The Man Who Replaced Phyllis Schlafly 

At Eagle Forum, a bitter battle between Phyllis Schlafly's oldest friends — and Ed Martin, her chosen successor

click to enlarge In Phyllis Schlafly's twilight years, a bitter fight over her chosen successor divided her empire.

GAGE SKIDMORE

In Phyllis Schlafly's twilight years, a bitter fight over her chosen successor divided her empire.

On March 11, 2016, a frail political icon slowly made her way on stage at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis to do the unthinkable: Endorse Donald Trump for president.

Phyllis Schlafly, 91, had been a conservative star even before Fox News turned that into a job description. An outspoken opponent of the feminist movement, Schlafly was instrumental in quashing its 1970s-era bid to enshrine gender equality in the constitution via the Equal Rights Amendment.

Those bona fides notwithstanding, Schlafly remained a populist outsider at heart, a merry mischief maker who loved to criticize the East Coast party bosses and backroom dealmakers who presumed to speak for heartland Republicans. For her, Trump's attacks on that crowd were pure catnip. She also shared his views on immigration.

However, on that spring afternoon, the GOP nomination was still up for grabs. Most of Schlafly's closest allies on the right flank of the party preferred Ted Cruz. His policies and piety seemed a surer bet. Trump, meanwhile, was a thrice-married New Yorker who'd recently defended Planned Parenthood. Even if Schlafly liked Trump's style, many of her colleagues pleaded for her to hold off on an outright endorsement.

Which might be why few of Schlafly's trusted confidants knew what she was planning until, suddenly, there she was on stage at Trump's one and only St. Louis rally with a twinkle in her eye, sanctioning the outsider who many Republicans feared was blowing up their party.

At four minutes, Schlafly's remarks weren't lengthy, but to a pumped-up crowd restless for fireworks, her digressions down memory lane seemed to ramble.

As Schlafly made her way past an anecdote about telling off Senator Everett Dirksen, who died in 1969, to a criticism of President Obama, the beaming big guy who had escorted her to the dais and now hovered behind her intervened. "Introduce him now," he suggested.

"Alright," Schlafly said, a little thrown off. "They're ready for him now, and I — "

Cheers swelled, muffling her words.

"This year, we have the candidate who really give us — really will give us — a choice, not an echo," Schlafly said, referencing the title of her first, most important book, the one she self-published in 1964. "So please give a big St. Louis welcome to Donald J. Trump."

At that point, the candidate himself entered stage right, and the audience went nuts.

Phyllis Schlafly died not quite six months later, which makes the St. Louis rally one of her last public appearances. Today some Eagle Forum associates scrutinize the YouTube footage of her remarks as if it's the Zapruder film, a window into Schlafly's state of mind in her twilight period — and into her relationship with the man on her right.

His name is Ed Martin, and he is the man Schlafly brought on to run Eagle Forum in the final two years of her life. Some longtime friends and staffers say he did far more than that — and that his effect on Eagle Forum has been catastrophic.

"If you've watched that video and you know Phyllis Schlafly, that was not Phyllis Schlafly on that stage," says Glyn Wright, who served as the executive director of Eagle Forum's Washington, D.C., branch. "That was not the woman I went to work with six years ago. He pushed her out on that stage."

Others disagree with that assessment — they say Schlafly was genuinely enthusiastic in her support of Trump. But they all agree that Schlafly, while still sharp, wasn't quite herself by March. She was tired. She was sick. And within a month, everything she'd worked her whole life to build — the grassroots advocacy organization with a presence from coast to coast — would erupt in infighting and litigation.

For that, many longtime friends blame Ed Martin.

"Ed was in her office every single day — taking her to lunches, driving her car to get her oil changed, taking her to fundraisers," Wright says. "If you're 90 years old and this decent-looking younger man is talking a big game, telling you all this media stuff he could do to ensure your legacy and bring in the next generation, which was so important to her ... he used Phyllis. And he continues to use her name. It's sick."

Like many non-profits with a charismatic founder, Eagle Forum was bound to encounter difficulties with Schlafly's passing. And certainly some Republicans would say its glory days were already in the past: Its greatest victory, the blockage of the Equal Rights Amendment, was decades ago.

But for the women who joined Schlafly in the fight, and continue to labor in the trenches for "the cause," it was still astonishing — and painful — to see how quickly everything fell apart.

Says Donna Hearne, a conservative activist who has known Schlafly since the 1960s, "When you've worked with somebody most of your life, somebody who was so amazing a person, and so brilliant, and such an incredible pathway for so many of us, to see her being used and maneuvered by Ed Martin, it really was heartbreaking."

click to enlarge Ed Martin earned a rare Tea Party endorsement in his run for Congress. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Ed Martin earned a rare Tea Party endorsement in his run for Congress.

When Phyllis Schlafly began to focus on choosing a successor to run Eagle Forum, many people thought it would be Michele Bachmann. The former Republican congresswoman had a history of fighting abortion and other causes important to Schlafly — and, Eagle Forum associates say, she seemed interested in the job.

When Schlafly somehow settled on Ed Martin instead in early 2015, many of her volunteers outside of St. Louis were perplexed.

"Nobody knew him," says Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum organization. The skepticism was immediate, Ruzicka says: "Who's Ed Martin? Where did he come from? How is this happening?"

But if Martin, now 46, was an obscure choice to Schlafly's "Eagles" outside of Missouri, within it, he was very much a known quantity — with a reputation that left some Republicans questioning Schlafly's judgment. Martin had been the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, a candidate for state attorney general and congressman, the chief of staff to Governor Matt Blunt, and always in the middle of controversy.

Perhaps the most well-documented instance happened while he was working for Blunt, in 2007. The scandal that would become known as "Memogate" involved Martin working to circumvent public records law — and firing the aide who dared to challenge his actions. The aide would go on to win a $500,000 settlement in a wrongful termination case.

In a 2010 RFT profile chronicling Martin's run for Congress, a Democratic strategist likened working with him to handling a "lit firecracker": "It's gonna explode; you just don't know when." The race ended in defeat, and Martin's own communications director was angry enough about the experience to blast Martin on her personal Facebook page. "ALL politicians are: egotistical, shady, and talk out of both sides of their mouth! Many are male chauvinists!"

Yes, she confirmed to the Post-Dispatch, she was talking about her former boss.

After another failed campaign on Martin's part, this one for state attorney general, Schlafly hired Martin to do some fundraising for Eagle Forum, and he became a familiar sight around its Clayton office. At the time, he was also serving as chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, an unpaid position that he'd won by mounting a Tea Party challenge to the incumbent chairman.

Once he was running the show, he seemed to piss off half the party in short order. Former Senator John Danforth issued a stern rebuke after Martin used his party pulpit to blast senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham for their "back-room dinner party attitude." Martin also angered top Republicans by meddling in a Mississippi Senate race. (As for Martin, he notes that controversy is not unusual in politics: "In this field, if you do your job well, you're going to be in the mix.")

Unlike Schlafly, though, who could be biting in her denunciations of the powers that be but was doted on by the rank-and-file, Martin was not well-liked by his underlings. During his two years at the Missouri GOP, the staff suffered total turnover. People still giggle about the email he sent after a departing staffer left with an office chair.

"Taking any property that is not one's own is not appropriate and may well be illegal," he wrote in an email blasted out to the entire staff. "I am getting in touch with the relevant authorities about this." The matter was closed without follow-up when someone gently explained that the person who took the chair was its rightful owner.

Party bigwigs might have overlooked an unhappy staff, but they couldn't ignore the way fundraising ground to a near-halt. Big donors just didn't ante up on Martin's watch. When he took over, the Missouri GOP had a balance of $316,000 in its combined accounts. By the time he left less than two years later, cash on hand had dwindled below $10,000, with $110,000 in debts. That balance sheet would hamstring the party's efforts for months. (Jonathon Prouty, the executive director brought in by Martin's replacement, says the party didn't finish paying off the debts until August 2016, nineteen months after Martin's departure.)

A challenge to Martin's reelection was inevitable, and when a former party chairman announced he was mounting one, Martin may have seen the writing on the wall. In February 2015, he announced he was leaving the chairmanship for a job as president of Eagle Forum.

The Forum job paid handsomely — $150,000 a year — but it would have been difficult even for an administrator with a deft hand. Not only was Martin the first male president in an organization run almost entirely by women, but he was the first president not named Phyllis Schlafly.

Formed in 1972 as a 501c4 non-profit, Eagle Forum was joined nine years later by a sister organization, a 501c3 charity called the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund. The two were closely linked: Each had a board of directors to look after its interests, but as president of both, Schlafly set both agendas, which the volunteer board members were happy to follow. Lines between the two organizations were porous, and no one thought too hard about the distinctions between them; to many, Schlafly was the Eagle Forum, and that was that. (State chapters had separate charters, but they too looked to Schlafly for vision.)

The women who served as paid staff often rose quickly through the ranks. Schlafly, famously frugal, preferred to give smart young people a chance rather than invest in big names or padded resumes. Glyn Wright, for example, started as an intern in St. Louis; within a few years, she was running the D.C. office and lobbying Congress.

That trust paid off in absolute loyalty. Staffers and board members alike describe Schlafly in familial terms — depending on their age, they call her their sister, their mother, their grandmother. She didn't suffer fools, but she didn't need to: Staffers and volunteers alike were determined to live up to her expectations.

And she listened, says Colleen Holmes Holcomb, a former executive director of Eagle Forum's D.C. office. "Her Eagles were always her trusted advisors and closest friends. She absolutely loved these ladies, and a few men," she says. "It was one of the things I noticed when I came to work for her. She really trusted their judgment. ... Whenever we'd talk to Phyllis about anything, her first question was, 'What does the Eagle in the field think?' It made the organization very effective."

Holcomb says that many Eagles had concerns about Martin even before Schlafly asked the board to vote to hire him, replacing her as president of the two organizations while she ascended to chairman. But at the time, their loyalty to Schlafly was absolute.

"They voted for him based on Phyllis' trust of him," she says. "Even though I knew some people weren't fans, Phyllis is the leader. You have to carry out what she wants."

click to enlarge Schlafly shocked some friends by endorsing Trump. Ed Martin is to her right. - GINO SANTA MARIA
  • GINO SANTA MARIA
  • Schlafly shocked some friends by endorsing Trump. Ed Martin is to her right.

Perhaps the only thing surprising about Ed Martin's tenure at Eagle Forum is just how quickly everything devolved. The two Eagle Forum entities had operated without much (if any) conflict for more than four decades. Yet within fourteen months of Martin's hire, public bickering had overwhelmed the organizations.

And even if a skeptical board of directors acceded to Schlafly's choice of successor, they didn't stand by for long. Barely a year after hiring Martin, the 501c4 board fired him. The problem for them has been that Martin refuses to go.

Martin says he realized he was stepping into a tricky situation. He says he spent the first months of his presidency visiting Eagles around the country, including some who would eventually turn on him. "There's no one who's ever going to replace Phyllis," he recalls telling them. "It's not that I'm trying to do that. But we have to keep going with what she wants, and I'm trying to do that."

To this day, he believes he's done that, pointing to the New York Times bestseller he co-authored with Schlafly (and Brett M. Decker), The Conservative Case for Trump, as well as numerous radio gigs and other appearances to advance her agenda. "I think I sleep pretty well at night, knowing we succeeded for Phyllis," he says.

But if the board was devoted to Schlafly, and Martin was carrying out what Schlafly wanted, where would conflict come from? To Martin, it basically comes down to one thing: Schlafly's preference for Trump.

The board members, however, say they'd disagreed about politics before. It was never a problem until suddenly Martin was running interference between them and Schlafly. And they believe the problem was less Trump and more their distrust of Martin.

Initially, says Cathie Adams, a longtime 501c4 board member and president of the Texas Eagle Forum, when the board started talking about an independent audit, it wasn't even about Martin. For years, everyone had total faith in Schlafly's guiding hand. Now it was a new era.

"We'd never even seen the financials, and that's something board members should have asked for all along," Adams acknowledges. "That's just how you run a business. Whatever Phyllis said or asked or did, that's what we did. 'What does Phyllis want?' That was always our first criteria. But if Phyllis was going to be passing the baton, it felt like we've got to be accountable to the thousands of members of Eagle Forum."

They met stiff resistance, not only from Martin, but from two of Schlafly's sons on the 501c3 board. John Schlafly had long been his mother's caretaker; Andy Schlafly was a conservative activist who founded Conservapedia — his "trustworthy" alternative to Wikipedia. Both were on board for Martin's agenda, even as many of their mother's longest-serving allies balked.

Says Adams, "As a board, there has never been an outside audit, ever, in close to 40 years. We asked for an outside audit and then all hell breaks loose. What is that telling us?"

She adds, "We're not accusing anyone of anything, but why this huge pushback when we were simply asking for the first outside audit in the organization's history?"

But if the call for an audit was perfectly reasonable, in a March 2015 interview with the Dallas Morning News, Adams inadvertently gave Martin the ammunition he needed to make the conflict about "disloyalty" instead.

Following Schlafly's surprise endorsement of Trump, the newspaper reported that many state Eagle Forum chapters were standing with Ted Cruz. Its story quoted Adams:

"'We have no respect for that man,' she said of Trump. '[Schlafly's endorsement] is going to be widely dismissed. At 91, it is just totally unfair to impose upon someone who has such a beautiful legacy ... 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.'"

For many Eagles, Adams' quotes, while impolitic, were not inaccurate. Schlafly's health was poor, and they believed Martin was using that fact to cloak his decisions in her name. Adams says today she meant only that Schlafly had been unable to travel in recent years, and wasn't fully aware of the feelings of Eagles in places like Texas. She says she called Schlafly to apologize for the way the quotes sounded — and received swift absolution.

For Martin, though, Adams' quotes were treason.

The 501c4 board had scheduled a meeting on April 11 to discuss Martin's future. But on a "leader call" on April 8 with Eagle Forum staffers from across the country, Martin got the jump on them.

Referencing Adams' comments about Trump, he announced that Adams' "endorsement" had been "rescinded," according to a recording of the call. He suggested the 501c3 organization was taking action against others who had also been disloyal.

Then he addressed the rumors about Schlafly's health — in full attack mode.

"There has been a slur, an ageist slur, by people who say Phyllis isn't the same as what she once was mentally," he said. "Now of course Phyllis is 91, but the slur is absolutely despicable. And I want to say to all of you on this call, I believe you have a moral obligation to defend Phyllis, to promote Phyllis, when people do this. ... For people to assert that and to allow that to be out there — it's really despicable."

Then Martin dropped two bombshells.

First, he reported that he had convened a meeting of the 501c3 board, and it had sent letters to six people asking them to no longer identify themselves as being part of Eagle Forum in any way.

The six people just happened to be some of Schlafly's longest-serving lieutenants. All six were members of the 501c4 board. They even included her daughter, Anne Schlafly Cori.

Then, almost as an aside, Martin announced that Executive Director Glyn Wright was "no longer working in the D.C. office."

"We'll be helping her transition as she would like," he said. "We thank her for her service."

On the recording, you can hear murmuring and a few gasps, but Martin blustered on. "These are challenging times, but we're committed to what Phyllis wants and we're committed to doing things for her. Please pray for her and pray for me and pray for all of us." Then he offered to take a few questions.

A woman asked politely about what Eagle Forum was doing on the "transgender issue." After Martin answered, she pivoted to her second question.

"Where is Glyn Wright going?" she asked, sounding shaken. "I didn't know about that."

Martin barely paused. "I have no idea," he said. "I just know she's no longer working for us."

Another voice suddenly broke through the polite murmurs. "This is Glyn Wright," she stated. "I was called five minutes before this meeting and fired for no cause."

Indeed, Wright tells Riverfront Times she was on the conference line, waiting for the meeting to start, when Martin called her cell phone and announced she was fired. He gave no reason. (Later, after she burst into the call to reveal her departure was actually a termination, he sent her a two-line email, telling her she had been fired for "disloyalty." She has never gotten a penny of severance.)

With that, the call descended into chaos. Martin had basically announced that six longtime board members were suddenly persona non grata, and that Eagle Forum's D.C. executive director had been fired. The outcry was swift.

"You cannot disrespect people and expect you to be respected," one woman cried. "You're going to reap what you are sowing."

"Why are you hijacking Eagle Forum, Ed?" another woman shouted. "Why are you hijacking Eagle Forum?"

click to enlarge The women who fought Ed Martin, from left: Eunie Smith, Glyn Wright, Anne Schlafly Cori, Rosina Kovar, Shirley Curry, Carolyn McLarty and Cathie Adams, with Pat Andrews seated. - COURTESY OF EUNIE SMITH
  • COURTESY OF EUNIE SMITH
  • The women who fought Ed Martin, from left: Eunie Smith, Glyn Wright, Anne Schlafly Cori, Rosina Kovar, Shirley Curry, Carolyn McLarty and Cathie Adams, with Pat Andrews seated.

On April 9, one day after the leader call and two days before the 501c4 board's planned call to discuss Martin's future, Martin launched a public attack on the board members — and he did it using the organization's mailing list.

The email, sent to 41,000 Eagle Forum donors and supporters, reported that the board was meeting in two days. But rather than explain that Ed Martin's job was in jeopardy, it alleged that Schlafly herself was about to be ousted.

The reason it gave was not her support of Trump, but rather the "Con Con people." The movement to hold a new constitutional convention, funded by the Koch brothers, had long been an anathema to Schlafly. Martin suggested that its backers were trying to launch a coup within her own organization.

"On Thursday," began the email, "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."

Martin then included the email addresses and cell phone numbers of "the six directors in this gang of six. ... We need your help to stop this hostile takeover."

The board members were bombarded with angry messages.

"Each of us got 400 or 500 emails," recalls Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum's vice president and a board member since the 1970s. "You use Eagle Forum's credibility to tell that kind of lie — it's a real disservice to the people who'd put their trust in the organization. ... But if you tell a big enough lie, some people will believe it."

Smith was most horrified, however, by the way Schlafly was being used. On April 9, Smith and other board members got letters, purportedly written by Schlafly, asking them to resign. But when Smith telephoned her old friend the next morning, Schlafly assured her she hadn't even seen the correspondence. She said she'd follow up after church.

Instead, later that day, the board members got a cease-and-desist from a Clayton law firm. It ordered them not to move forward with their meeting.

Determined not to be bullied, the women convened by telephone on April 11. They voted to fire Ed Martin, effective immediately — a six to zero vote. (Phyllis and John Schlafly, who were present but not voting members, objected on both counts.)

When Smith followed up with Phyllis Schlafly, saying she'd like to meet to discuss a succession plan, she instead got a formal-sounding letter. It didn't sound like her old friend.

The letter offered to remove Martin as president after a few key events that summer and early fall, but it conditioned the action on the removal of several board members — something that wasn't within Smith's power. She reminded Schlafly of that in a phone call, but didn't seem to make any headway. It was their last real conversation.

And Martin, far from being fired, continued to act as if he were in charge. "I am still president," he told Mark Reardon on KMOX.

On April 22, the six 501c4 board members filed a lawsuit in Madison County, Illinois. It asked the court to declare their April 11 meeting lawful — meaning Martin was, in fact, fired from the 501c4 presidency.

The court issued a temporary restraining order just one week later. Per the board's request, it mandated that John Schlafly and Martin allow the board to access Eagle Forum's Alton headquarters. But until the judge had time to weigh the merits, the status quo was to be preserved.

That left Martin mostly in control. All payments had to be signed off by both factions, but officially, he was still Eagle Forum's president. The judge also ordered the board to continue paying his salary.

For the board members, the spring and summer of 2016 were incredibly difficult. Despite the judge's order, they still weren't granted access to the Alton headquarters (they tried again in court, without much satisfaction). And even though the judge had told Martin and his allies to turn over the organization's email list, they provided excuses, saying they didn't have the technical know-how to access it.

In May, Martin even started up a new 501c4 organization, Phyllis Schlafly's American Eagles. Its directors were Eagle Forum board members loyal to him, including two of Schlafly's sons, and its address was Eagle Forum property. Again the board members found themselves in court, arguing that Eagle Forum assets were being diverted to the new organization. (The suit is still pending.)

Beyond all the conflict, Martin was a source of frustration for many Eagles. Some volunteers and state leaders say they found him unresponsive and inattentive to the details they thought were important; others felt he ignored their public policy concerns, preferring to set the agenda himself rather than let ideas bubble up from state leaders, as Schlafly had done.

And although Schlafly was nominally still their leader, and Martin professed to acting in her name, many longtime Schlafly associates say they believe Martin was blocking access to her, a charge he denies.

Anne Schlafly Cori had long considered the Eagles her mother's best friends. When one of them called her in late 2015 to say that the organization was falling apart, and that they had to take action, she agreed to get involved out of loyalty to them, she says. As a result, she found herself attacked through the organization's mailing and phone lists, and cut off from her own mother.

"It was heartbreaking that my mother was isolated this year from each of us and so many other people that cared so much about her and her life's work," she said in a statement to the RFT.

Gayle Ruzicka, the Utah leader, was one of the few old friends who managed to get through to Schlafly directly in those final months.

"As I would talk to her, she'd say, 'Why is this happening?' I would explain to her the problems with Ed," Ruzicka says. "She'd say, 'This is not supposed to be this way — he has no say over my presidents, my state leaders.'" Yet Schlafly didn't want to join with the dissidents trying to remove him. "She'd tell me, 'I just need to hang on to Ed until after the convention,'" Ruzicka recalls.

(Martin insists he did not limit access to Schlafly, and that he only did what she wanted. "Phyllis was a very strong personality," he says. "It's convenient to put these things on me, but it's very hateful, and hurtful.")

A big priority for some Eagles was a training dinner for RNC delegates in Cleveland. Schlafly had long been obsessed with a few key issues in the party's platform; she believed that training like-minded new delegates in parliamentary procedure was the best way to keep moderate Republicans at bay.

Yet as Cleveland drew near, it became clear nothing had been planned, despite Martin's promises.

"He continually told me all the things he was doing to prepare for the convention, that training dinner, and it never happened," Ruzicka says. "There was dinner, but no training. None. I'm still astounded and baffled by that. I fully expected that Ed was following through on everything he said he was going to do and what Phyllis wanted us to do." (Martin insists the training was held, but that some people just weren't invited.)

In some ways, Ruzicka says, the fact that Schlafly seemed increasingly out of it during the convention was a relief.

"I believe that the Lord was there for Phyllis," she says. "I could see God's hand in everything. Because Phyllis did not know how bad things were."

click to enlarge Phyllis Schlafly died in September 2016. - GAGE SKIDMORE
  • GAGE SKIDMORE
  • Phyllis Schlafly died in September 2016.

Phyllis Schlafly died six weeks after the convention. Even Martin acknowledges that the public fighting had taken its toll.

"It's a terrible tragedy. I think it hastened the end of her life, and certainly made the end of her life with a certain sadness," he says. "There's no doubt about that."

Still, Donald Trump — now the Republican nominee — spoke at Schlafly's funeral at the Cathedral Basilica, eulogizing her as the "ultimate happy warrior."

"She was always smiling, but boy could she be tough," Trump said. "Her legacy will live on every time some underdog, outmatched and outgunned, defies the odds and delivers a win for the people." He concluded, "Phyllis, we love you, we miss you and we will never, ever let you down."

Less than a week after Schlafly's death, however, Eagle Forum was again consumed by vitriol.

Even before Schlafly's death, many of her longtime associates had booked flights to attend the annual Eagle Council in St. Louis. But in the week before the gathering, it became clear that Martin had no intention of welcoming the "disloyal." When Colleen Holcomb registered, she received an email from Martin in response.

"Over the past months, your behavior towards Phyllis, her family, her organizations and staff have been noticed by her and others," Martin wrote. "Phyllis objected to it. In addition, your behavior has caused discomfort for staff and others. Therefore, I inform you that you are not welcome at Eagle Council. If you attend in any way, you will be asked to leave. If you do not leave promptly, appropriate authorities will be called. This also applies to your husband and any other family members. All the best. Ed." Others report receiving similar missives; a court order had to be negotiated giving them the right to attend.

At the gathering, icy formality turned to shouting. There seemed to be a lot of new faces, Holcomb says. She found herself insulted by one attendee as "a two-bit divorce lawyer." Another Eagle told her, "Phyllis told us on her deathbed we were supposed to shame you, so shame on you," she says. It was as if the angry atmosphere at Donald Trump's rallies had infested what was traditionally a meeting of allies.

Some of Martin's critics had decided to wear stickers reading simply "For Phyllis" — a simple message they hoped would unify the warring factions. Instead, Martin called them out.

"They're wearing something that implies that other people aren't for Phyllis. It's a great disgrace for them that they'd sign on to a court order and then disrupt the proceedings," he intoned, as the crowd booed the women.

"We're not going to allow people to disrupt things here. ... If you have a problem, we'll call security, and we'll be able to address that. Phyllis wanted that," he said.

For many volunteers, the centerpiece of the council had long been the reports from state leaders. Schlafly loved hearing what her Eagles were up to, and several attendees recall it as a good exchange of ideas from the field.

But Martin scheduled the state reports for one of the final hours of the final day, and seemed in no mood to linger. When someone tried to give Eunie Smith's report from the Eagle Forum of Alabama in her absence, Martin snapped that there wasn't time and called for security. People started singing "America the Beautiful" to drown out the young woman.

It was an appalling moment for many longtime Schlafly allies, and spoke to a general feeling that something had changed, for the worse. "My mother taught me how to handle obnoxious and rude behavior with grace and class," notes Anne Schlafly Cori. "Sadly, I never expected that such un-Phyllis like behavior would come from individuals associated with Eagle Forum."

In a video of the fracas later filed in court as evidence, you can hear a man say, "I never thought I'd live to see this" just before another man confronted the person filming.

"You aim that thing in my face one more time, buddy, and I'll rip off your head," he bellowed.

click to enlarge Ed Martin continues to hold himself out as Schlafly's hand-chosen successor. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Ed Martin continues to hold himself out as Schlafly's hand-chosen successor.

Martin maintained control of
both Eagle Forum entities for four months after the vote to fire him, but within weeks of Schlafly's death, his allies finally went too far. And when a staffer blew the whistle, they found themselves in real trouble with the court.

Through her job at Eagle Forum, Elizabeth Miller had long had a ringside seat for the strife. She'd actually helped Martin send the email blasts targeting the board, at his directive.

But after September 26, according to an affidavit Miller would later file in court, she was under "constant pressure" to turn over passwords for the organization's mailing lists and email to Roger Schlafly. Doing so, he told her, would "prevent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit from obtaining any 'of our information.'"

"Roger told me that he and John Schlafly were willing to go to jail before providing any information in the lawsuit," Miller said in the affidavit.

At John Schlafly's directive, Miller reported, she had transferred ownership of eagleforum.org from the Eagle Forum to an entity controlled by the Schlafly brothers, Eagle Trust Fund. The website's listed contact was changed to John Schlafly. And then, at his demand, she did so for 59 other domain names owned by Eagle Forum.

Miller's affidavit changed everything.

It wasn't just the brazen transfer of assets during a supposed period of "status quo." Miller's testimony also suggested that Martin's allies had been dishonest about being unable to access the mailing lists, at a time they were under court order to produce them. She suggested they were right there on her computer.

Armed with Miller's affidavit, the board members filed an emergency motion. This time, they had the judge's ear.

The matter, Judge John B. Barberis Jr. wrote on October 20, was now "an emergency" posing "an immediate threat to the status quo."

He concluded, "The Court finds that Martin and John Schlafly have proven themselves ... to be unwilling and/or incapable of using their positions to serve the best interest of Eagle Forum and to cooperate with Plaintiffs in connection with the management and operation of Eagle Forum."

Judge Barberis ordered all Eagle Forum property — bank accounts, websites, email lists and more — to be turned over within 48 hours. And he decreed that neither Martin nor John Schlafly nor "those acting in active concert or participation with them" would be permitted to access Eagle Forum property without the board's written authorization. Martin, he wrote, was "hereby suspended from his office and all his duties as president of Eagle Forum ..."

It was a huge victory for the board members. For the first time since April, they, not Martin, were in control. And while they had to continue to set aside money for Martin's salary, it wasn't going into his bank account. The judge ruled that it be held in abeyance until the matter could be sorted out further.

But for all the directness of the judge's order, it wasn't over. Not yet.

The keys to the website were supposed to be turned over in 48 hours. But fourteen hours after the judge's ruling, visitors to the Eagle Forum website were instead redirected to a website controlled by at least one Schlafly brother — which featured a curious blog post blasting the judge.

"I do not know too much about Judge Barberis, except that he is the lowest rated judge in Illinois," the post read. "He is busy doing fundraisers for his campaign in an election next month to be a judge on a higher court."

The post then tried to reframe the ruling as anti-Trump.

"The judge ordered that all pro-Trump articles posted on www.eagleforum.org since April 10, 2016 be removed," it continued. "...I have never heard of any political advocacy organization being ordered not to express opinions on a web site. Not in the USA, anyway. I thought that the First Amendment prohibited that sort of thing."

The court order never once mentions Trump's name. Yes, Judge Barberis ordered that recent updates to the website be removed — but only to restore the status quo under the original restraining order. Any deletion of Trump-related content was incidental.

That didn't stop a right-wing website from running with the story.

"Even after her death conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly is still being attacked by the left, #NeverTrumpers and activist judges," the Gateway Pundit reported. "Illinois Judge John B. Barberis has ordered Eagle Forum (Schlafly's website) to remove all pro-Trump articles posted after April 10, 2016. Phyllis Schlafly was an early Donald Trump supporter. This week an activist Illinois judge ordered Eagle Forum to remove all pro-Trump articles after April 10, 2016. Unreal."

***

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE
  • PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE

Judge Barberis' ruling was a huge setback for Martin and his backers, and it wasn't to be their last.

Just days before that ruling, Martin's loyalists had opened a third stage of attack — this one in federal court. In a lawsuit filed against the 501c4's board of directors, they argued that Schlafly's likeness did not belong to the Eagle Forum — that she had signed it over, as well as assets including the organization's mailing lists, to a trust. And that trust was controlled by Bruce and John Schlafly.

That case is still pending, but it got off to a rocky start for the Schlafly brothers. Last month, Judge John A. Ross declined to issue a restraining order or take other rapid action. The brothers, he said, had not presented evidence showing they were likely to prevail.

The women who found themselves locked in mortal combat with Martin are now regrouping. Their attorney, Erik Solverud of Spencer Fane, says they have still not gotten full access to the website or email list, despite the judge's order. A full month later, Martin was still appearing on Fox News as "president of Eagle Forum."

"This level of disregard is shocking but altogether not surprising," Solverud says. "Because Plaintiffs control the Eagle Forum Board, Mr. Martin's only strategy seems to be delaying and defying the orders of the Madison County Court. I have truly never seen anything like this." (Martin denies that and notes that he is trying to get Solverud's firm removed from the case.)

The board members are trying, at long last, to look to the future. Way back in April, they set up a presidential search committee, but were stymied by their lack of control of the organization's bank accounts. Now they again have the ability to spend, and they're eager to hire a new leader. "What we'd like to do is move on," says Eunie Smith.

And what of Ed Martin? For as hard as he's fought to keep control of Eagle Forum, today he insists it's just one piece of Schlafly's empire. Sure, it's the organization with the name recognition, but Schlafly was "a serial entrepreneur," he says, listing other entities she founded. He plans to continue her work with or without the Eagle Forum.

And it's not just her work, either.

On November 3, as the postscript to a message from Schlafly blasted out to an email list he still controls, Martin attached a coy note.

"Exciting news for after the election," Martin wrote. "Last week, Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub, US Army (ret.) asked me to step up to lead America's Future, Inc. which is our nation's oldest conservative organization. I accepted and will be working with him to highlight our important work. Click on this link to find out more!"

Clicking the link reveals an organization with a long history, albeit one largely unknown to today's conservatives. The St. Louis non-profit boasts numerous radio programs and pamphlets. Its secretary, until this summer, was none other than Phyllis Schlafly.

But perhaps more important than its output is its balance sheet. America's Future Inc. has assets totaling $2.6 million, according to its most recent tax return – and annual expenses of just $59,000.

And its president, Jack Singlaub?

He's 95.


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