Just more than a year after the death of anti-feminist, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ crusader Phyllis Schlafly, as her descendants are still locked in an ugly feud stemming from her support for Donald Trump, one faction of Schlafly’s followers gathered this weekend in Virginia to discuss the future of their agenda with Schlafly gone and Trump in the White House. The activists were joined by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who gave an off-the-record talk alongside his wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas. They also got to meet conservative luminaries including “pastor to the United Nations” and former congressman Michele Bachmann and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
Despite the group’s new logo (available on three different colored pins at the registration desk), speakers at Eagle Forum’s 2017 Eagle Council XLVI leadership training session reiterated the group’s longstanding positions on immigration and women’s rights and continued the crusade against protections for non-gender-binary individuals and education for children about gender identity. Handouts at resource tables advocated for anti-abortion constitutional amendments, warned about the dangers of the Affordable Care Act, and sounded the alarm about the “dangerous side effects” of medical marijuana.
Anne Schlafly Cori, daughter to Phyllis Schlafly and Eagle Forum board member, invoked audible groans from audience members while introducing Heritage Foundation’s Melanie Israel, who was to speak on “SOGI,” or “sexual orientation and gender identity,” laws meant to prevent discrimination of LGBTQ individuals. Schlafly called it “one of the critical issues of our time” and criticized advocates of SOGI laws. “Let’s face it, they are biology deniers,” Schlafly said, to laughter and applause from the audience.
In her speech, Israel claimed that SOGI laws grant “special privileges” to LGBTQ people “on basis of subjective self-determinations.” Israel said the laws are “threatening the rights of civil Americans who believe very, very basic truths about the human condition” and that the laws establish that “acting on these beliefs about very basic truths is bigotry.”
William Smith, a former Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, got a similarly enthusiastic response from the audience when he told one of his “favorite stories” about a judicial nominee’s repulsion at an LGBTQ event at Disney World. Smith recounted the confirmation hearing of now-Eleventh Circuit Judge Bill Pryor, during which Pryor was asked about a decision to cancel a family vacation to Disney World because the park was hosting “gay days” that invited LGBTQ people to visit the amusement park in custom red T-shirts. Smith said that Pryor cancelled his vacation “like all of us would do” because “you don’t want to see that stuff happening in the Magic Kingdom or anywhere else” and called the photos of gay people posted to Disney’s website “abominable.”
Elaine Donnelly, a prominent opponent of allowing LGBTQ people to serve in the military, gave a speech in which she likened transgenderism to anorexia and bulimia, and complained that instead of helping transgender people, civil rights activists are “perpetuating the problem these people have.”
Speakers also expressed disapproval for the Trump administration’s actions on immigration, which many at the conference viewed as too compromising. “Phyllis would be so angry right now,” Rosemary Jenks, vice president and director of government relations for anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, said of Trump’s reversal of promises to end the DACA immigration policy. “She would be shaking her finger at President Trump, and I’ll tell you what, I think he’d be terrified.”
Bachmann and the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney also piled onto the immigration policy disavowal, insisting that the United States is not doing enough to address the threat of radical Islamic extremism. Gaffney lamented that Trump had abandoned the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in his recent 9/11 memorial remarks because it is “impossible” for someone who is “in fact a faithful Muslim” to deviate from Sharia law. “We are toast” if the United States succumbs to the “seditious ideology” and “insistence of these Islamists,” Gaffney said.
While speaking with a woman standing in line to greet her after her speech at Saturday’s luncheon in which she bemoaned what she believed to be the failure to deliver on Trump’s campaign promise to enforce the “extreme vetting” of immigrants, Bachmann said that if it were up to her, the United States would freeze all immigration, including student visas, for 10 years “and if you’re Muslim it’s out of the question.”
Eagle Council also featured speeches that paid homage to Schlafly’s signature anti-feminist advocacy. Schlafly’s niece Suzanne Venker told conference attendees that to women, “nothing is more important than finding ‘Mr. Right,’ no matter how long women have lived.” She continued, “Human nature doesn’t change just because society does. No matter how career-oriented women may be, most will never feel accepted until they have a family of their own.”
The conference attracted about 150 activists from across the United States and featured dedicated time for attendees to lobby their members of Congress. Eagle Forum’s board also held a meeting, despite efforts from Phyllis Schlafly’s son to “freeze the activities of the political organization.”