This afternoon, according to the 91-year-old conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, the board of Eagle Forum—including a shadowy faction of anti-Schlafly board members, known around Eagle Forum as the “Gang of 6”—will hold a secretive telephone meeting. Although she will be on the call, Schlafly can’t say for sure what’s on the agenda for the meeting, but the board is not convening to oust her from the organization she founded 44 years ago. She hopes.
Over the last several days, right-wing blogs have reported on growing tension at Eagle Forum, owing in part to the nonagenarian founder’s recent endorsement of Donald Trump for president. “Well, I find that hard to believe,” Schlafly told Gawker by telephone, from her home in Missouri today, when asked about the rumors of a coup.
“Some people are trying to say it’s my Jim Dobson moment,” she continued, a reference to the Focus on the Family founder who dramatically exited that Evangelical group in 2009. “But I don’t have any evidence of that.”
Schlafly founded Eagle Forum in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1972. The amendment, which would have enshrined protections for women’s rights in our nation’s founding document, went against everything Schlafly stood for as a proudly anti-feminist conservative. Schlafly and her allies won—the ERA was not ratified—and the battle solidified her status as a superstar of Republican party’s emergent family-values wing. Eagle Forum became a powerful fighter against marriage equality, abortion, gun control, and tax increases.
Four decades later, Schlafly’s star seems to be fading, even within her own organization. The trouble apparently started in January, when she endorsed Trump, in opposition to a number of high-ranking Eagle Forum members who previously went on the record for Ted Cruz. Schlafly’s decision prompted Cathie Adams, a veteran Eagle Forum member and onetime chair of the Texas GOP, to claim that Trump had capitalized on Schlafly’s old age to earn her support. “At 91, it is just totally unfair to impose upon someone who has such a beautiful legacy,” Adams said to the Dallas Morning News. “I think this was very much a manipulation. When you’re 91 and you’re not out with the grass roots all the time, it is very much taking advantage of someone.”
Schlafly is reluctant to categorize Adams’ remark as a personal insult. “We have quite a number of our members who are for Cruz. There’s no question about that,” she told Gawker. “When they did that, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t criticize them. I didn’t say they couldn’t do it. I said we have free speech, you can do whatever you want.”
But some of Schlafly’s colleagues are considerably more riled up about the affront. Ed Martin, Eagle Forum’s president, wrote in an email to members Saturday that Adams had “disparaged and insulted Phyllis in a publicly quoted interview,” and had “phoned Phyllis to apologize but has not publicly retracted it.”
Martin’s email alleged that Adams is a member of the “Gang of 6.” His email read in part:
On Thursday, we received a tip from a longtime Eagle Forum member in South Carolina that the Con Con people are pursuing a scheme to push Phyllis Schlafly out of Eagle Forum.
Things are happening that are disturbing. In just two days, on this coming Monday afternoon, six directors of Eagle Forum are holding a rogue meeting in violation of the Bylaws unless they are stopped. The rogue group members have a hidden agenda, and most refused to return phone calls personally made to them by Phyllis to ask what their concerns are.
Schlafly herself shared a version of the email to her Facebook page. A header appended to that version alleges that the wayward board members are using the Cruz-Trump split as a ruse to cover their actual motivations for turning against Schlafly. “You can be sure the real objective is to control the Eagle Forum bank accounts and that the Gang of 6 will present a carefully crafted excuse for public consumption,” it reads. “Please pray, call the Gang of 6 to object, and stay tuned.”
According to Martin’s email, Gang of 6 members are guilty of everything from being in the pocket of the Republican National Convention to not returning Phyllis Schlafly’s phone calls. This morning, Schlafly posted a letter to Facebook in which she called for each of the Gang of 6 members to resign from Eagle Forum’s board of directors:
Anne Cori, named above, is a Cruz supporter who leads Eagle Forum’s Missouri chapter. She also happens to be Phyllis Schlafly’s daughter. Schlafly told Gawker that Cori “seems to be in the group that is calling this meeting,” and says she was surprised to learn that her daughter was a member of the Gang of 6. She declined to comment when asked whether political differences had impacted her personal relationship with Cori.
Schlafly objects to her colleagues calling a telephone meeting instead of assembling in person, a practice which she said Eagle Forum has never used before. She acknowledges that many Eagle Forum members were upset when she endorsed Trump, but believes that ulterior motives are at play. As for what those motives might be: “Ask them!” she said. “If you find out, let me know.”
Anne Cori did not respond to a request for comment on this story, nor did any other Gang of 6 member. Eagle Forum’s press office also did not respond to a request for comment.