Tony Alamo Church has controversial background

Click here to view this article from the Texarkana Gazette.

Texarkana Gazette
January 30, 2000

Alamo Church has controversial background

The majority of the people of Fouke, Ark., have never seen him, but they are aware of his presence. He’s the subject of rumor and speculation.
It’s not the Fouke Monster that stirs the imaginations of people in this small, conservative town of a little more than 600 residents. It is a very real man with a controversial and devoted religious following–Tony Alamo.

Born Bernie L. Hoffman in Joplin, Mo., in 1934, Alamo has ridden the crest of the 1960s “Jesus Movement” into the new millennium with a worldwide network of followers of his Bible-based, evangelical ministry.
The organization is known as the Alamo Christian Foundation or Music Square Church, with offices in Los Angeles, Calif., and Dyer, Ark. The ministry began in 1969 as the Tony and Susan Alamo Christian Foundation in Hollywood, Calif.

According to information found on the organization’s website,, early church members worked the streets offering food, shelter, clothing and Bible study to a mostly young audience of drug addicts and street people. It also began to develop businesses as a means for the new followers to be reintegrated into society. The church developed an ordered community dedicated to evangelism. Members took a vow of poverty and turned over all their real property to the church.
In return, the church agrees to provide the necessities of life such as housing, clothes, food, medical assistance and education.

The organization is known for its aggressive distribution of religious messages or tracts, mainly authored by Alamo. In these messages, Alamo expounds upon scripture from the King James version of the Bible and its prophecies as revealed to Alamo.
“We are No. 1 for soul-winning in the world,” Alamo said in a recent interview. “We have distributors in every state and worldwide. We are strictly Bible-based and about as far right as you can get. God wants people to live according to what He says, and we really tell the truth.”

In the late 1970s, the ministry expanded to the Georgia Ridge region of Arkansas, where Susan Alamo was born. Soon ministries were established in Tennessee, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and New York. As the group expanded, it built housing for families, schools, nurseries, medical and recreational facilities. Members constructed grocery stores, restaurants, service stations and farming operations. Alamo also developed a clothing manufacturing business that designed and made fashionable jackets and clothing for many famous entertainers and musicians.
John Robert Ballentine, currently the mayor of Alma, Ark., recalls doing business with ministry followers during the Georgia Ridge period.

“They were always nice to me, and to most everyone I knew,” he said. “They are no longer here, but we never had any problems with them. They had a number of different businesses. They ran a restaurant that seated about 250 to 300 people and a stage. They would book country western stars for one-night shows. It was a big boom here for us for a while.

“The compound has been sold and the land has now been sold. Like I said, they were always nice to me. Some people got a definition of a cult in their minds. They got to perceiving them as a cult and could not get past it.”
Over a period of years, the organization developed a complex social and religious environment. It was, however, not without its detractors and active opponents. One of the most determined groups to challenge Alamo’s ministry was the Cult Awareness Network. CAN has since reversed its official stance on Alamo Ministries.
Alamo has also faced ongoing legal battles. It has not diminished his passion for his work.

“I’m not frightened by anybody,” Alamo said. “I don’t make up false stories about people or other religions. I won’t quit whether I’m in prison or free. There have been 32 false charges against me, and I have won every one of them.”

Alamo has been variously charged with child abuse, violations of labor laws, tax code violations and threatening to kidnap a federal judge. Alamo served time on the tax violation but was either acquitted of all other charges or the charges were eventually dropped.

One of the more bizarre chapters in Alamo’s history involves the death and burial of Susan Alamo. Susan Alamo died of cancer in April 1982. A dispute ensued between Alamo and her estranged daughter over possession of the body that resulted in another legal battle. Rumors were that Alamo was awaiting his wife’s resurrection.
After prolonged legal battle, Alamo eventually turned his wife’s body over to authorities.

After Alamo was sentenced on federal tax evasion charges and assigned to the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, a group of his followers moved to the Fouke area to be closer to him. He was released to a local halfway house in December 1998. In December 1999, he was released from any government or law enforcement supervision.

Alamo travels to various parts of the country conducting the business of his ministry. He has not indicated that he will take up permanent residence in Fouke, but he does plan to open a church at the former Big Stop Grocery.
“We are your neighbor and we are here to help you” Alamo said of the recent conflicts with Fouke’s city government. “If you are not our friends, that’s OK.”

In: 2000-2007

| Back to Top |
Want to help?

Click the button!

Comments are closed.