I’m always skeptical when people refer to fringe religious groups as “cults.” You know, Christianity was a heretical Jewish cult in the first century, and look how that turned out.
The word cult was thrown around in Sunday papers this weekend following the raid of Tony Alamo Ministries, and again, I chose against using the word. The guy certainly seemed odd, and allegations of a child pornography ring at his religious compound didn’t help. But those were allegations, and Fouke, Ark., wasn’t Jonestown or Rancho Santa Fe.
I’m still not ready to call Alamo a cult leader, but I am willing to say he is absolutely bonkers, at least theologically. Last night he exactly what no person in trouble should do: He opened his mouth, and to a reporter no less. And, boy, he’s got some wild ideas.
An excerpt of the blog post from John C. Williams at the Arkansas Times, who interview Alamo, is after the jump:
Not surprisingly, Alamo categorically denied charges of child pornography and polygamy that have been reported in the past few days. “Anybody can accuse and spread it around town, and of course they want to kill you,” he said of the allegations. “But there’s no child abuse going on.”
It’s not that polygamy is wrong, he said: “If you can find anything in the Bible about fire and brimstone for the practice of polygamy, then I’ll give you $250,000 in cash. Adultery is condemned, but not polygamy.”
“Most of the world believes in polygamy,” Alamo said. “The Africans, the Indians, the Chinese. The Jews – the Jews can have at least four wives. Two-thirds of people in the world practice polygamy.”
He added that polygamy is not for everyone – just for “great men of God, if they can take care of their wives and children.” He also repeated his typical complaint that if school-age girls can ‘fornicate’ and use birth control, then there’s no reason it should be illegal for men to take young wives.
Yet Alamo denied that he had wives of any age, other reports to the contrary: “You can check all the marriage records in the world.” He said his only two wives have been Susan Alamo and “the princess of Sweden,” Birgitta Gyllenhammar, who left him and the church after two years.
He also denied that anyone in his church was practicing polygamy or marrying underage girls. “I don’t believe that at all. Otherwise I would kick them out. And they don’t want to be kicked out.”
Alamo blamed a Fouke man named Tony Lane for the raid. He claimed Lane’s wife lived at the complex and that he wanted her to leave against her will. He accused Lane of being an alcoholic and a bad guy in general, though he admitted that he had never met him. Alamo added that a number of Fouke residents – whom he referred to as ‘hillbillies’ – were being paid off by the government to give information about the complex. He claimed Fouke to be a main base for the KKK.
It’s never been totally clear why Alamo chose the Miller County town of 800 for his headquarters after his release from prison for tax evasion in 1998. The answer is simple, Alamo said: Convenience. His followers were visiting him in the Texarkana federal pen, he said, so it made sense for them to set up shop nearby. “They didn’t want to stay in hotels.”
There’s more here.