The Ravening Wolf
Tony and Susan Alamo in the 1970s. Photo by Gilbert B. Weingourt/Zuma Press
"The Vatican is posing as Snow White, but the Bible says that she is a prostitute," reads an Alamo tract entitled "The Pope's Secrets" that has been circulating since 1984. "The more power and control she gets in government, the more she will fade away into the background in her 'Snow White' disguise so that government will be used and blamed for all her evil deeds."
Alamo blames the Catholic Church for every evil imaginable, including communism, Nazism, the two world wars and even the Jonestown Massacre. "Narcotics, prostitution, pornography, booze and black market - every filthy thing – can be traced right back to the Vatican," the cult leader has written. Hatred of Catholics isn't Alamo's only unorthodox belief. In 1993, he published a tract called "The Polygamists" which argued, "the Holy Scriptures proclaim polygamy to be righteous." Fourteen years later, he still pushes that message, producing daily radio broadcasts that are beamed around the country and the world and proclaim a holy man's right to take multiple wives.
"They're condemning polygamy where it's never condemned. God never says, 'No polygamist shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven,'" Alamo declared angrily in one recent broadcast. "But these bastards, these homosexual Vaticanites, they condone homosexuals and they condemn marriage and a man that would take care of his… . [T]hey … say, 'You're a polygamist,' that I married too many wives. Well, find out! Prove it! And even if I was, there's no law in the Bible [against] it."
Tony Alamo Speaks
It doesn't stop there. Alamo, who has three children by three different, current "wives," also has been justifying sex with underage girls over the radio waves in recent years. It's hard not to be reminded of similar attitudes among other cult leaders, from Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, to David Koresh, the late apocalyptic chief of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, and a man Alamo says was "like a brother to me." Both Jeffs and Koresh have been accused of having sex with children.
Alamo argues that girls should marry once they start menstruating — even if they are as young as 10. In one September 2006 broadcast, he put it like this: "God impregnated Mary when she was about 11 years old. So the government idiots, the people that don't know the Bible, what you're going to have to do is get a hold of God now, you're going to have to get up there and 'cuff him and send him to prison for statutory rape."
It's a theme that Alamo keeps coming back to. In a radio show just this Feb. 24, the preacher cited the alleged promiscuity of first-graders as grounds for marrying them before the legal age of consent. "I've found out from people's parents that their daughter started having sex when she was 6 years old and had sex every day of her life," he said at one point. "So right there, by the time she's 15 years old, she's had sex thousands of times. I mean, this is just reality."
Nikki Farr fled Alamo's group after enduring three years of lewd talk. Photo by Todd Bigelow
It's these kinds of statements from the purported prophet of God that have helped drive mounting concerns among ex-followers and others familiar with Tony Alamo, even as his churches — in Saugus, Calif., Elizabeth, N.J., and Ft. Smith and Fouke, both in Arkansas — continue to grow. 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.
Alamo's Georgia Ridge compound was built at the peak of his cult's power in the 1980s. Today, a visit to this Edenic spot shows the decay of 16 untended years — and, for many ex-followers, suggests where Alamo is heading once again.
Although the views from the ridge are still postcard-ready panoramas of the misty greenery below, the holy empire Alamo ruled over is crumbling. The walls of his abandoned 16,500-square-foot mansion are streaked with mold. Next to the driveway is a large pool built for the exclusive use of Tony and Susan Alamo. Today, its heart-shaped concrete border is deeply fissured, the heart's interior choked with rotting leaves lying listless in the stagnant, black water.
The Construction of 'Papa Tony'
But the story of Tony Alamo began long before Georgia Ridge.
Born Bernie LaZar Hoffman, Alamo claims he worked as a rock 'n' roll promoter in the '60s. He writes of how The Beatles and The Rolling Stones begged him to manage them, and claims he traveled in limousines with a huge entourage and police escort: "The bodyguard would open the door, throw down a big velvet pillow; we would step into the velvet pillow. The barber would comb our hair, the nurse take our pulse. One of the fellows would spray us with cologne, another strew flowers in our path, and the cops would stand at attention."
But the high roller became a holy roller in 1964, when he says God dropped in on a business meeting he was conducting, temporarily struck him deaf and issued an ultimatum: Tell everyone that Jesus is coming back to earth, or die.
"I think it was a scam all along," says Susan Groulx, the ex-follower. "I don't think he had a vision from God. Tony's a megalomaniac, a con."