12/18/08 – Heaven is Hell for the Alamo Ministry Children

NOTICE: This article has several inaccuracies that we will post corrections on after the Holidays.

Women In Crime Ink
December 18, 2008
By Diane Dimond

Heaven is Hell for the Alamo Ministry Children

72-year-old Tony Alamo, who got his start as a ‘street preacher’ in Hollywood in the 70’s, is currently in federal lock up in Ft. Smith Arkansas. He is charged with violating the Mann Act – transporting six of his underage ‘church’ girls across state lines for immoral purposes, specifically pornography. His trial is set for February.

Women in Crime Ink contributor, investigative journalist Diane Dimond, has pieced together the sordid tale of Alamo from the early days to modern day. Here is an excerpt of her findings:
For at least 20 years the children of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries have been tortured. That’s right – tortured – on the direction of “Papa Tony” himself. To date neither law enforcement nor prosecutors have punished Alamo for what he’s done to all those children.

Prosecutors have known about Alamo’s penchant for abusing children in the name of Christian discipline since the late 1980’s. Way back in 1988 authorities removed Justin Miller and three other boys from the Saugus, California compound and filed felony child abuse charges. Eyewitnesses reported that during a punishment session for 11 year old Justin he was suspended in the air by four burly adult men – each man roughly grabbing hold of one of the boy’s limbs – and beaten “baseball style” with a thick wooden paddle with holes drilled into it for maximum damage. Tony Alamo ordered the child to receive 140 whacks (euphemistically called ‘swats’) and when it was over, the boy’s backside was bleeding through his jeans. The child’s violation? He wore a scarf without permission and asked an unacceptable question during science class at the church run school.

In 1990 the Miller family sued Tony Alamo and his ministry and was awarded about a million and a half dollars by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Morris Arnold. At the time of ruling the judge was quoted as saying, “No feeling person could fail to be moved by the testimony in this case or be revolted by the cold-blooded and calculated manner in which the punishment was carried out.”

Still nothing happened to Tony Alamo for ordering the brutal paddling, nothing happened to the four burly men either, even though law enforcement officials knew other young children had been similarly punished. Stunningly, the criminal child abuse charges against Alamo fell by the wayside when a strong tax evasion case was brought against the preacher. Alamo had failed to pay nearly 8 million dollars in back taxes on the uber-expensive, extravagantly decorated denim jackets his followers labored over and sold to celebrities. To authorities it appeared tax evasion was a bigger sin than child beating. Alamo was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison but all the while he retained a firm grip on church activities. Alamo served only four years and got out in 1998 to once again regain full control and resume his personal reign of terror.

Upon his release Tony Alamo began to re-build his fractured “church” away from the prying eyes of the now savvy California authorities. He beefed up his headquarters in Fouke, Arkansas, a tiny, isolated town in the far southwest part of the state. By several accounts Alamo began to practice polygamy and acquired multiple underage “wives” – all young daughters of his followers who somehow felt grateful that their spiritual leader would choose their child. Eye-witnesses and the families of girls as young as 9 have claimed their daughters were married off to Papa Tony. Repeated charges of physical child abuse seemed overshadowed by charges of sexual abuse of young girls. But still authorities did not move in to stop Alamo.

Tony Alamo had long written about and preached that any girl who had begun to menstruate was “ready for marriage.” Many members told me young girls in the cult were often given away as brides to older church cronies. One of those girls was 12 year old Jackie Garner – see her above on her wedding day to a decades older man.

Tony Alamo started publicly taking these under-aged brides nearly 15 years ago. Arkansas law enforcement authorities reportedly heard about it – from both escapees of the church and from townsfolk in and around Fouke – but chose to do nothing. Jael Sprinkle, a former member who was born into the church, testified in court that she was alone in a room with Alamo on Oct. 15, 1993, when he suddenly proclaimed they were married, taking her as one of the six wives he had at the time. Jael was 17, Alamo was 59. Never mind that she was already married and had just given birth to a baby. Earlier that week Alamo had suddenly and inexplicably kicked her husband out of the church and summoned young Jael to his side. Sprinkle, now 32, has told her story to authorities in great detail.

But there have been whispers about Tony Alamo’s deviant sexual behavior that go much further back. There is an explosive charge from Christhiaon that her step-father Tony raped her when she came to visit her mother in Las Vegas right after Susan married Tony Alamo. Christhiaon was just 16 years old. Could that be when his pattern of abusing young girls started?

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been following the exploits of the Alamo Christian Ministries for years and now designates it as a hate group stemming from Alamo’s frequent and very vocal anti-Catholic, anti-any-other-religion outbursts. In the SPLC’s March 2008 Intelligence Report a writer named Susy Buchanan excerpted a rare interview with Susan Alamo’s daughter Her claims of sexual assault by her mother’s new husband are raw and stunning.

“Tony raped me in Vegas, and my mother didn’t believe it and told me to get my ass out and I was a liar and I was trying to take her man. [Editor’s note: No criminal complaint was ever filed against Alamo in the alleged rape of Chris Coie; however, she did testify about it under oath in a civil trial. Alamo has declined to respond to the Report’s requests for comment on this and all other matters.] So I left and I came to Los Angeles. The whole time I’m swearing I’ll never talk to her again because she knew I was raped. It wasn’t like I was just telling her something; she caught the tail end of the mess. And she reacted by looking at me and saying, “You little, fucking whore.” That’s how it started. “You little fucking whore.” It was just insanity, but it was such complete betrayal. I hurt.”

Christhiaon Coie testified at a U.S. District Court hearing in Los Angeles in April 1993. She spoke in detail about the rape by her step-father. Also at that proceeding one of Alamo’s former wives told the court that he had repeatedly beaten her, once breaking her nose and forced her into sex acts when they were married in 1986. U.S. Magistrate Kirtland Mahlum had the choice of keeping Alamo locked up, pending his tax evasion trial, but he chose not to. Two women’s tearful testimony, Mahlum ruled, was “not enough” to keep the one-time music promoter-turned-street-preacher in jail.

Pause here to put all this information into perspective: An allegation of rape in 1966, beatings and forced sex with followers in 1986, the beating of the Miller boy at the Saugus compound in 1988. Taking minors as wives in 1993 and 1998, reports of widespread polygamy and so many brutal beatings of children (and later adult members of his “church”) that the victims themselves have lost track of how many times they were brutalized in the name of God.

How was this allowed to go on for so long?

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