The four women were all born into the Tony Alamo Christian Ministry. Some say that he is a crazy madmen. In the height of the church’s popularity, there were thousands of followers. By the nineties, Tony had more than a dozen wives at the small compound in Fouke, Arkansas. Many followers believe that there is no higher honor than becoming one of Tony’s wives. When she was 14, Amy became Tony’s wife. When she was 15, Jeanne became his 8th wife.
Jeanne says that he had 13 wives, over half were minors and he had sex with all of them. He preferred the younger ones. She had painful sex with him four days after their marriage. She believed that God wanted her to be Tony’s bride. Tony shocked even his most devoted followers when he chose 8 year old Desiree to be his bride. She was the youngest, she was still playing with Barbies and dolls. He laid her on his bed, they said marriage vows and gave her a wedding ring. She says that instead of a marriage license he finalizes his marriages by having sex. On CNN, Tony justified it by saying that puberty is the age of consent according to the bible. He then said he doesn’t know what age girls go through puberty, maybe age 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. God inseminated Mary around age 10 or 12. “Should we get him for having sex?” he asked. Desiree thought that what Tony was doing was wrong, but that he was a man of God so maybe it was right.
Jeanne was 15 when 59 year old Tony made her his spiritual wife, she is now 31. Amy exchanged vows at 14, she is now 26. Desiree was only 8, now she is 18. Nikki was 15, she is now 26.
They went to Fouke, Arkansas, to find out who Tony Alamo really is. Reporter Lynn LaRowe of the Texarkana Gazette has been covering his story for years. In LA in the late sixties, Tony said that God appeared before him and told him if he didn’t spread the word, he would surely die. Alamo married Susan and they set up the Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation. He would do guest appearances as a gospel singer on her TV evangelist show. When she died of cancer, Tony kept her body in his dining room, and that is when people say that his dark side was unleashed.
Elishah, a former member of the ministry says that they had to pray over Susan’s decaying body for two years to make her raise from the dead. Her eyes and mouth were sewn shut and someone kept dusting her and reapplying her lipstick. When Tony announced that it was their fault that she didn’t raise from the dead, they were devastated. The followers were blinded by their devotion and were physically and psychologically exhausted, so there was no room for independent thought. The compound moved to Fouke, Arkansaw in the late 90’s. The mayor says that they didn’t know if those in the compound were armed, their minds just wandered.
Inside the house, he destroyed many lives. Tony Alamo did not respond to a request for an interview, but his church sent the following statement.
“Tony Alamo has no secret world or child brides. He is the least secret person in the world. His church and he are open daily to the public, and he is very outspoken, as an open book. Oprah and the government media and the Roman Catholics are in conspiracy against him and his whole church.”
Some have compared Alamo to David Karesh in Waco, Texas. Both led suspicious anti government organizations that many call cults. Tony controlled every facet of his congregation’s lives, using violence and threats of eternal damnation. The town were concerned about what was going on there.
Before Jeanne was born, her mother was 12 when her grandmother joined the church. Jeanne knew Tony as their pastor, she had not been introduced to him. Her family did not see it as an honor, for her to be a child bride, but they had put their whole life into the ministry and they didn’t know if Tony really was of God. Jeanne lived in the house. Amy was told that she should work in his office, that is how it started for her. Amy’s mom thought that it was a great honor- she was always told as a child that she would marry Tony. At 8 years old, Desiree was playing with dolls, wanted to go outside and go swimming and play with her friends. She was raised in the church, but she knew nothing of sex or marriage. It wasn’t exactly explained to her what was happening. Her mom said that Desiree was unruly and possessed by the devil. After a couple of months of being in the house to be disciplined, Tony laid her on his bed and started putting his hands up her shirt and down her pants. Desiree was told that the most important prayer was that of a child; she prayed that it would stop but it didn’t. Just before she turned 9, Tony asked her to marry him,and she said yes as she was afraid of him. He had sex with her once or twice a week and it went up and down a lot. Oprah asks the others what they thought of Desiree as an 8 year old bride. Jeanne says that she questioned him that day, even if she would be beaten. She said that he was not doing what he preached, that Desiree had not yet reached puberty. Tony said profanities and he said God will tell his prophet to do things that everyone will question but no one had better question.
Oprah says that at 14 or 15 you are a little more advanced in the world than an 8 year old. Prior to moving to the house, Desiree had a good childhood. She couldn’t call her parents more than twice a week. She needed permission to visit, she was only able to visit them twice. In the house, they were as fearful of Tony as anyone can be of a person. They would get hit all the time, his face was crazy as they were beaten. They had to take nude photos for him, and he would take photos of them too. Jeanne would lock herself in the bathroom and cry so hard that she’d break blood vessels in her face. She would pray that God would take her in her sleep as she didn’t believe in suicide but she no longer wanted to live.
Nikki goes back to the compound with the TV crew. Nikki was chosen to be his next child bride, and she risked it all to escape that fate. She thought if this was heaven, she’d rather go to hell. She returns to the compound for the first time. It just looks like a home, but hell was inside there. Utter, utter hell. She implores people to pay attention and poke their nose into other people’s business. That is what they desperately needed, and nobody interfered. If they hadn’t talked, it would still be going on. Tony would be sitting in there with the next line of little girls.
Last year they faced Tony in federal court, he was found guilty with trafficking minors across state lines with the intent of having sex with them. Going against their families, friend and the church they testified against him and he is facing a sentence of 175 years. Oprah says that everyone has an internal guideline system which they should follow. If something seems odd at home or at a neighbor’s home, make it your business.
Oprah applauds their courage, Nikki was the first to break free. She realized that it was all a lie when Tony hit her in the face after she made an unauthorized phonecall to try and get out. He sat in front of her telling her the things that God had said about her, that she was a prostitute and a whore and other outlandish things. Then she thought that is all a lie. They were so brainwashed that they were told that they and their families would go to hell if they left. Oprah says that for her this is about intuition and guidance knowing that something is right or wrong. These girls were raised in one way but their inner guide told them to question that, to think that something is wrong.
To escape Tony, Nikki first had to escape his spell. He controlled his followers with violence and manipulation. Nikki found the courage inside herself to risk it all to get out of there. She shows where she escaped from the side door. A follower tells them to get off the property. She tells how she ran from the guards and Tony’s cameras and hid in the woods. He sent everyone out to look for her in every shop and fast food joint. She met Vince and Karen Coker who lived at the final house, they took a leap of faith and took her in for the night, They bought her a bus ticket so she could get back to her mother in California. Nikki thought that her mom would figure it all out, but she didn’t realize that her mother was being controlled by Tony and his followers. On the phone, Tony told Nikki’s mum Liza that she should have Nikki arrested otherwise Liza would have to leave the church too. The mom said to Nikki that Tony wouldn’t let her on the property. She had two boxes of stuff labelled Nikki’s stuff. Her mom put her on a bus and hugged her goodbye and walked away. One of the saddest moments of Niki’s life, that absolutely broke her heart. Liza now says that she was out of her mind to let it happen like that. Liza is no longer involved with the Alamo Ministry.
Oprah can’t imagine how that must feel, to risk her life, be helped by strangers and to be turned away by her own mother. Nikki says that it is very hard to understand if you have never been brainwashed. Her brother, mother and father were all part of the church. If her mother had left the church, she would have been abandoning her brother. Her mother thought that Nikki would be ok. Some of them still have siblings in there, in hiding. Nikki went over the country for 3 months trying to find somewhere to stay.
Desiree had nothing when she escaped, no ID at all. For 2 years from 13-15 she had been planning to leave. She told the girls that if Tony got her Dad to come over and beat her again for trying to leave, that she would leave. She called all the doctor’s that she had ever seen to get her medical records so that she could exist in the real world. She knew that at 13. Jeanne was not a minor anymore so Tony couldn’t force her to stay. She was very vocal, she thought that she could question him in front of others, the congregation and other wives. She told them that they were beaten, he made them watch pornography, and told of the photographs. She said all she could in five minutes and then he asked her to leave.
Amy was married to Tony for nine years and her mom is still part of the church. Amy doesn’t talk to her mom now, Amy thinks that her mom hates her because she testified against Tony. In the courtroom her mother called her a stinking weasel.
Amy and Desiree‘s mothers both testified against them in court. Oprah asks what that does to them. Desiree said it was really hard. She hadn’t seen her mom for 3 years and she got up and called her daughter a liar. Oprah says that we are all outraged by the way that Desiree had been treated. Her mom thinks, still, that Tony is a man of God, and that he would never do something like have sex with an 8 year old girl.
Nikki reunited with the two strangers who helped her, she calls them her angels. They hug and cry. Nikki doesn’t know what would have happened without them. The Cokers vividly remember the night Nikki came to their door. Nikki was very scared, she didn’t trust anyone. She was all cut up from the fences and the woods. Nikki had nothing, not even clothes.
The Cokers join Oprah live by Skype. Oprah applauds them for helping a child. Karen says she was timid and scared but Nikki needed help. Karen’s motherly instincts kicked in to help Nikki. They had a 9 month baby at the time. The Cokers could tell that Nikki wasn’t being forward with what she was telling them. But she looked like she was scared to death and that she had run for her life. Nikki didn’t want to tell the truth until she was out of Fouke, until she was sure that she wouldn’t be sent back. Oprah congratulates the Coker’s for buying Nikki a ticket and thanks God.
Elishah was the first child born into the cult. Life there was terrifying. Her worst day was when Tony got a close family member to beat her for trying to escape, over and over on the same side. Her back was bloody, she passed out. She saw a glimmer of hope when she was 15 and she met Steven a newcomer to the church. They had a connection. They were caught talking and Steven had to leave. She got a letter from Steven via a member of the congregation saying that he would come for her. He rescued her and they drove over the state line. They married but she had no idea how the outside world worked. Elishah is now a teacher and joins the others on the couch. Jeanne remembers being babysat by Elishah. Elishah says that this is a great victory. She says that the others overcame things that amaze the first generation. She says that the courage to stand up against Tony in court with their mother’s testifying against them is astonishing.
Oprah thanks them all for putting a face to this. The beauty of this is that you are not your past, that you can create from now whoever you want to be. You can use your past to strengthen who you want to be. Oprah says again that if you think something strange is going on in your house or neighborhood, make your voice heard. Sign the No Phone Zone, Thanks everybody.
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
Tony Alamo controlled all the members of his cult with violence and threats of eternal damnation.
He blamed his congregation when after two years of prayer they failed to raise his dead wife from the dining room.
He took spiritual wives by marrying with no legal paperwork, finalizing the marriage by having sex.
Of his 13 wives, the youngest was 8 years old.
If you think something strange is going on in your house or neighborhood, make it your business and make sure that your voice heard.
A VERY QUICK SUMMARY:
Oprah says that you are not your past, that you can create from now whoever you want to be, even if you were once a child bride.