7/13/09 – TG: A look inside Alamo’s world

Texarkana Gazette
July 13, 2009
By: Lynn LaRowe

A look inside Alamo’s world

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in Fouke, Ark., opened many of its doors to the Texarkana Gazette last Tuesday. Representatives of the ministry and Alamo defense teams did not allow in-depth interviews of members or the photography of certain areas because of pending criminal and custody cases, they said.

The water in the swimming pool at Tony Alamo Christian Ministries now has a greenish hue.

Most of the tables in the cafeteria, where hundreds of meals were once served daily, aren’t being used.

Duplexes and small, frame houses where Alamo devotees once lived are empty.

Most of the members have left. They’ve fled with their children and are in hiding.

They began leaving after a Sept. 20 raid on ministry property by about 100 members of the FBI and Arkansas State Police.

Six girls were taken then by the Arkansas Department of Human Services, and removal orders signed by Arkansas judges in November list more than 125 children.

To date, 36 children of church members have been placed in foster care.

Alamo, whose real name is Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is accused of bringing
young girls across state lines for sex. His criminal trial begins today.

The School and Mission

Tony Alamo’s bedroom, church offices, classrooms and living quarters for girls and women are found in the house with a sign out front that reads: Gloryland Christian School and Mission, A Division of the 21st Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, Inc.

Against one wall of Alamo’s personal space, a room that is average in size compared to most bedrooms in middle-class homes, is a bed neatly made with a gold comforter. The walls are lined with shelves that hold thousands of videos with titles like “The Godfather,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Ben Hur” and “Big Daddy.”

A row of books near a reading machine includes titles such as “The Jesuits,” “Polygamous Families in Contemporary Society” and other religiously oriented texts and multiple versions of the Bible.

Family photos adorn the walls and sit framed on the furniture.

An exercise bike, stereo equipment, a clutter of medicine bottles and a collection of hats fill the room as well. A large, white screen hangs on the wall across from the bed. Images are projected onto the screen from equipment mounted on the ceiling.

The large viewing screen and reading machines are needed because Alamo is legally blind. The letters of text Alamo reviews when preparing sermons or literature to be published and distributed by followers are magnified to a size near that of a baseball card.

Sets of bunk beds for girls who lived in the house occupy at least one bedroom.

Several women worked in two areas, described as the church’s “nerve center,” that have been converted to offices.

Sharon Alamo, Tony Alamo’s legal wife, sat at a computer transcribing a handwritten message Tony Alamo penned and mailed from his cell at the Bowie County Correctional Center. The message is intended for publication.

Others worked responding to e-mails the ministry receives daily or answering calls from the prayer line.

Alice Ondrisek said she was sitting next to a sliding glass door in the house when she noticed armed men standing outside Sept. 20, 2008.

“I ran and said to the girls that were here, ‘We’ve got to get out of here,’” Alice Ondrisek said. “They pointed their guns with lasers at the girls they took.”

Alice Ondrisek, an adult, has younger siblings in state care and an 18-year-old brother who is suing Alamo and an associate for alleged beatings, forced fasts and other injustices.

Tall, beige cabinets lined the walls of the file room. Detailed records, alphabetized by members’ last names, include school and medical records, among other things, a defense investigator said.

The house’s living room differs little from what one would expect to find in a typical American home. The kitchen equipment is much larger, though, and there is an extra fridge and freezer.

Empty desks

Two large rooms, one used as a home school for boys and one for girls, are deserted. On the boards are homework assignments and lessons on math and grammar chalked less than a week before the removal orders were signed.

In each classroom, several teacher desks are surrounded by small clusters of student seating.

The first names of the six girls seized during the September raid are listed on a board in the girls’ school with a note above them to keep praying.

A growth chart with children’s names and an early November 2008 date hangs on the wall.

The whereabouts of more than 90 juveniles remain a mystery.


The literature most area residents have found on their windshields after a trip to the grocery store is stored and managed on site, though much is cheaply printed elsewhere. Some is printed on presses on church property in Fort Smith while glossy, color tracts are outsourced.

A large room in the School and Mission is used to ready ministry publications for mailing and physical distribution.

Before government intervention led members to disperse, “tracting” was a major part of life. Groups of followers would travel the country in buses to spread Alamo’s teachings.

Although members continue to “tract,” the practice has diminished in proportion to the shrinking congregation.

A recent tract titled “Blasphemers of the Holy Spirit” appears to warn government actors that meddling in ministry life will lead to “destruction from the almighty.”

“I actually feel sorry for you. You haven’t a clue as to how terrified you’re going to be when you come face-to-face with Jesus when He returns to Earth with great wrath. I’m not preaching to you, I’m giving you a chance because God told me to warn you,” Alamo wrote in the June 2009 flier.

The tracts are free to anyone who wants them and are translated into many languages.

Other areas

There is considerable space dedicated to storing bulk purchases of clothing and other items. Machines used to screen-print the ministry’s logo on T-shirts are on site as is equipment to burn recordings of Alamo’s messages on CDs.

Houses that serve as dorms for single men and women were not part of the tour.

Travel buses, a bright round carousel and scrap metal from a Ferris wheel that was deemed unsafe and never used sit on the land.

Each house is owned privately by individual members.

The gym rivals similar commercial facilities. Three squares of bare concrete are the result of an FBI search warrant that allowed pieces of carpet to be emoved for DNA testing.

Services and Meals

The large cafeteria that serves church members and anyone else who attends a service is decorated with photos of Tony Alamo and Susan Alamo, his first wife. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982.

“We’ve been serving three meals a day for decades, since the church started,” said Gerard Demoulin, who has been a member for 23 years.

Demoulin said the chow hall now serves only about 20 meals daily.

As Demoulin walked, he pointed out pictures of “the early church when Tony and Sue went to the streets of Sunset Strip in Hollywood.”

Photos of the couple singing and sermonizing are interspersed with photos of Alamo with celebrities such as Sonny Bono and Porter Wagoner. The ministry once sold the rich and famous rhinestone-studded apparel crafted by followers.

“I got saved June 23rd, 1986, on the corner of Fifth and Broadway in Hollywood,” Demoulin said.

Church members “witnessed” to him and his life changed forever, Demoulin said.

“I asked Christ to come into my heart right there on that street corner. Instantaneously, I was saved and instantaneously I was cured of my drug addiction,” Demoulin said.

The sanctuary is appointed with crimson carpet, red cushioned wooden pews and ruby-hued upholstered chairs on the stage from which sermons are delivered.

Unmarried “sisters and brothers” sat on opposite sides of the worship center.

Although attendance has dwindled, an 8 p.m. service is offered nightly and a meal is served afterward.

Demoulin said anyone is welcome to attend.

• Alamo Timeline

The following chronicles major events since the public became aware of the government’s most recent investigation of Tony Alamo and his controversial ministry.

• Sept. 19, 2008: An e-mail meant only for staff at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Arkansas is accidentally sent to a long list of media. It contained references to a raid planned for the Fouke, Ark., compound in October 2008 and mentioned child pornography.

• Sept. 20: The wayward e-mail leads officials to expedite the raid. The Arkansas State Police and FBI execute search warrants for properties in Fouke on Alamo’s 74th birthday. The Arkansas Department of Human Services takes custody of six girls, ages 10 to 17, who were allegedly living in Alamo’s house.

• Sept. 25: Alamo is arrested in the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., on a federal warrant alleging he violated a federal law that makes it a crime to bring young girls across state lines for sex.

• Oct. 1: Tony Alamo, born Bernie LaZar Hoffman, is formally indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas, Texarkana division.

• Oct. 16: Authorities in Fort Smith, Ark., issue a warrant for John Kolbek, an associate of Alamo’s who allegedly beat adult and juvenile followers with a wooden paddle when they didn’t follow Alamo’s rules.

Federal officials later issue a warrant for unlawful flight fromprosecution. Kolbek remains a fugitive to this day.

• Oct. 17: Alamo pleads not guilty at a hearing in federal court.

• Oct. 22: U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant denies bail for Alamo, calling him a flight risk and danger to the community.

The FBI executes a second search warrant. Three large squares of carpet in the Fouke compound’s gym are taken, presumably for DNA testing.

• Nov. 17: Circuit Judge Joe Griffin, serving Miller County, and Circuit Judge Mark Hewett, serving Sebastian County, sign identical removal orders for the children of Alamo members living on properties in Fouke and Fort Smith that name more than 125 children.

• Nov. 18: Seventeen children, ages 1 to 17, are seized from SUVs heading for the Texas state line. Three boys who’d just been sworn to testify as witnesses in ongoing custody proceedings for the six girls taken during the raid are ushered into state care from the courtroom.

No children were found at the Fort Smith outpost.

The whereabouts of more than 100 children remain unknown.

To date, none of the children removed in Arkansas have been returned to their parents.

• Nov. 21: The first “care plan” is issued by a circuit judge in Miller County concerning seized children. Judge Jim Hudson tells parents they must sever economic, residential and employment ties with the church if they desire family reunification.

• Nov. 24: A superseding indictment brings the number of criminal counts Alamo faces to 10. The five girls named in the indictment were allegedly abused sexually from 1994 to 2005. The youngest was only 8 when she was allegedly assaulted.

• Nov. 26: Texarkana lawyer David Carter files a civil lawsuit on behalf of two former members, both 18-year-old men, naming Alamo and Kolbek as defendants. The suit claims that while the men were children, they were beaten by Kolbek at Alamo’s behest, endured forced fasts and labored unpaid.

• Dec. 3: Six children listed on the removal orders signed in November are found in Indiana and taken into state custody. Anthony Lane,father of three of the children, had been searching for them for years and had never met his youngest son.

• Dec. 12: Four more children named on the pickup orders are found in Arkansas and placed in foster care.

• Dec. 24: A video is placed on the Internet that shows one of the six girls removed in September being interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center the day after the raid. Later, videos of the five other girls are posted on the Web.

A couple of weeks later, judges issue gag orders in the custody case preventing the parents or the lawyers from discussing it or distributing any case-related materials.

• Jan. 13, 2009: An Alamo devotee is jailed for refusing to divulge the location of his children to Circuit Judge Joe Griffin.

• Jan. 16: Another parent is jailed for contempt for refusing to tell the court where her husband and children are hiding.

• April 9: Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and two fathers with children in foster care file a federal lawsuit accusing the Arkansas Department of Human Services of using a child abuse investigation to disband the church. The case is still pending in federal court.

• May 14: A convicted child sex offender living on ministry property in Fort Smith pleads guilty in federal court to failing to register with local authorities. A sentencing date for Jonathon Curry has not been set.

• June 20: The first baby known to be born to Alamo loyalists since DHS began taking the children is born. Sophie and Carlos Parrish’s other four children are in state custody. So far DHS has left the infant with his parents. Sophie and Carlos married when she was 12 and he was 19.

• July 9: An Alamo follower pleads no contest in California to 20-year-old child abuse charges concerning the beating of a 12-year-old boy on church property. Warrants remain active for two others.

• Today: Jury selection begins in Alamo’s criminal trial. If convicted, the 74-year-old could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

In: 2009 - (Trial year)

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