If you grew up in Arkansas, as I did, you are familiar with the crazed preaching of an evangelist named Tony Alamo. His fliers denouncing the Vatican and the “one world” government were everywhere – left on your car windshields, sometimes even mailed to your home. They were many pages of type, single spaced. He lived in a compound in Fouke, Arkansas, with a swimming pool, and there were reports of polygamy and sex with young girls going back to at least the mid-1990s.
Now, after five victims testified last week in federal court how Alamo “married” them when they were young girls – one was only 8 years old when she became is “wife”- and proceeded to rape them repeatedly, keeping them prisoners of his polygamist cult, you have to ask: Why did it take so long to stop this?
Well, it’s over now. Alamo, now 74 years old, is on trial in federal court in Texarkana, Ark., and it doesn’t appear he’ll be walking free. Not that Alamo cares. He dozed off at one point during the testimony of a now-17-year-old girl who said she was married to him at age 11 and forced to have sex during a bus ride from Arkansas to California. His head back against his chair and his mouth open, one of Alamo’s attorneys had to nudge him to wake up, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
We don’t normally report on trials unless there’s an insider Department of Justice angle to them. But I’ve seen no mention of this story in the national press. Given how much attention the 2008 raid on the fundamentalist Mormon polygamous compound in Texas got, Alamo’s trial deserves more notice.
Kudos to M. Randall Harris, the FBI special agent who investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyra E Jenner of the Western District of Arkansas, who is prosecuting it.
Alamo was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman in Missouri in 1934, a Jew. In the 1980s, his cult, Tony Alamo Ministries, made elaborate embroidered denim jackets that became popular with celebrities like Brooke Shields. But his “church” lost its tax-exempt status in 1985 after the IRS concluded it was a profit-making venture to support his lavish lifestyle. He went to prison after a 1994 conviction on tax evasion charges.
He was charged last year with eight counts of transporting minors across state lines to have sex, and coercing them into sex. Read the criminal complaint here.
At trial last week, alleged victims testified that Alamo ran his cult with an iron hand, meting out beatings for presumed slights and keeping accounts of how many religious tracts his followers passed out on cross-country recruiting treks. At his compound in Arkansas, women would often gather to massage him to sleep. His wives lived up to four in a room, metal grates covering their windows, alleged victims said.
Wives who displeased him were sent to a green house at his complex knows as “The House of Scrom,” witnesses said. The windows of the house were boarded up after the girl Alamo has “married” when she was 8 escaped. The 8-year-old bride, now 18, said Alamo took pornographic photos of her and then later tore them into tiny pieces, paranoid. “We had to vacuum the floor for all the little pieces he missed,” she testified.
The 17-year-old who said she was “married” to Alamo at age 11 described how she used to keep herself busy, holding a baby or a pile of dirty towels, when she walked by Alamo’s office, which adjoined his bedroom. She testified, according to The Associated Press:
“I knew if I had something, there was less of a possibility that he would call me into his room … I just did whatever I could to stay away from him.”
“When I would try to stop him or tell him I didn’t want him to do it, he would threaten me and said he would get the other sisters to come in there and read scriptures to me.”