The Ravening Wolf
Outside Tony Alamo's "mother church" in Saugus, Calif., an armed guard keeps watch.
Alamo himself was not easy to find. A FBI "Wanted" Poster at the time listed 10 aliases for him and warned: "Alamo is always accompanied by bodyguards who have access to numerous weapons to include M-14 rifles. He is known to be hostile to law enforcement and is considered armed and dangerous."
In 1994, after finally being arrested in Florida where he had been living under an assumed name, Alamo was convicted on the tax charges. The court also found that his "church" had raked in more than $9 million during the four years he'd cheated on his taxes. He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he ultimately served four.
At his sentencing hearing that year, former church members, including ex-"wife" Jodie Fryer, testified that Alamo had recently begun practicing polygamy and had taken multiple wives, several of them barely into their teens. When questioned in court, Alamo — who had nine wives at the time and publicly preached that polygamists are "blessed by God" — refused to answer.
One of those nine wives was known as Tami Hunt while she was a member of the cult. Today, at 31, she prefers to be called Jael — she was born into the cult with that name and has reclaimed it in the years since she escaped. It seems to suit the articulate, determined mother of six, whose parents named her for the biblical figure Yael, who killed Sisera to save Israel, beguiling him with a dish of milk, then pounding a tent peg through his skull while he slept.
Jael is one of at least a dozen ex-followers — and several alleged child brides — who say they have contacted criminal investigators with the Arkansas State Police since 2003 to report what they endured and witnessed inside Alamo's cult. Jael lived as Alamo's wife for more than two years as, by her account, she witnessed him slide deeper and deeper into polygamy and a taste for young girls.
"I've forgiven him for what he did to me, but I don't forgive him for what he's still doing to those girls," she told the Report. In 1993, Jael says she had just given birth to a daughter when Alamo kicked her husband out of the cult. Desperate to reunite her family, Jael went to visit her pastor on Oct. 15 "to beseech him to let my husband back in," she says.
Alamo heard Jael's pleas to bring her husband back into his good graces, she says, and told her that although her husband was cast out, there was, in fact, a way for her and her baby to get right with God.
She would have to "marry" him.
Alamo's five wives played with her young daughter in another room as she pondered her fate. "It's like having a loaded gun to your head," she says now. Refusing Alamo meant "not only you might get beat half to death, but you'll go to hell on top of it," she recalls.
Finally, she agreed. Alamo, she says, told her the Lord wanted the marriage consummated right away and led her into his bedroom.
Her memories of that night are detailed — the sound of the air conditioner, the texture of the purple velvet curtains, the red numbers on the clock, the ornateness of a bedside lamp, the way Alamo licked his teeth as he paused over her body before shouting, "The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is against you, Satan! Thus saith the Lord: 'She is mine!'"
"I wrestled over [the question] was I raped or did I want this?" she says now. "I don't think it matters. I was 17. He was 60. I feel raped."
Alamo took several more "wives" while he was "married" to Jael, she says, including a 9- and a 10-year-old girl.
Alamo was calculated and adept when he began to groom young girls, Jael says. "Every little girl starting to develop wants to feel beautiful, and he was very good at making them feel that way," she recalled. "He preyed on the fact that we were alienated from our parents … [T]hey worked and worked, and some of us hadn't seen our parents in a very long time."
Although he was incarcerated during most of their "marriage," Alamo kept in touch through regular prison visits where Jael and other wives present at the time allege that he would fondle the younger girls as older wives blocked the view of the prison security cameras. He allegedly spoke to the girls in graphic terms about group sex and whips, says Jael, who became terrified of him.
At the time, Jael says, she was still in awe of Alamo. She worked 18-hour days transcribing the tapes Alamo would record for his followers, she says, editing out his curse words. "I would have killed for him. I would have killed my child or anyone for him, even though I hated him," Jael says now. "I'd become his little demon, finding sick joy in telling people horrible things on orders from Tony."
Finally, in 1998, Alamo walked out of prison a free man. This time, the cult leader decided to set up shop in the little town of Fouke, Ark.
Stranger in a Strange Land
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."
But Alamo's relationship with the residents of his new base of operations began to sour later in 2006, when he posted armed guards along the public street leading to his compound. Judy Frazier, who runs Fouke's general store, told the Report that in the spring of 2006 she drove past the compound to admire flowers that Alamo's followers planted. "As I was turning around, a guy got out of a pickup truck with a gun, a rifle, and wanted to know what I was doing," she recalls. "I was livid and came back and told my husband, [and] he told a [town] councilman. It was pretty much ignored, but a few months later it happened to other people, a lady and her niece out looking for a lost dog."
Frazier began looking into Alamo Ministries online. There, she found a shocking litany of accusations and detailed accounts of serious physical abuse.
In addition to Jael's account, a former schoolteacher at the compound told the Report that Alamo ordered her epileptic daughter beaten, claiming that the girl's seizures were the devil's doing.
Ex-follower Sue Balsley told the Report that her teenage son was suspended in the air by four men as he was allegedly given 140 blows on Alamo's orders for sending a love letter to a female classmate.
Cyndi Jo Angulo wrote she was 15 and already married to someone else when she was summoned to Alamo's house to become his "wife" in 1995, only to discover that her 11-year-old sister had already been taken as his "bride." She also says she was one of the girls Alamo allegedly fondled during prison visits.
Nikki Farr told the Report of fleeing Alamo's house in 1999 when she was 15 years old, after enduring what she described as three years of lewd talk during prison visits. Determined not to marry her then-65-year-old pastor, she says she escaped from the cult by crawling through ditches and over barbed wire after Alamo caught her making an unauthorized phone call and knocked her unconscious.
It's a pattern of abuse that many suspect continues to this day. The thought that this might be going on in their hometown is both frightening and heart wrenching to Fouke residents, including Frazier.
And then there are the mattresses.
This February, Alamo was linked to 3,000 apparently stolen mattresses stored in an Arkansas warehouse owned by two of his current "wives." The mattresses, it turns out, were part of a lot of 8,000 donated to Katrina victims by the Tempur-Pedic mattress company through a New Jersey company called Waste to Charity. Tempur-Pedic filed suit in federal court seeking to recover the $15 million it said the inventory it donated was worth. The complaint alleges that one of the defendants, Alamo right-hand man Thomas Scarcello, sold 4,000 of the mattresses to a buyer for $500,000. The lawsuit is scheduled to be tried next January.
"Now that I know what is going on, I feel an obligation to help," Frazier says. "His people are as much victims as the little girls are. They are brainwashed [to believe] that he is the anointed of God and if they leave they face hellfire."
Shining a Light
As Frazier and others spread the word around town about Alamo, more and more Fouke residents became alarmed. One of the small town's eight City Council members is a member of Alamo's cult and anti-Alamo residents claim that four other council members also are beholden to the cult leader. Alamo has become a hot button issue in Fouke. Attendance at recent monthly City Council meetings has been so high that residents bring their own chairs and wait patiently in a long line outside City Hall for the doors to open.
"I'm so sick of having his literature plastered on our cars while we're at church," said Sherry Potts, the most vocal member of a growing group of residents opposed to Alamo. "It made me angry so I went home and called the number listed on the back. I told them, 'I don't want any more of your filth. The Bible is the word of God. Yours is the word of a pervert.'"
Alamo now counterattacks his detractors in Fouke regularly on his radio broadcasts, suggesting that God will exterminate his "Vaticanite" detractors.
"Now God said he's going to destroy those people, all of them," Alamo said in one rambling diatribe this summer. "God is going to get them. They're going to get cut down one of these days."
Cult expert and deprogrammer Steve Hassan, the author of Combating Cult Mind Control, has followed the activities of the Alamo cult since Alamo's release from prison in 1998. Like many others, he is surprised Alamo is still free.
"Tony Alamo is power-hungry, deluded, paranoid and exploitative, certainly as far as what he's doing with young girls," says Hassan. "I don't know if law enforcement is either corrupt or [too] nervous to pursue him."
Officials with the Arkansas State Police, where ex-followers have made a series of complaints against Alamo in recent years, would not say if the cult leader is under investigation. "As a matter of policy, the Arkansas State Police does not address questions or publicly discuss elements of any investigation that may be open," said spokesman Bill Sadler.
So, for now, Fouke residents and ex-Alamo followers plan to continue turning up the heat in hopes of bringing increased scrutiny to Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and its leader. "I'd like to see him arrested immediately," Susan Groulx says. "There's no reason why he should be free and no reason why this should drag on any longer."
EDITOR'S NOTE Based on evidence compiled recently by the Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center is adding Tony Alamo Christian Ministries to its list of hate groups. Future listings will include active chapters of the group.