According to a lengthy piece from the Intelligence Report, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a blast from Arkansas’ past is back. This time, according to the piece, the cultist is accused of much more than brainwashing or even tax evasion.
For a long time, reporters who covered his tax evasion trial in Fort Smith federal court (Judge Morris “Buzz” Arnold presided), got Christmas cards from Tony.
Before the trial, I’d always been somewhat amused by Tony.
Alamo had his followers sew denim jackets, which were then airbrushed, embroidered with elaborate cityscapes, and coated in rhinestones and Swarovski crystals. The jackets sold for anywhere from $600 to $5,000 and became favorites among celebrities including Sonny Bono, Hulk Hogan, and Brooke Shields.
I remember the testimony from two men who had fled the cult — and realized Alamo was much more than a bizarre televangelist. He was — and still is — dangerous.
Some with long memories recall the end of Alamo’s first reign, when a 1991 government raid on a mountain ridge in Arkansas left his headquarters compound abandoned and in disrepair, and wonder whether the same thing is coming again soon.
I was on that ridge shortly after the inhabitants fled their homes. They left everything behind — family photos, children’s stuffed animals, Bibles, and other startlingly personal belongings. Meals were left on the stoves, burners turned off. The homes were clean and tidy. The people, though, had eerily “disappeared.”
And they’d removed Susan Alamo’s body from its tomb.
The mansion where the Alamos had lived was equally unnerving, even though it had been stripped of personal belongings, carpet, and most fixtures. What remained were sign in and sign out sheets from years before — Alamo followers had been ordered to maintain a 24-hour prayer vigil over Susan’s embalmed body for months after her death.
So instead of burying her, he took her embalmed body back to his dining room and ordered followers to stand around her casket and pray, which they did in two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, for months before finally interring Susan’s casket in a heart-shaped mausoleum in 1983.
The writer of this SPLC piece – Susy Buchanan, talked extensively to one of Alamo’s wives during the period I covered Alamo. The young woman has since left the cult. Buchanan’s profile of Tami Hunt now, and her time as Alamo’s “wife,” is well worth the read.
If you’ve never heard of Tony Alamo or if you merely thought he was amusing, reading this story will convince you that Tony Alamo is a frightening snake in the grass, who has not only ruined the lives of followers but has now gained a strangle-hold on a small Arkansas town.
Residents of Fouke, where Alamo has built a small empire over the last nine years, were unaware of Alamo’s history until recently. In February 2006, the town even presented Tony Alamo Christian Ministries with an official certificate of appreciation “for all the deeds that you and your church have done to aid those in need within our community, for your Christian love and kindness.”
Today, according to Buchanan, residents of Fouke are met with guns when they attempt to approach Alamo’s compound to admire the flowers.
I’ve never been close enough for this serpent to bite me, but I’ve personally seen the effects of his venom.
SPLC has added Alamo Christian Ministries to its list of “hate groups.” I’m not typically a big fan of such lists but, in this case, perhaps the warning is warranted.