Child abuse charges have been
filed against Alamo’s Saugus
By: Carol Rock and Jon Dell
Last weekend, Federal Bureau of Investigation officers, Arkansas State Police and several other agencies raided the Arkansas compound of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in the town of Fouke, near Texarkana. Officers served two search warrants at the compound, reportedly looking for evidence of physical and sexual abuse against children.
Six children were taken into protective custody and are being questioned by authorities. No arrest warrants have been issued in the case. Alamo told Associated Press that he denies any wrongdoing.
While charges have yet to be brought against Alamo or any of his cohorts, residents in the Santa Clarita area have a long history with the cult, and remember similar charges that came much closer to home. Alamo was convicted of tax evasion in 1994 and sentenced to six years in prison. He served four, leaving California for the southwest Arkansas compound.
Alamo and his wife Susan formed the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation on land in the Santa Clara riverbed behind the Halfway House restaurant on Sierra Highway in 1967. In 1970, Tony and his wife, Susan, purchased property further up Sierra Highway in Saugus near Agua Dulce, building sex-segregated dormitories for the followers. The cabins behind the landmark restaurant were abandoned briefly in rainy weather, but were filled with disciples when things heated upin the South in the late '90s after Alamo's release from prison.
The church headquarters were moved to Arkansas in 1975, but three other locations – Elizabeth, N.J., Ft. Smith, Arkansas and the Saugus location - continued to minister to new converts. After Susan’s death in 1982, Tony changed the name of the group to the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
The group is vehemently evangelistic, littering cars with pamphlets and preaching to the public on the streets of Hollywood and nearby cities. Buses bring the newly “faithful” to the Saugus church for a meal and service, sometimes housing the relocated individuals in the fortified complex. Many Santa Clarita residents have complained about Alamo’s disciples leaving their propaganda under windshield wipers and strewn in parking lots.
As some former followers have escaped the clutches of the cult, reports of intense brainwashing, polygamy and abuse have surfaced.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center documents, one such instance occurred in 1988 at the Sierra Highway location, when Alamo allegedly ordered that an 11-year-old boy be beaten with a wooden paddle 140 times for wearing a scarf and asking a science question during a history class at school. As a result of the beatings, the boy reportedly bled through his pants for days.
His father, who was not a part of the cult, received wind of the incident and reported the matter. Child abuse charges were filed, however six years later they were dropped. The boy’s family was able to successfully sue Alamo in civil court for nearly $1.5 million.
Even though the infraction failed to put Alamo behind bars, it did spark a level of scrutiny by law enforcement officials. In 1991, Alamo’s Fouke, Arkansas compound was raided by federal officials, and Saturday’s raid proves that the group has not spent much time out from under the microscope.
Additionally, The IRS dropped the Alamo Ministries from tax-exempt status the early 1990s and the Southern Poverty Law Center has since listed Alamo’s ministries as a cult and a hate group whose values oppose homosexuality, the Catholic Church, and the United States government.
Residents that live near the Sierra Highway compound say that while the group doesn’t generally bother them, they are always wary about what goes on behind the gates.
“I’ve driven past there at 3 in the morning and they’re unloading semi-trucks,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “And now they’re building walls around their houses.”
Other testimonials shared with KHTS indicate that the security people around the compound are verbally aggressive towards uninvited guests.
When authorities were after Alamo in the ‘90s for tax evasion charges, residents warned officers of Alamo’s bodyguards, who are known to be armed and believed to carry advanced semi-automatic rifles.
As the FBI continues to analyze the evidence they collected during last week’s raid, a growing number of ex-followers and residents near the compounds in Arkansas and Santa Clarita wait to see if this is the end of the Tony Alamo.
And if it is the end, will he go quietly?