Born Bernie Lazar Hoffman, Tony Alamo is a controversial fundamentalist Christian preacher known for – among other things – his offbeat conspiracy theories.
Alamo believes that the pope is the anti-Christ, that the Vatican controls all churches and governments, and that his legal troubles (e.g. being convicted of income tax evasion, charged with the theft of a business, and accused of encouraging parents to hit a child) were the work of anti-cult organizations such as the old Cult Awareness Network.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Tony Alamo Christian Ministries to be a hate group, while the publishers of Apologetics Index also consider the group to be a cult — both sociologically and theologically. Theologically it is a cult of Christianity.
The rhetoric against Catholics, the old CAN, and the IRS intensified to a fever pitch during the 1990s. Many of his messages contained references to his belief that the Pope was actually behind the massacre of 6 million Jews in WWII, and Hitler (as was Stalin and Roosevelt) just his lackeys. Most recently, Alamo has become very friendly with the Church of Scientology owned “New CAN”, not only because they share a hatred of the anti-cult experts of the Old CAN, but also, the New CAN was able to acquire the files of the former organization, and Alamo needs those files in his ongoing effort to clear his name, as well as wreak vengeance on those who were behind publicizing his problems. He has only glowing words for the New CAN. Likewise, the New CAN reciprocates with the highest recommendations for any group mentioned on their site.
– Source: Eric W. Francke, A Brief History of the Alamo Christian Foundation
Ex-followers claim that Alamo wields cult-like control over the members of his church.
September, 2008: Tony Alamo Arrested Again
On September 26, 2008 FBI agents arrested a then fugitive evangelist Tony Alamo at an Arizona motel, accusing him of transporting minors across state lines for sex.
The arrest followed a September 20, 2008 raid on the evangelist’s Fouke, Arkansas compound, during which 6 girls were taken into protective custody.
On October 18, 2008 Alamo, extradited to Arkansas, was charged with two felony counts: a violation of the Mann Act — which prohibits children from being brought across state lines for sex — and that he aided and abetted a Mann Act violation.
Later that week Alamo’s former followers testified at a hearing that they were often beaten at his instructions and one said Alamo practiced polygamy with several women and girls, including a 9-year-old.
On November 18, 2008, authorities removed 21 (later said to be 20) additional children from Alamo properties.
TEXARKANA, Ark. — Tony Alamo, a one-time street preacher who became an outfitter of the stars and fought the federal government over claims he underpaid followers for church work, was convicted Friday of taking five girls across state lines for sex.
The jury of nine men and three women found Alamo guilty of taking girls as young as 9 across state lines for sex, in violation of a nearly century-old federal law. Alamo was accused in a 10-count indictment that said the abuse started in 1994. Sentencing will be in six to eight weeks.
Women ranging from age 17 to 33 told jurors that Alamo “married” them in private ceremonies while they were minors, sometimes giving them wedding rings. Each detailed trips beyond Arkansas’ borders for Alamo’s sexual gratification.
Defense lawyers said the government targeted Alamo because it doesn’t like his apocalyptic brand of Christianity. Alamo has blamed the Vatican for his legal troubles, which include a four-year prison term for tax evasion in the 1990s.
– Source / Full Story: Jurors convict evangelist on all 10 sex counts , Jon Gambrell, AP via the Houston Chronicle, July 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog
In November, 2009 Tony Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s Alamo Christian Ministries (a.k.a. Tony & Susan Alamo Christian Foundation, Music Square Church, Holy Alamo Christian Church, Holy Alamo Christian Ministries) was well on its way to becoming one of the largest and wealthiest churches to emerge from the Jesus People Movement.
Growth of the multimillion-dollar religious organization was brought to a stop, however, when its founder Tony Alamo (a clothing designer best known for the rhinestone-studded denim jackets he sold to numerous celebrities) began having legal troubles.
The ongoing significance of this small group lies in its recent anti-government publications that have been used by groups such as Scientology and the Family (a.k.a. Children of God) in an effort to garner support for “persecuted” religious sects.
The group produces a vast array of tracts that are passed out on the street, in hospitals and convalescent homes, left on parked cards, and mailed throughout the country. One such tract declares, “Alamo literature circulation is more that USA Today, The New York Times, L.A. Times, and many other national publications combined.” (Conspiracy, p.1).
Tony Alamo is best known for his sensationalistic and highly inflammatory anti-Catholic literature, scathing anti-government pamphlets, and conspirational theories.
The religious doctrines held by Alamo and his group are extremely difficult to document. According to several ex-members, most of the church’s beliefs about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation, sin, and the nature of man are spread primarily by “word of mouth.”
Former followers also state that many teaching tapes made by Alamo, as well as many written materials dealing with doctrine, have been destroyed over the years under Alamo’s orders.
Based on the testimony of former members and the literature that remains, it appears Alamo teaches many orthodox Christian doctrines, yet deviates on a few key issues such as salvation by grace alone.
– Source: H. Wayne House, Charts of Cults, Sects, & Religious Movements. Alamo Christian Ministries entry. Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. P. 11-12