Alamo's Last Stand: Controversial Preacher's Ministry Raided by Feds
Tony Alamo, who once sold designer jeans to celebs, has long stirred up scandal.
Sept. 23, 2008 — -- Tony Alamo is laughing.
Sure, his Christian ministry's compound in Arkansas was raided over the weekend by more than 100 federal agents as part of a two-year investigation into allegations of child pornography, physical and sexual abuse of children, polygamy and underage marriage.
And he's been accused by ex-followers of beating children who misbehave and separating husbands from their wives and children to punish them for various infractions.
But Alamo (pronounced ah-LAM-o) seems relaxed when discussing the accusations and the raid with ABCNews.com, relishing the fact that the raid took place on his 74th birthday last weekend. And he remains defiant in his denial of the allegations and unrepentant about his promotion of marriage between older men and girls as young as 10.
"The government -- those devils -- they gave me this as a birthday present," says Alamo. "These attacks on me and the ministry have been going on for 44 years. It's nothing new. Nothing shaking but the leaves on the tree.
"They think they're hurting me but I'm feeling pretty good. The Bible says that when they persecute you to leap for joy because the prophets were dealt with in the same manner."
Alamo, who says that he has not been contacted by federal officials, denies some of the allegations and sidesteps straight answers on some other claims.
Asked if minors were abused, sexually or physically at the compound, Alamo sarcastically snaps, "Oh, yeah. We're just open to have minors abused. We're a church and we're not phonies, and that's why they're so obsessed with us."
Alamo denies that there was any child pornography at the compound.
"They ransacked our church, my bedroom, and they haven't even found one porn picture. Why would I be into that? I'm legally blind, and I wouldn't have been able to look at it."
As for his controversial positions on underage marriage, which he has long promoted on his radio shows, Alamo defended his views.
"The Bible says the age of puberty is the age of consent," he says, emphasizing that he supports the idea of marriage to post-pubescent girls but that members of his church don't act on that view and follow the law. "We don't have anyone married to children under the 18-year-old limit, but the Bible says that's OK if they're age 10 or 12, if they reached puberty."
It's the all-American story with a dark and dangerous twist.
A Jewish newspaper delivery boy from Montana moves to Hollywood in the heyday of the swinging '60s and changes his name to Tony Alamo to pursue a career in music.
Later, he converts to evangelical Christianity and becomes a preacherwho ministers to the homeless and drug addicts, raising money for hischurch by selling a popular brand of sequined denim jackets worn bycelebrities such as Brooke Shields, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan during the 1980s.
But Alamo's shadow side ended up dominating headlines.
The man once described by ex-Gov. of Arkansas and former President Bill Clinton as "Roy Orbison on speed" was accused of leading a cult, landed in prison for tax evasion and weapons violations, spouted anti-Catholic propaganda on the air and in pamphlets, and attacked the pope and President Reagan by calling them "Anti-Christ Devils" in a tract titled "Genocide".
After his wife, Susan, died in 1982, he placed her body in a crystalcrypt on his dining room table while his followers prayed for herresurrection; later, he was accused of spiriting the body away beforehis religious compound was raided by federal marshals in 1991, and herbody remained missing until church members turned it over to lawenforcement in 1998.
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 childrenliving at the Alamo facilities may have been sexually and physicallyabused," according to Bill Sadler, spokesman for the Arkansas StatePolice.
"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.
Media coverage of the raid brought back terrible memories for Jared Balsley, a radio DJ, who claims he was regularly beaten by Alamo's aides and once when he was only 8 years old by Alamo himself after arguing with another boy over a Big Wheel.