For years, Friends of Abe was a safe haven for Hollywood conservatives working in an industry run by ultra liberals… where “Republican” is akin to a four-letter word.
But on Thursday evening the group — founded by actor Gary Sinise in 2005 — suddenly called it quits.
“Effective immediately, we are going to begin to wind down the 501 c3 organization, bring the Sustaining Membership dues to an end, and do away with the costly infrastructure and the abespal.com website,” FOA executive director, Jeremy Boreing, told members in an email obtained by TheWrap.
“Today, because we have been successful in creating a community that extends far beyond our events, people just don’t feel as much of a need to show up for every speaker or bar night, and fewer people pay the dues that help us maintain that large infrastructure.”
“I didn’t see it coming,” FOA member and former co-producer of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Dave Berg told TheWrap. “I was shocked to be honest.”
In his email, Boreing, tried to put a positive spin on the decision, saying that the success of the group has made being a Republican in a predominantly liberal town less taboo, and thus the need for such an organization has become less urgent.
“It’s time to change how we do it. As our group has grown in size and success, many of the structures that helped us grow have become less useful,” Boreing wrote. It was a sentiment echoed by co-founder Lionel Chetwynd, an Academy-Award nominee, who told TheWrap, “We’ve done our job. We have 2,500 people, everybody knows who we are. We’re no longer secret.”
The sudden dismantling of the group fueled speculation in Hollywood that it’s been plagued by infighting over the rise of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, causing a rift among those in the group who support him and those who support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
In an interview with the U.K.’s The Guardian earlier this month, Chetwynd was quoted saying the fighting has reached a “civil war in slow motion.”
But Chetwynd tells TheWrap that’s not true.
“I was absolutely misquoted,” Chetwynd said. “That was a reference to what I saw going on in the country, not in FOA,” adding, ” I absolutely repudiate the impression given in The Guardian article.”
Even so, Berg believes there is some truth to the claim. While he doesn’t think Trump was the sole cause of the organization’s sudden disintegration, he does believe it was a major contributing factor.
“I disagree with Lionel on this one,” Berg said. “I think Donald Trump has everything to do with it. I don’t think he caused the dissolution of FOA, but relationships have defiantly become more tense.”
Berg added that things have been rocky at FOA ever since its founder began to distance himself from the group.
“The organization has never been the same since Gary Sinise stepped back a couple of years ago,” he said. “His priority is veterans and he wanted to focus all his attention on that. Plus he got hired to do “CSI” and so I think between both those things he didn’t have much time.”
Boreing did not respond to TheWrap’s request for an interview. Representatives for Sinise declined to comment.
Berg said that while he agrees that the organization lost some of its urgency, he was sorry to see it go.
“Were it not for FOA we wouldn’t even be having discussing about conservatives in Hollywood. We wouldn’t even have a recognized Hollywood conservative movement.”
But while the group will no longer exist in an official capacity, it will continue to meet under more casual circumstances.
“We will still get together for drinks and speakers, but we may reassess how we approach those events logistically,” Boreing wrote. “In short, FOA will return to its roots. It will be a passion project, like it was in the beginning… We’ll still be a private organization that protects the names of our members at all costs.”
Named after Abraham Lincoln, the organization swore its members to secrecy at first. Its mantra, a line from the film “Fight Club” — was simple: The first rule of Friends of Abe is you do not talk about Friends of Abe.
But as the group increased in membership and influence, some have felt more comfortable talking to the press.
In the last few years, FOA has become a regular stop for presidential candidates looking to soak up some of Hollywood’s glitz and cash.
The group hosted Donald Trump last summer, as well as Cruz, late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Read the entire email sent to Friends of Abe members below:
After over ten years, over a hundred events, and over 2,300 great stories at new member lunches, we’re rethinking the way we do FOA. In the early days, there were so few of us. Many of our pals had never known a single other conservative working in the industry. Today, hundreds of friendships have flourished, movies have been made, marriages have taken place, children born, websites launched, books written and everyone of us has benefited from the fellowship. We have no doubt that the important work of FOA is only just getting started.
But it’s time to change how we do it.
As our group has grown in size and success, many of the structures that helped us grow have become less useful.
In the beginning, we were all so hungry for fellowship, we could put hundreds of people together for almost any event. Our answer was to stage as many events as possible to give our community room to take root and grow. To service that rapid growth, we built an expensive website, sought and attained non-profit status, instituted Sustaining Membership dues, hired staff, took offices, and engaged with expensive lawyers and accountants.
Today, because we have been successful in creating a community that extends far beyond our events, people just don’t feel as much of a need to show up for every speaker or bar night, and fewer people pay the dues that help us maintain that large infrastructure.We don’t see any of that as negative. On the contrary. It’s proof that FOA has done its job.
But it’s also proof that we need a new approach.
So, we are going to try just that. Effective immediately, we are going to begin to wind down the 501 c 3 organization, bring the Sustaining Membership dues to an end, and do away with the costly infrastructure and the abespal.com website.
Instead, FOA will become something closer to what it started as – a personal project aimed at occasionally bringing Hollywood conservatives together for education and fellowship.
What does that mean?
It means an end to the standing organization, but not an end to the mission or the fellowship. Our executive director, Jeremy Boreing, will continue to maintain the mailing list and stage events, but without the infrastructure, or staff, or budget requirements. Events will be less frequent, but perhaps more meaningful. We will still get together for drinks and speakers, but we may reassess how we approach those events logistically. In short, FOA will return to its roots. It will be a passion project, like it was in the beginning.We will still get together for Barney’s night, and we will still hear from occasional speakers.
We’ll still be a private organization that protects the names of our members at all costs.
For those of you who have paid the sustaining membership dues over the years, we want to say a special thank you. You’ve made all of this possible and kept us going and growing along the way.
For everyone, we have been and remain,
Your Friends of Abe.