Phyllis Schlafly's death is September deepened a rift among her children over the organization she founded in 1972.
Phyllis Schlafly's death is September deepened a rift among her children over the organization she founded in 1972. | Flickr

Pro-Family Group Riven By Family Dispute

A conservative pro-family organization is mired in an acrimonious legal battle pitting its famous founder’s children against each other.

Charges of an insider “plot” and secret plans to move the assets and even the name of the Eagle Forum have erupted since the September death of its iconic founder, Phyllis Schlafly.

On one side are Schlafly's sons, John and Andy, and the man she chose as her successor, Ed Martin. Martin heads what he and the Schlafly brothers consider the legitimate organization: Phyllis Schlafly's American Eagles.

On the other are the so-called "gang of six," a group that includes Schlafly's daughter, Anne Schlafly Cori, and five other board members whom the elder Schlafly asked to resign in April of last year. Their group's name is unchanged from the one Phyllis Schlafly, a family values crusader who came to prominence for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, selected in 1972: the Eagle Forum.

The latest salvo was a Jan. 26 press release from leaders of the Eagle Forum saying they had a “newly discovered email” that showed how former Eagle Forum president Ed Martin, and Schlafly's sons, John and Andy, were “conspiring to destroy Eagle Forum as early as April 2016.”

Eunie Smith, Phyllis Schlafly's longtime top deputy and close confidante who was elected president of the organization on Jan. 28, said the “shocking email” indicated the three men planned “to dismantle” the Eagle Forum, and “create a new organization which they could exclusively control when Phyllis was gone.”

“It is heartbreaking that during the final months of Phyllis’ life," Smith said, “the people who claimed to support and speak for her were scheming for their own personal gain.”

It’s a charge Ed Martin, president of Phyllis Schlafly’s American Eagles, flatly denies.

In an interview with AMI, Martin said, “the only aggressors in this matter are the six board members [Phyllis Schlafly] asked to leave back in April.”

“There was no plot to take over the organization,” Marin said. “And the January press release is nothing more than them spinning events to make themselves look good.”

Anne Schlafly Cori, daughter of Phyllis and an Eagle Forum board member, told AMI the press release was issued to help members understand “what’s going on and that there was a plot to destroy the organization.”

That press release reveals that the friction - pitting a group including Schafly's sons against a "gang of six" board members that included her daughter - started well before Phyllis Schafly's death. It cites an April 11 email from Andy Schlafly to both his brother, John and Ed Martin, suggesting a “three-pronged approach” to dealing with their opponents.

“1. Ignore the Gang of Six and their invalid Board meeting, and their letter demands that follow from it.

“2. Litigate.

“3. Start a new [501] c4 [tax exempt roganization] using mother’s name. I suggest ‘Phyllis Schlafly Forum.’”

The press release also references a June 17 legal memorandum the board members said “revealed a covert plan to attack Eagle Forum by using intellectual property law ‘as a sword’ to interrupt its business and ‘threaten its survival.’”

Martin dismissed these allegations.

“The memo was a lawyer laying out possible strategies moving forward. It was his work, not anyone else’s. It was not acted on or accepted by anyone.”

“It was pure speculation by the lawyers,” Martin said. “Nothing more.

Martin provided AMI with a copy of an April 10 letter Phyllis Schlafly sent to six board members, including Smith and her daughter. In it, she asked that “they immediately resign,” saying that a board meeting planned for the following day was “an attack on me and my work.”

They refused to resign.

Andy Schlafly provided AMI with notes of an April 12 conference call organized by the dissident board. He said the notes clearly show that his sister and the other board members planned to “demonize Ed Martin.”

According to the notes, one participant suggested they make Martin “so toxic that no one will touch him with a ten-foot pole.”

In October, a Madison County, Illinois judge issued an order suspending Martin from the presidency of the organization, and giving its board control of the group.

Anne Schlafly Cori told AMI the final outcome of that lawsuit is still pending.

Cori said Martin’s "Phyllis Schlafly's American Eagles," sued the Eagle Forum in federal court for trademark infringement.

Cori said despite the judge’s order, the Eagle Forum still does not have control over all its assets.

“We have had to apply to each vendor (such as banks and website) to gain control of our property,” Cori said. “Other property, such as credit cards, checkbooks, corporate record books, furniture, office equipment and computers, has also been denied to us.”

Cori said she cannot explain Martin's motivations. “However, I suspect that after the Court's first ruling in April 2016 that gave the Eagle Forum board of directors financial oversight, Martin and others were faced with the reality that their efforts to hijack Eagle Forum would ultimately fail, so they decided to create a new organization under their complete control that they would use to replace Eagle Forum,” Cori said.

Martin said Cori and her fellow board members were conducting a “classic hostile takeover” of the organization Phyllis Schlafly built.

Martin said they were angry that Schlafly supported Donald Trump’s ultimately successful bid for the GOP presidential nomination, adding that Cori and others were all “very strong for [Texas senator] Ted Cruz.”

“Look at the other issues Eagle Forum has been involved in over the years,” Martin said. “Eagle Forum has always been a leading opponent of a constitutional convention. Ted Cruz and others are strong backers of the convention of the states, which is the same thing.”

Andy Schlafly agreed.

“All six of the Gang were strident anti-Trumpers,” Schlafly said, “and most of them stayed that way throughout the year.”

“But they eventually realized that issue wasn't helping them with Eagle Forum membership, so they switched to trying unfairly to demonize Ed Martin,” Schlafly said.

“But membership overwhelmingly supports Ed Martin, so that hasn't helped the Gang of 6 either,” he said.

Cori said her organization intends to move forward with its agenda items, and believes “we are in a very strong position legally going forward.”