Beginning in the 1960s in California, erstwhile music producer Tony Alamo became interested in authoritarian religion and, along with his charismatic wife, Susan, began gathering followers. By the 1970s, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries had established particularly strong footholds in Arkansas, as well as maintaining outposts in California. The ministry gained a legion of followers, with branches not only in the USA but in places as diverse as Africa and Sri Lanka. Even through their leader’s eventual imprisonment under federal charges (related to transporting minors across state lines for sexual purposes), Alamo’s vision survived—and his community survives him today.
Whispering in the Daylight: The Children of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries and Their Journey to Freedom is based on numerous interviews from group members and, more importantly, on interviews with the children—second and third-generation followers. Author Debby Schriver chronicles how this group was formed, documenting its many abuses and its gradual adoption of cult-like behaviors and practices. Like many cult leaders, Tony Alamo had different faces. The public saw him as a somewhat self-important but harmless music promoter and designer of bedazzling denim jackets. Schriver chronicles firsthand the condemnation, rejection, and torment that the second-generation survivors of Tony Alamo’s abuses experienced. Schriver’s interviews, particularly those with children, illuminate the real horrors of the Alamos’ behavior, ranging from economic exploitation, extreme forced fasts, and beatings, that resulted in permanent injury.
Schriver’s extensive research—including interviews with Tony Alamo himself, harrowing visits to Alamo compounds, and witnessing gut-wrenching confrontations between freed children and their unreformed parents—tells the story of a closed group whose origins and history are unlikely ever to be definitively unraveled.
DEBBY SCHRIVER has spent her career working with students, parents, and staff in the departments of student life and employee training and development at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is the author of In the Footsteps of Champions: The University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, the First Three Decades, coauthor, with Jenny Moshak, of Ice ’n’ Go: Score in Sports and Life, and coeditor, with Lucia McMahon of To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810–1811.