ROWE: In 2014, Nic Pizzolatto, a University of Arkansas MFA grad that could do no wrong, based his series “True Detective” in his home state of Louisiana. I heard or read somewhere that he originally planned on setting it in Arkansas, but he went with "Lovecraft's in Louisiana" in season one and won goodwill from critics and viewers, and went with "Bilderberg's in Coastal California" in season two, apparently ruining all that goodwill. Arkansas was the perfect setting for these kinds of stories all along, as there’s a real moment in the late '70s and early '80s where Arkansas was full of weird cults and hypermasculinity. So this week, on the behalf of Millennial Americans and those with a short memory, here’s a primer.
BRASHER: Arkansas, particularly the Ozarks region, has been home to fringe tribalistic wild kooks at least since the first Europeans set foot in the state, and probably even before it was a state. There were religious groups like The Harmonial Vegetarian Society in mid-1800s Benton County with their unrealized plan for a “hydro-electrical healing institute.” (Not sure how that would work.) And there were armed factions like the Bushwhackers and Baldknobbers of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas; they all got quite piped up in the late 1800s. Things really got cooking though in the 1980s though. Let's check it out, tin foil hat strictly optional.
The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord
BRASHER: In the '70s a group of white supremacist religious men decided to meet in private to discuss their plans to bring forth disaster and ruin upon the state, and that was just the Arkansas legislature. Meanwhile in the Ozarks, a different kind of ruin was a brewing, some politically-right-of-the-spectrum ex cons with a penchant for guns and an aversion to minorities were cooking up trouble.
ROWE: The Covenant, The Sword and the Arm of the Lord was founded by James Ellison, who had been mentored in prison by leaders in the white supremacist movement. Federal prison is like the LinkedIn of criminal and terrorist organizations, and Ellison used his connections to build one of the most-armed domestic terrorist groups in the country at the time.
BRASHER: They had a northern Arkansas compound in Marion County for a while called Zarephath-Horeb aka The Farm, but this is one CSA that was doing anything but Community Supported Agriculture.
ROWE: In 1985, the feds raided the CSA compound on April 19, a day that is a dogwhistle to conspiracy theorists. A year earlier, a CSA member had been convicted for the deaths of two, including an Arkansas state trooper, and the FBI had pegged the CSA compound as a headquarters for more potential violence. Sharpshooters and SWAT members entered a standoff.
BRASHER: Asa Hutchinson donned his best bulletproof negotiating vest, entered the compound, and told a bunch of racist armed white guys that they had gone too far, which is like the least Republican thing anyone could do.
ROWE: You’d think that a photo of U.S. Attorney Hutchinson, snug in flak jacket and triumphant over domestic terrorism would be used in almost every political campaign since. However, the CSA and its legacy is so tied in to hate crimes and domestic terrorism and all that, no one would want any part of it, even if on the side of peaceful resolution.
BRASHER: We talk a lot about resurrection from the dead here in the blog, but we haven’t tried hijacking a Trailways bus in northern Arkansas in pursuit of that goal, and it’s probably for the best, because last time that happened around here didn’t work out so well for anyone involved.
ROWE: When did the term “suicide by police” enter the language? There’s a good chance people got acclimated with it on July 4, 1982, when Keith and Kate Haigler hijacked a bus in Jasper, then demanded police kill them as part of a cult ceremony that would have them rise from the dead three days later. Keith, also known as Baby FOU, and Kate, Kate FOU, were followers of Emory Lamb, a man they called "FOU" and believed was Jesus Christ. Lamb told a reporter for UPI the day of the hijacking that he considered the two his children, and had mixed feelings about their death. ''In my mind, he is still well,'' Mr. Lamb said. ''I know that he isn't going to walk in the door there and say, 'Hi, Dad.' But he's all right.'' A day later, Lamb told the UPI “It's possible they will come back, and it's possible they won't. It doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned,” Lamb also said that while he was not sure if the Haiglers would be resurrected, he was confident that he would have been resurrected if it had been him who was shot. That’s some good charisma. The UPI also notes that Lamb had about 60 followers in Jasper.
BRASHER: If you want to get a fuller story I suggest reading Taylor Alison's series of articles in the Harrison Daily Times. Emory Lamb is the best cult leader name ever; it sounds like an anagram that turns out to be a clue for the FBI. In reality unfortunately it is just an anagram for “My Lame Bro.”
End Time Handmaidens
BRASHER: In case you thought apocalyptic Christianity in small town Arkansas was just a man’s game, Gwen Shaw is here to prove you wrong. This lady broke the glass ceiling for white haired evangelical ladies everywhere with her outfit: The End Time Handmaidens and Servants. There must be something in the water because these folks also hail from the home of FOU: Jasper.
ROWE: Must have been the neighboring Dogpatch, USA theme park, dumping tons of deadly Kickapoo Joy Juice into the water supply. Note that Dogpatch, USA, was spending advertising dollars trying to entice families from across the country to vacation in a wilderness surrounded by domestic terrorist groups, hell bent on the Apocalypse. They should have taken a page from Branson, who took the Bald Knobbers name, once used describe the groups of masked vigilantes and murderers in the area, and turned it into a song and dance show, a roller coaster and a Mecca for people who long for the good-old-days without acknowledging how miserable those days were for most everyone else.
BRASHER: Gwen Shaw ministered all over the world apparently followed by what its website calls “Holy Ghost fire, signs, and wonders.” I don’t know what Holy Ghost fire is but keep it away from piles of oily rags because it sounds dangerous.
ROWE: I’ll bet you Shaw-friend Benny Hinn could tell you all about it.
BRASHER: Mandakaladoboshoto Obobabasacta to that. They call their headquarters outside of Jasper: Engeltal which is a German abbreviation for "Ensconced in Gelatin." Just kidding, it has something to do with angels. They seem to really like angels. Angels is their main angle actually. Getting into their club involves a 21 day fast, which is totally not a culty thing to have prospective followers do in any way. Gwen Shaw actually died in 2013, but the Handmaidens live on and seem to have a pretty substantial reach, by whic I mean they have a Facebook page and stuff. Despite the apocalyptic end-time moniker this bunch seems pretty tame to me. I watched some of their YouTube videos and it seems like pretty run of the mill Christian evangelism; however, if you have a minute and you want to hear someone level charges of Necromancy against them (which is the best charge to level against anyone btw) you can check this link out.
Don La Rose AKA Ken Williams
BRASHER: Quick quiz: How many former mayors of Centerton lived under a fake name for 27 years and claimed to be abducted and brainwashed by Satan worshippers? If you guessed one, you are correct. To be perfectly fair, he came to Arkansas to get away from a cult which is a new one.
ROWE: This whole story is wacky, but he must have really wanted to get away from his family. Ken Williams was a big hit on KURM radio when he came to Arkansas, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the station’s best show “Dial-A-Trade.”
ROWE: If you have owned a car for over 15 years in Arkansas, chances are a Tony Alamo newsletter has been placed under your windshield wiper. These newsletters, full of crazy anti-IRS, anti-Catholic diatribes, always seemed to materialize out of thin air. Alamo moved to Arkansas, where his wife was from, in the '70s, and started his empire, mostly on the free labor of his believers.
BRASHER: Like all great cult leaders Tony Alamo has a long and impressive list of completely unverified accomplishments and celebrity connections. One of his claims to fame is to allegedly have written a song called “Little Yankee Girl” under the name Marcus Abad. It’s not too bad a song really, but as history has proven: There’s a slippery slope, and if you slide on it, it can dump you out on the other side, the other side of the fine line between mediocre artist and fanatical megalomaniac cult leader.
ROWE: We could talk about how crazy this dude is, about how he refused to give up his dead wife’s body because it was interred in a glass casket, or about how he ran a restaurant on the western border of Arkansas using cult labor, which may have had the weakest worker union in Arkansas, which is really saying something. This People magazine article from 1983 is a good primer on that, and it’s written in the style of People, so it’s a great read with a completely out-of-place tone. I should also mention the child abuse, the sexual abuse, the child sexual abuse and the forced labor and the tax evasion that Alamo has been convicted of, so you don’t think this is all just kooky. That said, I want to focus on this one aspect, explained wonderfully in this 1989 LA Times article written by Hector Tobar: “Fugitive Cult Leader Alamo Sells Chic Jackets on the Run.”
The sequined jackets—painted with airbrushed images of the New York skyline, Hollywood and Rodeo Drive—are among the hottest items in the Los Angeles fashion market. Fashion industry insiders say annual sales of sequined jackets by "Tony Alamo of Nashville" total anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.
"He makes jackets for all the stars," said Shirley Blenner, a saleswoman at Twist, a boutique on Melrose Avenue where three Alamo jackets were on sale last week for prices ranging from $360 to $680. Blenner pointed to a display of photographs behind the cash register of Mr. T., Mike Tyson, Hulk Hogan and Dolly Parton, all wearing what appear to be Alamo-designed jackets.
"The clothing is so groovy, everyone wants it no matter what they think I am," Alamo said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. "No matter what, the superstars are going to want my jackets."
Alamo said he designs the jackets himself, using a fax machine to send in sketches from his hide-outs. "Everything I do is a work of art," Alamo said. "I do the designs wherever I'm at."
BRASHER: Holy moly, these denim jackets look like someone on an all metal stud and glitter diet just puked all over them. You will never get through a TSA checkpoint with any of this stuff on, but such is the price of extravagance. Tony Alamo, the extravagant, elegant, man as he was, once even had a heart shaped pool on his compound. You can still see it on Google Maps.
ROWE: The FBI was hot on his trail and his designs are hot, hot, hot! And here’s some copy from a clueless retailer in 2013, selling some Alamo pieces online:
“Tony Alamo is known for his extravagant jeweled embellishments & his pieces are known world wide. His collection of jean jackets have been worn by the iconic stars such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Elvis Presley. Today, known stars like Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus have been enamored by vintage collectibles and have been spotted wearing his pieces. These jackets are hard-to-find items and we’re lucky to be able to sell his pieces here at [STORE NAME]!”
BRASHER: I mean, I get all my best gear at [STORE NAME], wait that's what the kids are calling Savers now, right? I'm not gonna lie if I saw any of those jackets in a thrift store I would snap it up quick, put it right back on eBay.