A Brief History of the Alamo Christian Foundation
Tony Alamo was a popular entertainer, record producer and health club owner in California the 1960’s. After a dramatic conversion to evangelical Christianity early in that decade, Alamo and his wife Susan, began a new life as fundamentalist evangelists. In 1969, they started the Alamo Christian Foundation, an organization that quickly gained notoriety for it’s intense evangelistic methods and “in your face” approach to sin in the Hollywood
culture at large. In 1976, the ministry moved its
headquarters to Alama, Arkansas, childhood home of Susan Alamo.
The next few years saw exceptional growth of the ministry, which now had facilities in Tennessee, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and New York. Besides the evangelistic outreaches, the ACF was also involved in drug rehabilitation and job training for former addicts. They also opened a printing shop, grocery store, restaurant, service station, hog farm, trucking firm and began manufacturing an “Alamo” line of clothing. Many of the employees of these operations were former addicts who Alamo considered “volunteers” to the ministry and had indeed pledged to work as their “service unto the Lord”. In return, the workers received room and board, training, healthcare, and had all of their other basic necessities met. Even many of those with outside employment were asked to turn over their paychecks and assets to further the work of the ministry.
It was these manpower practice with the church owned businesses that was the impetus of the first lawsuit against Tony Alamo and his church. In 1976, the Labor Department brought charges against Alamo that his lack of financial recompense to his employees was a violation of the Fair Labor Standard Act. Alamo lost his suit and lost in appeal to the US Supreme Court in 1985. In that same year, the IRS moved against Alamo’s church, (Now incorporated as Music Square Church) and
revoked it’s tax exempt status retroactively for the years of 1977-1980.
Over the next few years, Tony Alamo was besieged with lawsuits and controversy. He was accused in 1988 of beating an 11-year-old child in the community, via ordering the parent of the child over the telephone to do so. This prompted a raid on the Saugus California community, where much church property was confiscated and the child in question was taken by the state’s child protective services department. Stories were starting to leak out from ex-members alleging that Alamo
wielded such control in his communities that he literally would split up families and rearrange marriages at will. Rumors also spread that after the death of his wife Susan (d. 1982, of cancer) Alamo took two 15 yrs olds in his community as “wives”. In September of the same year, Robert Miller, who was the operator of the church’s trucking company, alleged that Alamo had embezzled $100,000 and essentially stole the trucking company from him. Meanwhile his clothing company was
suffering from the bad public relations which Alamo attributed to the activities of a number of anti-cult groups. Alamo sued the several anti-cult organizations, but was unsuccessful in court.
Tony Alamo did not appear in court in 1990 to answer the charges involving the trucking company, and was ruled in default and a judgment was given against him. Simultaneously, the IRS had filed liens for nearly $8 million for church-business income taxes, and employee withholding. The IRS within the year seized the Alamo businesses and communal properties all over the country.
In February of 1993, a Memphis grand jury indicted Alamo on charges of filing a false income tax return for 1985, and failing to file tax returns for the years of 1986, 1987 and 1988. In April of 1993, Alamo was arrested, and one year later, in May of 1994, his trial began before U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla. On June 8, 1994, Alamo was convicted of all four tax charges and sentenced to six years in prison.
In 1998, Tony Alamo filed suit under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that his denial of parole in 1996 substantially burdened his church followers from being able to practice their religion. The case was dismissed.
In late 1998, Tony Alamo was released from prison, serving his last two years of his sentence in a half-way house in Texarkana, Texas. He is once again “World Pastor” of the Alamo empire, which has been greatly diminished through all the controversies, and government seizures.
Alamo has not lost his vitriolic version of fundamentalist Christianity. He is tends to emphasize the strictness of God’s moral commands, as well as God’s judgment upon sin, and generally holds to the King James Version as being the only English version of the Bible. Alamo has always held to the idea that the Pope is corrupt and evil, is controlling every world political and religious figure, and that all current events are somehow orchestrations from the Vatican.
There are still a number of allegations originating from ex-members of his church who say that he still exerts heavy-handed control over his congregation, as well as various accusations of abuse.