Dis­graced preacher, child sex abuser Tony Alamo dies

Cape Breton Post - - In Memoriam -

Tony Alamo, a one-time street preacher whose apoc­a­lyp­tic min­istry grew into a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar net­work of busi­nesses and prop­erty be­fore he was con­victed in Arkansas of sex­u­ally abus­ing young girls he con­sid­ered his wives, has died in prison. He was 82.

Once known for de­sign­ing elab­o­rately dec­o­rated jack­ets for celebri­ties in­clud­ing Michael Jack­son and Elvis Pres­ley, Alamo died on Tues­day at a fed­eral prison hospi­tal in But­ner, North Carolina, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bu­reau of Pris­ons.

The dis­graced preacher was con­victed in 2009 on charges that he took un­der­age girls across state lines for sex, in­clud­ing a 9-year-old. The judge who sen­tenced him to the max­i­mum 175 years in prison told him: “One day you will face a higher and a greater judge than me. May he have mercy on your soul.’’

Alamo started preach­ing along the Cal­i­for­nia streets in the 1960s, ad­vo­cat­ing a mix­ture of vir­u­lent anti-Catholi­cism and apoc­a­lyp­tic rhetoric. He claimed God au­tho­rized polygamy, pro­fessed that gays were the tools of Satan, and be­lieved girls were fit for mar­riage even at a young age.

“Con­sent is pu­berty,’’ Alamo told The As­so­ci­ated Press in Septem­ber 2008, dur­ing the same week­end state and fed­eral agents raided the Tony Alamo Chris­tian Min­istries in the tiny south­west Arkansas town of Fouke to in­ves­ti­gate possible child abuse and pornog­ra­phy.

Wit­nesses in the en­su­ing trial said Alamo made all key de­ci­sions in the com­pound: who got mar­ried, what chil­dren were taught in school, who re­ceived clothes, who was al­lowed to eat. They said he be­gan tak­ing mul­ti­ple wives in the early 1990s, in­clud­ing a 15-year-old girl in 1994, fol­lowed by in­creas­ingly younger girls.

Alamo was con­victed af­ter five women tes­ti­fied they were “mar­ried’’ to him in se­cret cer­e­monies at his com­pound when they were mi­nors — in­clud­ing one when she was only 8 years old — and later taken to places out­side Arkansas for sex.

For­mer fol­low­ers said Alamo grew in­creas­ingly un­hinged af­ter his wife, Su­san, died from cancer in 1982, while the cou­ple op­er­ated their min­istry near Fort Smith in north­west­ern Arkansas. Her body was kept in a room at the min­istry, and his fol­low­ers kept a vigil, pray­ing for months for a res­ur­rec­tion.

Even­tu­ally her body was buried in a crypt on the min­istry’s 300-acre com­pound in Dyer. But in 1991, Alamo or­dered his fol­low­ers to pack up be­fore fed­eral mar­shals seized the prop­erty to sat­isfy a court judg­ment.

Au­thor­i­ties found Su­san Alamo’s con­crete crypt smashed open and her coffin gone. Alamo re­turned his wife’s re­mains to her fam­ily seven years later, af­ter be­ing threat­ened with jail.

Be­fore it be­came widely re­viled for its leader’s ac­tions and teach­ings, Tony Alamo Chris­tian Min­istries at­tracted hip­pies and young­sters alien­ated from their par­ents when it started in the streets of Los An­ge­les in the 1960s. Call­ing them­selves “Je­sus Freaks,’’ Alamo’s fol­low­ers preached hell­fire and a wrath­ful ver­sion of Pen­te­costal­ism, which is known for its spir­ited wor­ship style and be­lief in mod­ern-day rev­e­la­tion and mir­a­cles.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, mem­bers of his min­istry made elab­o­rately de­signed denim jack­ets that were sold to celebri­ties in­clud­ing Pres­ley, Jack­son and sev­eral coun­try mu­sic stars. The iconic red leather jacket Jack­son wore on the cover of his “Bad’’ al­bum was a Tony Alamo orig­i­nal, and it was later sold at auc­tion to set­tle fed­eral tax claims against Alamo.

At its height, Alamo’s min­istry claimed thou­sands of mem­bers na­tion­wide. It was per­haps most known for leav­ing fliers on car wind­shields that out­lined ev­ery­thing from Alamo’s feared “one-world govern­ment’’ and his be­lief in fly­ing saucers to his ha­tred of the Vat­i­can and ho­mo­sex­u­als.

John Wes­ley Hall, a lawyer who had rep­re­sented Alamo, said Wed­nes­day that Alamo “de­nied that he ever did any­thing (wrong).’’ Hall also noted the min­istry still pro­duces the fliers.

“My staff still gets them in the mail,’’ Hall said Wed­nes­day.

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