Tony Alamo: Cult Leader, But Make it Fashion

Image via Amazon

There is a lot to unpack here, so we’ll just jump right into it. Our story begins in California, and the year is 1969. A man named Tony Alamo and his wife Susan started a church and built a compound. This compound consisted of folks that were down on their luck. The Alamo’s sought out these men and women living on the streets of Los Angeles, offering them meals and a place to sleep. Within these compounds, people prayed, ate, and slept together.

Though our story sounds like a harmonious tale of good samaritans, things began to take a turn for the worse. While followers were living quite simple lives within the compound, Tony and his wife lived pretty exuberant lives, which created a certain amount of hostility amongst those living in the compound.

Jump to 1982, when Susan passed away with cancer. Following her death, Tony’s behavior became extremely erratic. He started lashing out at adults and children, even going so far as to claim a child with epilepsy was “possessed by the devil” and needed to beat it out of her.

(image via NYTimes)

Tony Alamo and wife, Susan

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Tony was known as a country singer and businessman who dabbled in fashion. He became notoriously famous for his over-the-top denim jackets that were painted and bedazzled. These jackets often sold for four figures, increasing Alamo’s net worth to over $60 million.

Stars such as Dolly Parton, Mike Tyson, and Brooke Shields could be spotted in Tony Alamo of Nashville jackets. Even Michael Jackson donned a custom-made leather jacket on the cover of his ‘Bad’ album.

With his newfound fame and riches, Tony still made time to visit the compound, often popping in just to inflict punishments on his followers. Eventually, Alamo had turned his compound into a sweatshop, forcing his followers to paint jackets and place crystals on them, all voluntarily. Children worked such long shifts that often their fingers bled from handling pointy crystals, and the smell of bleach was thick in the air.

(image via the times vintage)

In 1985, Tony’s luck began to change when a former follower told police and the Department of Labor that followers had not been receiving pay. Alamo was later charged with tax evasion and slave labor. As word began to spread, the jackets lost their luster.

As if this story isn’t bad enough, in 1988 two female followers claimed they had been molested, but there were more than that overall. This led to the compound being seized; Tony, however, fled in 1989 before he could be arrested. In 1991, Tony and a few other cult members exhumed deceased wife Susan’s body, and neither Tony nor his wife’s remains could be located for months.

Finally, in July of 1991, Alamo was found, arrested, and charged with several crimes that occurred across multiple states. Years later, new allegations came out, and Tony Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in prison and remained there until his death in May of 2017.

(image via bombshell by bleu)

In more recent years, we’ve seen a slight comeback with the bling-adorned, custom denim jackets when stars such as Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, and even Frances Bean Cobain were spotted wearing them.

(image via refinery 29)

Then, in 2018, Investigation Discovery interviewed Benjamin Risha, an ex-member of the cult that lived in the Arkansas compound. When asked about the jackets, his response was this: “I guess I would tell people wearing them, once you know where they come from, to try to go out of your way to help people less fortunate. Go to a place where women are battered or children need help. If you can afford the jacket, chances are you can afford to go help somebody.”

Sources: Unsolved Mysteries / Refinery 29

Want to see more? Check out the documentary on Netflix (Click here

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