- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

EXCLUSIVE:

A group of politically conservative and centrist Hollywood figures organized by actor Gary Sinise and others has been meeting quietly in restaurants and private homes, forming a loose-knit network of entertainers who share common beliefs like supporting U.S. troops and traditional American values.

Some of those involved are taking more public steps to counter the entertainment industry’s tilt toward liberalism and Democratic politics, such as campaigning for Republican Sen. John McCain or crafting projects to portray America in a more positive light.

The group, whose members call themselves “Friends of Abe” after Abraham Lincoln, was organized as an underground movement because of fears that prominent industry titans with outspoken liberal views would retaliate, said participants. They often were reluctant to name members of the group in interviews for fear it would hurt their careers.

“It’s a growing movement, and word is getting out that there’s many of us in this business …,” said 1950s singer Pat Boone, one of the few conservatives to talk about the movement publicly. “If certain studio execs - hirers and firers - learn that this is a movement and growing, and that some of these people that they hire are of this inclination, these people could be unemployed.”

Friends of Abe has functioned like a support group, organizing informal gatherings where actors, producers, screenwriters, key grips and other industry types can share common values or discuss concerns like anti-Americanism in Hollywood movies or the perception of industry bias against conservatives and Republicans.

The movement has grown over the past few years from gatherings of a few dozen to one last month that drew more than 600 to a billionaire’s California estate, Mr. Boone said.

People familiar with the movement credited Mr. Sinise, whose roles range from the blockbuster movie “Forrest Gump” to the TV show “CSI: New York” for helping organize the movement.

Sinise spokeswoman Staci Wolfe said the actor was traveling with a band to entertain U.S. troops overseas and was unavailable for an interview. She would say only: “He is not registered with any political party.”

Participants said Friends of Abe is not partisan, but rather functions as a support group where Republicans, Democrats and independents alike can discuss issues they care about. And the low-key gatherings at restaurants and homes have given conservatives a safe place to meet and express their views, they added.

“A Friend of Abe is someone who has reverence for those who serve in our military and believes that American liberal democracy is a unique success, different from others, and it’s worthy of the respect of our popular culture … of Hollywood in particular,” said screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd, who helped organize Friends of Abe luncheons when they began four years ago.

Mr. Chetwynd said Friends of Abe generally find themselves at odds with the rhetoric of their hard-left colleagues in Hollywood.

Craig Haffner, a producer who also attended the gatherings, said Friends of Abe is “not a political action group; people are gravitating to it because they love their country.”

While the group is not organizing any political activities, some of its members are taking action into their own hands.

Actor Jon Voight, Mr. Boone, Mr. Chetwynd and Mr. Haffner have stepped forward and actively campaigned for Mr. McCain’s presidential bid. Mr. Boone said he talked to McCain campaign staffers last week about how he and other stars can help. Supporters now are assembling a formal organization for Mr. McCain in Hollywood, a few of the leaders said.

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