Evangelist’s compound raided in child abuse case
(CNN) — Federal and state police raided an evangelist’s compound in Arkansas late Saturday to investigate whether any children have been physically or sexually abused, officials said.
The raid is part of a two-year investigation into a compound near Texarkana owned by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries near Texarkana, Arkansas, said Bill Sadler of the Arkansas State Police. About 100 agents were on the 10- to 15-acre site late Saturday and met with no resistance, he said.
Alamo, reached by phone in Los Angeles, California, denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s a hoax,” Alamo said. “They’re just trying to make our church look evil … by saying I’m a pornographer. Saying that I rape little children. … I love children. I don’t abuse them. Never have. Never will.”
Asked why authorities were searching the property, Alamo compared himself to Christ.
“Why were they after Jesus?” he asked. “It’s the same reason. Jesus is living within me.”
It was not known how many children may live at the compound and whether Alamo would be arrested, Sadler said.
Federal and state agents were executing two search warrants, Sadler said late Saturday, and no arrest warrants had been issued.
“Children were interviewed and continue to be interviewed at this hour and likely will continue to be interviewed tomorrow,” Sadler told CNN.
In addition to FBI agents and Arkansas state police, officials with the state Department of Human Services participated in the raid at the church property in the town of Fouke, about 12 miles from Texarkana.
Federal authorities conducting a child-porn investigation raided the headquarters Saturday of a ministry run by a convicted tax evader once labeled by prosecutors as a polygamist who preys on girls and women.
Social workers interviewed children who live at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries complex, which critics call a cult, to find out whether they were abused. The two-year investigation involves a law that prohibits the transportation of children across state lines for criminal activity, said Tom Browne, who runs the FBI office in Little Rock.
“Children living at the facility may have been sexually and physically abused,” Browne said.
No one was arrested, but U.S. Attorney Bob Balfe said before the raid that he expected an arrest warrant for Alamo to be issued later. The federal investigation centered on the production of child pornography, while state police were looking into allegations of other child abuse, he said.
Alamo and his wife Susan were street preachers along Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in 1966 before forming a commune near Saugus, Calif. Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982 and Alamo claimed she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while their followers prayed.
In 1988, following a raid near Santa Ana, Calif., three boys whose mothers were Alamo followers were placed in the custody of their fathers. Justin Miller, then 11, told police that Alamo directed four men to strike him 140 times with a wooden paddle as punishment for minor offenses. Alamo was later charged with child abuse but prosecutors dropped the charge, citing a lack of evidence.
Alamo was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994 after the IRS said he owed the government $7.9 million. He served four years in prison.
Prosecutors in the tax case argued prior to sentencing that Alamo was a flight risk and a polygamist who preyed on married women and girls in his congregation.
Alamo told the AP that he believed Saturday’s raid was part of a push by the federal government to make same-sex marriage legal while outlawing polygamy.
Alamo said he thought polygamy was allowed in the Bible but said he did not practice it himself. He also said that “consent is puberty” when it comes to sex.
There had been complaints about the ministry since Alamo arrived in Fouke in the late 1990s, said Terry Purvis, mayor of the town of about 850 residents. He has gotten calls from former ministry members with allegations of child abuse, polygamy and underage marriage, he said.
On the Website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which characterizes Alamo Ministries as a hate group, an article called “The Ravening Wolf” outlines some of the Alamo beliefs that got him on the SPLC watchlist.
“Alamo blames the Catholic Church for every evil imaginable, including communism, Nazism, the two world wars and even the Jonestown Massacre. “Narcotics, prostitution, pornography, booze and black market—every filthy thing—can be traced right back to the Vatican,” the cult leader has written.
“Hatred of Catholics isn’t Alamo’s only unorthodox belief. In 1993, he published a tract called “The Polygamists” which argued, “the Holy Scriptures proclaim polygamy to be righteous.” Fourteen years later, he still pushes that message, producing daily radio broadcasts that are beamed around the country and the world and proclaim a holy man’s right to take multiple wives …”
• Research resources on Tony Alamo Christian Ministries
• FACTnet discussion board on Tony Alamo Christian Ministries