Alamo’s polygamous home when she ran away at age 15.

Alamo had failed to respond to a civil lawsuit filed by the women in Miller County, and his silence allowed Texarkana lawyer David Carter to seek the default judgment and damages award. The judgment is identical to one Johnson levied last month against Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, an arm of Alamo Ministries. The judgments against Twenty First and Alamo are the largest personal injury judgments in Arkansas history, Carter said. Johnson’s docket entry in the case against Alamo states the judgment against the polygamist pastor will mirror the one against Twenty First.

At the end of the hearing, Johnson mentioned the multimillion-dollar judgment against Twenty First. “The court has previously held that $525 million is an appropriate damages award for their acquiescence to these heinous acts,” Johnson said. “The court has read each and every one of the psychological evaluations of the young ladies in this case … the abuse and underage marriages.” (Texarkana Gazette, 3/21/14) [IT 5.2]

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas has filed forfeiture and collection actions in regard to 27 properties owned by Tony Alamo’s organization in the continuing effort to obtain $2.5 million in court-ordered restitution for five former followers whom he victimized. (NWA.com, 7/3/13) [IT 5.1 2014] 

Loyal followers of Tony Alamo have filed claims of joint ownership of six properties that a judge previously said could be sold to partially satisfy a $30 million suit brought by two former members of the Alamo organization. The former members’ lawyer said the loyal members’ move is “a continuation of the “shell game directed by Alamo and implemented by his followers” to shield him from being held financially accountable for his “misdeeds.” (Texarkana Gazette, 5/5/13) [IT 4.3 2013] 

The Arkansas Supreme Court in April upheld a lower court’s decision to terminate the parental rights of seven Alamo followers. The lower court judge had said that the chil­dren faced the prospect of beatings and forced fasts ordered by Alamo. The high court noted that state human services officials told the par­ents, when the children were removed from the Alamo compound in 2008, that if they moved away and found jobs outside the Alamo Min­istries, they would be able to regain custody of their children. But the parents refused to comply. (Arkansas News, 4/28/11) [IT 2.2 2011] 

Hearings have begun in Miller County, AR, on whether children of couples still loyal to Alamo should be permanently removed from their parents—who were charged with neglect and abuse—continue in temporary foster home placements, or be reunited with their families. The parents object especially to court directives that they find employment and housing independent of the Alamo group as a condition of their children’s return. Their lawyer says that concern for the safety of the children should diminish, since Alamo is in prison and longer be able to control his followers or run his businesses. [IT 1.2 2010] 

A federal judge has ruled that five young women, who testified at Tony Alamo’s trial last year that he took them as wives when they were minors and sexually assaulted them, are entitled to $500,000 each from his ministry (which still operates with 100–200 followers, although he is serving a 175-year prison term). A forensic pediatrician detailed some of the physical and psychological damage inflicted on the women, now aged 18 to 33. The judge noted that the five were assaulted by someone they considered a pastor and prophet. “The defendant has truly, truly damaged these five young girls,” he said, “and I don’t think any amount of money this court can order can replace their loss.” [IT 1.2 2010]

Tony Alamo was sentenced in November by a U.S. District Court judge in Arkansas to 175 years in prison. The jurist said it was “hard to imagine” the damage inflicted on the young girls Alamo took as “wives”—one as young as 8—and kept under strict control. . . “May he [God] have mercy on your soul,” he told Alamo. Two longtime Alamo followers testified that the defendant had changed their lives for the better and helped needy people around the world. “If he hadn’t taken a bold stand and been a shining light in a world of darkness,” said one, “I’d be lost.” Authorities say they will monitor Alamo’s communications from prison with followers because they expect him to continue giving orders, as he did while serving an earlier prison term. Local prosecutors, meanwhile, will work with federal and state authorities to file charges against church members who were complicit in Alamo’s crimes. [csr 8.3 2009)

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries’ efforts to gather evidence for a civil suit in federal court against the state—before jurisdiction has been determined—are really aimed, according to state attorneys, to interfere in state-court custody actions involving the followers of jailed leader Tony Alamo. The Alamo organization accuses the state Department of Human Services of harassment and civil rights violations in the removal of children from the Ministries. The legal action asks, among other things, that no Alamo followers be required to leave their homes or employment in connection with the suit’s proceedings. In this, Alamo Ministries is essentially asking the federal court to overturn the state court’s orders.[csr 8.2, 2009)

“If Tony Alamo were a white-collar criminal, he could hire a jail consultant to help him pick out the right penitentiary. But he won’t get to choose his own prison, which will be his tomb.” The aging Alamo is awaiting a decision as to where he will serve the heavy sentence that followed his conviction for numerous crimes committed while head of his Arkansas-based cult.[csr 8.2, 2009)

Saying in October that he wants to “assure the safety of the community,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant, in Texarkana, AR, ordered evangelist Tony Alamo held without bail pending his trial on charges that he transported a minor across state lines for illegal sexual purposes. The 74-year-old Alamo, who suffers from congestive heart failure and diabetes, previously served four years in prison for tax evasion — after fleeing prosecution for two years. He heads what the FBI describes as a “vast,” tightly controlled organization with bases in California and New Jersey as well as Arkansas. As he left the court, Alamo said: “Same old persecution, same old lies. . . it never ends.” [csr 8.1, 2009)

His arrest came a week after a raid on the group’s compound in Fouke by some 100 state and federal police officers searching for evidence of the physical and sexual abuse alleged by former members, both men and women. Twenty children were taken into state care, but at least 100 more, thought to be living at other Alamo properties in the region, could not be found; some appear to have been taken out of the state. Because of the number of children involved, authorities are seeking local residents as volunteers who would be trained to be “Court Appointed Special Advocates” to work with the children individually while their cases move forward. [csr 8.1, 2009)

One woman, who testified that Alamo took as wives girls as young as ten or eleven, said she was beaten for wetting her bed and witnessed others being beaten for minor infractions and told to deny they were married to Alamo or had sex with him if questioned by authorities. She testified that the wives were also warned: “This [their testimony] was before the court of Satan, and we were before the court of God, and therefore, the lies did not count.” She said that Alamo controlled his organization on a day-to-day basis even when he was in prison; his wives visited him daily and took his instructions back to the congregation. [csr 8.1, 2009)

Regarding the alleged physical abuse at the Alamo compound, Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin said: “The court felt like the parents were not proactive enough in protecting the children from serious risk in the environment they were living . . . We’re offering parenting classes and counseling.” He said the punishment and discipline alleged in the testimony was “excessive.” [csr 8.1, 2009)

A judge in Texarkana, TX, in January upheld the removal to state custody of 18 children from Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, saying that they are in danger of being beaten for misbehavior, and that some of the children were involved in underage marriages. The judge also said the children had been educationally and medically neglected. Other judges had earlier ruled that parents who wanted to regain custody of their children would have to move off church property and find jobs outside the ministry. Authorities are still searching for some 92 children from the group and have taken into custody parents who refused to disclose their children’s whereabouts. Tony Alamo remains in jail awaiting trial on charges of transporting five girls across state lines for sexual purposes during the past 15 years. [csr 8.1, 2009)

Following a September raid on his Arkansas compound by authorities pursuing a child pornography investigation, Tony Alamo said he won’t fight extradition from Arizona to face charges that he took minors across state lines for sexual purposes. He believes that the age of consent is puberty, and that early marriage for girls is sanctioned by the Bible, although he added, “I don’t marry them if they want to at 14–15.” He has reportedly said that the raid was part of a federal effort to legalize same-sex marriage and stamp out polygamy. [csr 7.3 2008)

Fifty-seven-year old Christhiaon Coie, Tony Alamo’s stepdaughter, has spoken at length with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report (Spring 2008) about the origins of his cultic organization. She calls her late mother, Susan, a charismatic “con artist with a keen intellect and few morals” who worked with Tony to recruit and indenture marginal families and individuals on the West Coast, eventually building the cult into the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, money-making ministry it became. Coie notes that the Alamos persuaded their followers not only to scrounge for food in dumpsters, but to collect welfare checks by convincingly demonstrating that drugs addled their minds. [csr 7.2 2008)

Members of the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-homosexual Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, the end-of-the-world preaching cult accused by former followers of mind control and mental and physical abuse, is once again handing out literature and recruiting on Hollywood Boulevard. Founder Tony Alamo, released from prison in 1998 after serving time for tax cheating, lives in a guarded compound near Texarcana, AR, as concern among local townspeople grows and accusations by former members of past abuses proliferate. [csr 7.1 2008)

Special vans take the potential recruits, people apparently on hard times, to a converted roadside restaurant in nearby Saugus, CA, where they hear a gospel-song-punctuated sermon infused with end-of-the-world predictions, threats of Hell fire, and conspiracy theories involving Waco, Jim Jones, and the Catholic Church, which Alamo finds responsible for most of the evil in the world, including drugs, pornography, and prostitution. The assembled receive Alamo doomsday tracts, a Bible, and a plate of meatloaf. Members give testimonials about how the Alamo connection has saved their lives, and female followers “witness” intensely to visitors. “They can be a little pushy about the whole saving-your-soul thing,” says a diabetic with an irregular income, “but they do have a really nice salad bar.” There are Alamo churches in Elizabeth, NJ, and Ft. Smith and Fouke, AR, in addition to the “hundreds” of followers in California. [csr 7.1 2008)

In the early years of Alamo’s ministry in California, followers lived a squalid and controlled existence: they prepared meals from spoiled food collected from supermarkets and dumpsters; punishment included fasting and beatings, even being thrown out of the group and losing one’s spouse and children, according to ex-members. Alamo is said to have encouraged spouses to file grievances against one another, and children to testify against their parents. “We were taught, and we taught our kids, that this is Papa Tony, he’s a prophet of God. You were taught to shut off what you felt and to believe what they said.” Members worked in small church businesses, or on local farms as field hands who turned paychecks over to the leaders. [csr 7.1 2008)

Alamo and his co-minister wife, Susan, lived lavishly, and their enterprises grew to include sales of expensive airbrushed denim jackets, produced by members and their children at the Arkansas compound and sold to such celebrities as Sonny Bono, Hulk Hogan, and Brooke Shields. When federal authorities raided the compound, looking to charge Alamo with tax evasion — he’d already avoided prosecution on child abuse charges, but was forced to pay a $1.6 million award in the case — he abandoned the closely guarded settlement and went underground. He was finally apprehended in 1994 while living with nine wives under an assumed name in Florida. He was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to six years in prison; he served four. [csr 7.1 2008)

Ensconced once again in a hilltop compound in Arkansas — with armed guards posted along the public street leading to it — Alamo faces accusations of gross abuse by numerous former followers and the suspicion of many residents of the nearby town, who are deeply concerned about the group’s activities. One mother of six told state police — who will not say whether they are investigating him — how Alamo said he would allow the return of her husband into the cult’s good graces if she agreed to become his fifth wife. Refusing Alamo meant, "not only you might get beat half to death, but you'll go to hell on top of it," she recalls. She acquiesced, and he consummated the marriage immediately, in a brothel-like bedroom, shouting, ”The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is against you, Satan! Thus saith the Lord: 'She is mine!’” According to this woman, other wives included nine- and ten-year-old girls. Yet at the time, "I would have killed for him. I would have killed my child or anyone for him, even though I hated him.” Alamo continues to justify sex with underage girls, arguing that they should marry once they start menstruating, even if they’re only ten. [csr 7.1 2008)