January 14, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe
Internet radio talk show host Tom Friess of Perry, Iowa, broadcasts his show Tuesday morning from in front of the Miller County Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, Ark. He and members of the church are protesting the custody hearings of 23 children following a September raid at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke, Ark.
An Iowa radio talk show host and followers of Tony Alamo braved chilly temperatures Tuesday as they protested custody hearings for 23 children being conducted inside the Miller County Juvenile Court Center in downtown Texarkana.
The proceedings concern nine sets of siblings removed in November and December. The children’s parents have ties to Alamo Ministries. The hearings are expected to continue into next week.
“The Vatican controls the government,” said Tom Friess, the voice of a program which airs on First Amendment Radio. “I know that sounds outrageous.”
Clad in a short-sleeved Tony Alamo T-shirt, polyester slacks and sneakers, Friess delivered a radio broadcast via cell phone from outside the Juvenile Court Center. At the broadcast’s conclusion, he still had plenty to say.
“If there was pedophilia going on in this compound, I’d be here condemning it. If there was polygamy going on in there I’d be here condemning it,” Friess said.
As he voiced his support, a passing motorist shouted, “Alamo’s a pervert and a molester.”
Friess said that if shown proof Alamo had engaged in sexual misconduct he would “…want his head on a platter.”
Friess hosts a Website that published a video of a confidential interview with a 16-year-old girl at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Texarkana. The interview was conducted less than a day after the girl and five others were taken into state custody Sept. 20.
The video was given to Friess by the girl’s mother, a loyal devotee of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
An order signed by Circuit Judge Jim Hudson last week gave the mother and her husband a week to prove they had taken immediate action to have their daughter’s image removed from the Internet.
In an e-mail response Monday to inquiries from the Gazette, a spokesperson for First Amendment Radio said the video would remain available on its site.
“(The mother) did call us and asked us to take the video down then added that she was ordered to make the request. When we asked if she really wanted us to take it down, she replied, ‘No.’ At this point we really haven’t any reason to remove the video, especially now that the other five are out there,” the e-mail said.
The video Friess posted Christmas day and videos of the five other girls taken in September are still available on his site and First Amendment Radio’s. The first video clearly shows the girl’s face while the other five girls’ faces are blurred. The name of each girl is also posted.
“If the court wants me to take this video down, they’re going to have to communicate with me directly,” Friess said.
Last week, the five most recently posted videos were mailed anonymously to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. That paper posted the videos with blurred faces on the Web first.
The Democrat Gazette has declined to provide DHS with copies of a letter that accompanied the videos or a copy of the Federal Express envelope in which they were mailed citing protection of anonymous sources and a desire to maintain objectivity in their coverage of the story.
Griffin issued a gag order at the beginning of the hearings Monday prohibiting the parents and lawyers involved in the case from discussing the case or disseminating any more videos or court documents.
The first face-to-face meeting of Friess and the video-distributing Alamo mom brought her lawyer and a bailiff outside the courthouse.
After the two embraced, their conversation lasted just a minute before the parents’ attorney, James Phillips, and bailiff Tom Harness interrupted.
“You can’t discuss the case Ms. (mother’s last name),” Phillips said.
Although the mother has an attorney to represent her in custody proceedings concerning her son in Griffin’s court this week, she and her husband, as well as the father of another girl whose case is assigned to Hudson’s court, have been denied representation by the Arkansas Public Defender Commission for their appeals in the cases of their daughters.
In November, Hudson ruled that the girls, who were removed from the Alamo compound in September, assigned to his court would remain in foster care. Reunification would be possible only if the parents severed economic, employment and residential ties with the church.
Griffin issued an identical ruling in November concerning two pairs of sisters assigned to his court.
Hudson granted a request from the parents for court appointed appellate counsel after he found they were partially indigent. The parents, who work as volunteers for the church and are supported by it, have no assets, Hudson ruled.
Last week, the parents and Hudson learned that the Public Defender Commission disagreed with Hudson’s order and was declining the request for representation.
Tuesday morning, the commission filed a motion asking Hudson to reconsider his finding of partial indigency and appointment of the commission for the parents’ appeals, Hudson said. If Hudson does not change his opinion, the commission may have to appeal Hudson’s ruling.
Hudson said he will schedule a hearing on the matter for sometime next week.
On Thursday, Griffin will address requests for court appointed appellate counsel by the parents of the two pairs of sisters.
In all, DHS has removed 36 youngsters whose parents have ties to the ministry.
All were removed amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse in the forms of beatings, forced fasts and underage marriages.
Alamo is facing a 10-count indictment in the Western District of Arkansas for allegedlt bringing young girls across state lines for sex in violation of federal law.
Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes rescheduled Alamo’s trial to May 18 for the convenience of the court’s schedule.
The trial date had been extended to an earlier date in May last week at the request of the defense.