Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Ex-follower of Alamos looks back

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader executive editor

A former member of the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation contacted us last summer to tell us he was glad Tony was in prison for molesting little girls.

He was also pleased that his former minister was sentenced on Nov. 12 to 175 years in a federal prison for transporting underage girls for sex.

“I think it’s fabulous that justice finally got served,” the former member e-mailed us last week.

He does not want his name used. I can’t even tell you what part of the country he lives in because he doesn’t want Alamo’s followers badgering him when they read this.

I’ll call him Owen. He used to live in western Arkansas, where he worked for the Alamos for a long time. I met him more than 25 years ago.

He was a pleasant young man, a few years younger than me. I think I had met his mother around the time I’d run into Owen. She was distraught and hoped he would quit the cult. But he believed in the Alamos’ ministry and didn’t leave until several years later, disillusioned but still strong in his religious convictions.

He had reported Tony’s crimes to the police in western Arkansas, but they never acted on his complaints. Owen probably didn’t know that many local officials were bought off by the Alamos. It was the feds who threw Tony in prison for not paying his employees and then locked him up again earlier this year for raping underage girls.

“Shame on the Arkansas police for taking about 15 years too long,” Owen wrote to us after Alamo received his long sentence. “I wrote a letter to the Fort Smith Police Department in 1999 about all this.”

But Owen believed in Susan and Tony Alamo when he joined them three decades ago. The couple enticed young people to join their mi-nistry and work in their businesses for free in return for food and a bunk bed.

“Were they in it for the money and power? I think they were amazed at how easy it was. They probably felt justified by their apparent success — that God had blessed them. They did build a small empire worth quite a few million dollars with basically free labor.”

“I was a convert to Christ through Tony and Susan’s ministry,” Owen continued. “I would not deny that ever. It was a powerful and giddy emotional roller coaster that had a tremendous appeal to many young people upset with the establishment and the Vietnam War, etc. in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

“They seemed like heroic figures leading a small army of Christian revolutionaries into battle against the thuggish authority of various government agencies — whether it was the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department, Building and Safety, President Nixon or the IRS, the Alamos enjoyed a good fight.

“Tony and Susan really didn’t have much real theology to them — just knew enough King James version to manipulate those who didn’t know it better than they did. They knew the power of music in church services was considerable, even though Tony was an awful singer, some of the band members were good singers and players.

“But it seems they glorified themselves enough to turn really wicked. Many good things were being done by the Holy Spirit in leading people out of drugs and crime and into the knowledge of Christ’s salvation, and that was not for Tony and Susan to take credit for. Pride obviously entered in, and they fell, even as their ministry continued.”

“As far as I can tell,” Owen goes on, “Tony and Susan met around 1964 and decided to put together a religious, tax-free foundation. His ‘testimony tract’ told how he had a supernatural experience with God during a business meeting and got converted shortly after.

“He even quoted the movie ‘Elmer Gantry,’ and that was ironic because I’m sure he didn’t think he would be compared to that crooked preacher character. But there’s a saying in business psychology that says, ‘You cannot speak but what you are.’”

Susan died in 1982 from cancer. Tony kept her body at their compound in Dyer in western Arkansas. He had hoped she would be resurrected, but when that didn’t happen, many of his followers realized he was nuts.

He finally buried his wife, but his businesses floundered, and it wasn’t long before he went to prison for fleecing his workers.

It was never the same after he left prison. He became more obsessed with little girls, but the feds were closing in on him and Alamo’s ministry was crumbling.

“Was the church a fraud?” Owen asks. “It was all much stranger than fiction and nearly impossible to explain. Good and evil mixed together. We did preach the gospel on the streets of L.A. and many cities very sincerely.

“I can’t say that Tony and Susan were never sincere and only in it for the money and power,” Owen says. “Her daughter thinks that was their main motivation, so I read. But they certainly became corrupted by the money that came in, and by their power over their relatively innocent and sometimes talented followers who were easy prey to that hierarchy.

“My observation is that there’s an amazing pattern of depravity that follows all who abuse power,” he says.” Whether minister, monarch, president or politician it’s so much the same. Look at what history tells about Stalin, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein (even Bill Clinton to a lesser extent), Jim Bakker and Tony Alamo and you see the same thread of deception, sexual abuse of multiple women, murder and financial mayhem all in the name of somehow being a champion of the downtrodden people.

“Hugo Chavez recently told Venezuelans to take three minute showers. Tony Alamo did that very same thing. Socialism and cults have a lot in common. Always seemingly good intentions, but always broken promises and bad results,” Owen says.

“What was Susan’s gimmick? Well like Tony she was a strange mixture of being clever at controlling people but obnoxiously moronic in others. If they wanted to say someone was an ignoramus they would call him an “ignoranimus!”

“According to her daughter —you can find her through the Tony Alamo News web site—she discovered that she could preach the gospel on various Indian reservations and people would accept Christ and give her offerings. She was at times charismatic and pleasant, even kind, as he also at least appeared to be.

“One very interesting story comes from friends of Susan —who are not members of the organization—who were with her as she was dying. Apparently she warned Tony that his pride and wanderlust would ruin everything and that he should ‘let those people go.’

“Of course he didn’t listen to that because he’d become deceived into thinking he was a prophet of God. Many of his predictions fell flat, so we finally figured he wasn’t. It only takes one false one to be totally disqualified, according to Scripture.

“And so the slippery slope continued with all the constant bending of Scripture to suit his lusts, until finally some of those who were actual eyewitnesses stood up and heroically overcame their shame to put him away for good,” Owen says, pleased with the life sentence.

Will Tony do some soul-searching while he spends the rest of his life in prison? There’s no parole in federal prisons — so what else has he got to do?