Arkansas group leaves anti-Catholic literature in Helena

Billings Gazette/August 25, 2004
By Allison Farrell

Helena -- The Montana Human Rights Network has sent informational letters to the state's two Catholic dioceses in the wake of a literature drop by an anti-Catholic group headquartered in Arkansas and headed by a former Montanan.

The Alamo Christian Ministries, which teaches that the Vatican is an evil cult that controls all governments, recently dropped newsletters on vehicles in downtown Helena and in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The leader of the group, Tony Alamo, spent his youth in Windham, Lewistown, Billings and Helena.

Using such phrases as "diabolical Rome" and "one-world government," the newsletter provides, among other things, a long tale about an American agent who claims he was involved in the Oklahoma City bombings and had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Alamo said "that cult is corrupt!" in reference to the Catholic church, and said the Vatican, President Bush and Muslims were behind the World Trade Center terror attacks.

"The Lord said the Vatican and the cult that's there is the mother of every abomination on the face of the earth," Alamo said.

The Montana Human Rights Network, which calls itself a watchdog of hate groups, informed the state's two Catholic bishops that the group dropped the literature, and provided the church with information.

"Really, what the rhetoric sounds like to me is the Ku Klux Klan," said Travis McAdam, the network's research director. "Alamo's propaganda harkens back to a time in our country when the Klan and other groups promoted conspiracies of a demonic Vatican."

Rev. Jay Peterson, the vicar general of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, said he is aware of Alamo's anti-Catholic activities, but isn't overly concerned about the organization.

However, he said he's disappointed that the group is "spreading lies" about the church. Peterson said the Alamo Christian Ministries is the most visible, and blatant, anti-Catholic group in the country.

"My personal belief is that this is evidence of an anti-Catholic streak that exists in our country still," Peterson said. "Some of the old notions continue to lift their ugly heads."

Eric Schiedermayer, director of communications for the Diocese of Helena, said it's clear that the group misunderstands Catholicism.

This isn't the first time Alamo Christian Ministries has dropped literature in Helena. McAdam said he's seen the newsletters dropped about once a year for the last four years and wouldn't be surprised if someone local was behind them.

McAdam said the ministries' doctrine combines pieces of Christian fundamentalism with anti-government ideas and UFO worship. He said the group is considered a cult by national watchdog groups and has run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion.

Alamo, who founded the group with his late wife Susan Lipowitz, was born Bernie LaZar Hoffman into a Jewish family in Missouri. At age 2, he said his family moved to Montana, where he remained until his late teens.

Alamo became a fairly well known entertainer in California before he converted to Christianity in 1964 on the claim that God spoke to him. His wife was the initial force behind the creation of Alamo Christian Ministries, McAdam said.

In 1975, the group established a compound in Arkansas and essentially took over the small town of Alma. At its height, the church operated a printing shop, grocery store, service station, restaurant, hog farm, trucking firm and manufactured its own clothing line, the network reports.

Over the years, the group became "rabidly anti-Catholic" and came to believe that UFOs were angels from heaven, McAdam said. When Alamo's wife died, followers kneeled and prayed around her coffin, expecting Lipowitz to rise from the dead.

While the group denies that it's a cult, former members say otherwise, the Montana Human Rights Network reports: Former members claim that living conditions at the Arkansas compound were disgusting and said they were unable to flush the toilets without permission. They slept together crammed on floors and were forced to take vows of poverty and turn over all the possessions to Alamo and his wife.

Alamo is also a defender of David Koresh and his former compound in Waco, Texas.

While McAdam said he hasn't found the group to be violent, he said they're trying to intimidate Catholics.

Alamo said he's just trying to wake people up to the "truth."

"I don't hate Catholics," Alamo said. "Catholics are some of the nicest people in the world. But they have no idea of the hierarchy in the Vatican, and how sinister (it is)."

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