Arrested Preacher's Ex-Followers Speak Out

In the latest incident, the headquarters of his Tony Alamo Christian Ministries Church in the tiny town of Fouke, Ark., was raided over the weekend by more than 100 federal and state officials, and six children were removed from the compound while investigators searched for their parents, according to Arkansas State Police.

The two-year investigation was "aimed at allegations that children living at the Alamo facilities may have been sexually and physically abused," according to Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.

"We did make the decision to remove the children that we felt were in harm's way or in imminent danger," said Julie Munsell, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Defending Polygamy

Alamo, who strongly defended the polygamy practiced by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Mormon sect after its Texas compound was raided in April, has long advocated that such unions between older men and teenage girls are God's will.

"What I'm doing is fighting for these people that they, the ungodly beast, is throwing into prison for marrying someone 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, if they've reached puberty," he told his radio listeners in an April broadcast.

In other radio sermons, Alamo contended that the Virgin Mary was only 6 when she conceived Jesus, asking his listeners whether that made God a pedophile.

Before the arrest, spokesmen for the FBI and the Arkansas State Police would not discuss whether an arrest warrant is pending for Alamo or whether he has been interviewed as part of their investigation.

"He has been around for a long time, and he is really creepy," said Heidi Beirich, deputy director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Project. "We interviewed some of the ministry's child brides, documented some of the virulent hatred directed at Catholics and have documented many complaints about the ministry, and forwarded the info to the FBI."

From Hollywood to High Fashion to Holy Days

It's been a long journey for Bernie LaZar Hoffman, the son of Jewish-Romanian parents, who worked delivering newspapers in Montana as a boy.

Soon after heading out to Los Angeles, he changed his name several times while chasing a career in pop music, singing and producing albums, and claiming that the Beatles and Rolling Stones sought his services as a promoter.

But his life changed during a business meeting in 1964 when he claimed that God temporarily struck him deaf and gave him an ultimatum: Tell everyone that Jesus is coming back to Earth or die, according to an SPLC report on Alamo and his ministry.

Soon after meeting Susan Lipowitz, a Jewish convert to evangelical Christianity, he changed his name to Tony Alamo. The couple set up their Christian foundation in 1969, distributing paranoid screeds about the end of the world to drug-addled hippies on Hollywood Boulevard.

His followers lived in sex-segregated dormitories and suffered a range of punishments -- from beatings to losing their spouses and children -- if they broke Alamo's rules, according to several ex-followers.

"We were in fear of him," said a former devotee who joined the ministry in the '70s and left in 1996. "I joined because I was idealistic and wanted to make the world a better place, telling people that we have the truth."

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