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Alamo ministry resurrected 

Fouke residents worry about notorious evangelist in their midst.

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  • BETTER DAYS

Fouke isn't a town so much as a crossroads, a Miller County outpost in Southwest Arkansas, on Highway 71 between Texarkana and Shreveport. The businesses at its center can be counted on two hands; the city hall is a prefab metal structure. Until recently, its main claim to fame was the Fouke Monster, which, like similar mythical beasts, has inspired a weird combination of fear and pride in the people who live near its territory.

The monster has gone into hibernation since its manifestation in 1971, but the 814 residents of Fouke aren't free of their demons just yet. Just a five-minute walk from the town's traffic light lives another reclusive creature that, to some people at least, is much scarier than the Fouke Monster, one that is demonstrably flesh and blood. His name is World Pastor Tony Alamo, and nine years after from his release from prison on tax evasion charges, he's in back in business, with churches in Fouke, Fort Smith and California.

He's also apparently back under the scrutiny of the law. In a recent article in the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, a woman said she and others have contacted the State Police about Alamo's practice of polygamy and taste for young girls. Maj. Cleve Barfield, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Arkansas State Police, confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation of Alamo and his organization.

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Alamo often compares himself to the Apostle Paul. Like Paul, Alamo was a hater of Christ; like Paul, he received the Gospel through direct revelation; like Paul, he ministers based on that revelation. And, as many a Wal-Mart shopper can confirm, Alamo shares Paul's epistolic habits. He is famous for his virulently anti-Catholic tracts, plastered on windshields, circulated more widely — the tracts claim — than USA Today, the New York Times and the L.A. Times combined.

Though the age of mechanical reproduction gives Alamo an edge on his prophetic forebears, he trails them in converts. Nor does he appear to have their capacity for the hard work of proselytizing. Christ wandered the Middle East; Paul preached across the Mediterranean; Muhammad conquered the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. Tony Alamo has a fenced-off property in Fouke.

There, Alamo-watchers fear, Alamo's famous Alma compound is being reincarnated.

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It was in Alma, in Northwest Arkansas, that Alamo, who previously lived in California, took his mandate from God and turned it into a cash cow. In 1982, he and his wife Susan bought land, businesses and began to live with followers in a secret compound. They held political sway — they helped elect the mayor of nearby Dyer (and were investigated by the FBI for election fraud) — and their enterprises, registered under the umbrella of a nonprofit foundation, were worth an estimated $60 million by 1985. His most lucrative source of income was Alamo Designs, which specialized in elaborately air-brushed and rhinestone-studded denim jackets. These sold for hundreds of dollars and were wildly popular, especially in Nashville, where Alamo set up a clothing outlet. They also gave Alamo inroads with celebrities who wore them, such as Sonny Bono and Mr. T, outdated photos of whom still appear in the pamphlets the church distributes.

Alamo's employees were church members, and he paid them slave wages. When the Department of Labor got word of the setup, it filed suit against him for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Alamo had to pay his workers a minimum wage. The church's tax exempt status was revoked the same year.

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