Image: AP

On Monday evening, reporters received two vastly different press releases from members of Eagle Forum, the conservative interest group. One, sent by Anne Cori, the group’s newly appointed executive director, alleged that a telephone meeting between Eagle Forum board members held that afternoon “[ensured] that Eagle Forum will continue long into the future as a viable force.” The other, sent by Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum’s 91-year-old founder, called that same meeting “improper,” “unprecedented,” and “invalid.”

Yesterday’s meeting marks the culmination of weeks of tension within Eagle Forum, a group that has acted as a powerful force on the political right for four decades under Schlafly’s leadership. The disagreements apparently began when Schlafly endorsed Donald Trump for U.S. president in January, in defiance of many top Eagle Forum members who previously threw their hats in for Ted Cruz.

After Schlafly’s Trump endorsement, members of the two emergent Eagle Forum factions took shots at each other in the press, in emails to members, and on social media. Cathie Adams, an Eagle Forum board member and former chair of the Texas GOP, told the Dallas Morning News that Trump had taken advantage of Schlafly’s old age and misled her into supporting them; Ed Martin, who until yesterday served as Eagle Forum’s president, said Adams’ remarks were indicative of a “terrible betrayal” of Schlafly and the organization.

Which brings us to yesterday’s telephone meeting. In a frantic email sent to supporters Saturday, Martin warned that a “Gang of 6" anti-Schlafly board members including Adams and Cori were conspiring to push the Eagle Forum founder out of her organization, and that they would execute their coup at the meeting unless they were stopped. Schlafly herself told Gawker hours before the meeting that the Trump-Cruz split was one reason for the internecine tension. The agenda of the meeting had been hidden from her, she said, but she did not believe she was about to be ousted from Eagle Forum. Still, earlier in the day, she had called for the resignation of each of the Gang of 6 members and said that the meeting was a “hostile takeover.”

As the dust settles, it looks like Martin and Schlafly were both correct, to a degree. The Gang of 6 did vote to remove one of Eagle Forum’s most powerful members, but it was Martin who saw the axe, not Schlafly. According to a tartly worded press release, Martin was removed as president, effective immediately, to be replaced temporarily by Eunie Smith, octogenarian leader of the Alabama Eagle Forum and a member of the Gang of 6. Smith will serve as the national president until a permanent candidate is selected. Anne Cori, who is Phyllis Schlafly’s daughter, was named as the group’s executive director.

Schlafly herself does not appear to have been formally ousted, but it is clear that she sees the removal of Martin, one of her supporters in the organization, as a move against her. In her statement from yesterday evening, Schlafly called the meeting an attempt to “wrest control of the organization from me.”

Her statement reads in full:

At 2:00 pm today, 6 directors of Eagle Forum met in an improper, unprecedented telephone meeting. I objected to the meeting and at 2:11pm, I was muted from the call. The meeting was invalid under the Bylaws but the attendees purported to pass several motions to wrest control of the organization from me. They are attempting to seize access to our bank accounts, to terminate employees, and to install members of their own Gang of 6 to control the bank accounts and all of Eagle Forum.

The members of their group are: Eunie Smith of Alabama, Anne Cori of Missouri, Cathie Adams of Texas, Rosina Kovar of Colorado, Shirley Curry of Tennessee, and Carolyn McLarty of Oklahoma.

This kind of conduct will not stand and I will fight for Eagle Forum and I ask all men and women of good will to join me in this fight.

(Followers of right-wing political antics may remember Rosina Kovar as the grandmother who memorably testified that “the anus is an exit, it is not an entrance...nature put a tight sphincter at the entrance of the anus—it’s there for a reason” when speaking about the evils of sodomy to Colorado legislators in 2011.)

Schlafly, Cori, and the Eagle Forum press office could not be contacted to comment on this story, and other members of the Gang of 6 did not respond to requests for comment before the meeting Monday afternoon.

The future of Eagle Forum is uncertain, but according to Schlafly, it will likely involve considerably less guidance from its founder. Before the Ted Cruz-Donald Trump race destroys the entire Republican party later this year, it seems to be tearing apart one of the party’s renowned institutions as a warm-up.