The Tony Alamo 15-acre Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark., was raided by federal officers Saturday, Sept. 20. They were looking for evidence of child abuse and production of pornography. No one has been arrested, but officers say a future arrest is likely.
The raid is the result of a two-year investigation of the ministry, often referred to as a cult. FBI investigators suspect Alamo has violated a law that prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity. Social workers are now interviewing children who live at the complex.
Alamo blames “the anti-Christ government and Catholics” for the harassment, saying Catholics don’t like him because he has cut their congregations in half.
Alamo, 73, has had a spotty past that includes allegations of child abuse and a 1994 conviction for tax evasion. He served four years in prison. Prosecutors have also labeled Alamo as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.
Alamo, a Jew (his real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman), started out as a big band crooner, who according to his testimony, “made a fortune out of the [music] albums” he recorded. He had a stint as a health club executive, but eventually settled into promoting motion picture stars and recording artists.
According to Alamo, one day in the 1960s, while in an office negotiating a “deal,” God spoke directly to him. Following that dramatic conversion, he and Susan, the woman who would become his wife, began ministering to the drug addict, alcoholic, and prostitute population on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, starting what has been called the Jesus Movement. That ministry eventually grew into an organization that grew to several churches, the Arkansas compound, and a radio ministry. His literature is translated into many languages.
To demonstrate one facet of the kind of Christianity he espouses, when his wife died of cancer in 1982, Alamo was convinced her body would be resurrected. He displayed her embalmed body at the Arkansas compound for six months. In 1995 a court ordered him to return her body and in 1998 after a 3-year legal battle involving Susan’s estranged daughter, Susan’s unresurrected body was finally interred in Oklahoma.
No one knows for sure how many times he has been married. Rumors have circulated about his taking two 15-year-old girls as his wives. He married Swedish native Birgitta Gyllenhammar in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1984 and divorced her two years later, after allegations by Birgitta that Alamo wanted her to have plastic surgery that would make her look like Susan. At the time an Arkansas Gazette report said that he had actually been married six times, four times previous to Birgitta. He married twice more between 1986 and 1990.
His website suggests he is living in the past. The dated site includes photos no more recent than those of him as a young evangelist and photos of his wedding to Susan 40 years ago.
In October 2007, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center on account of its anti-Catholic rhetoric.
Investigators did not comment on any evidence they may have found at the compound. Alamo maintains that no one in his church is into pornography.