How an animal rights activist at FreedomWorks became the target of ‘Dr. Evil’s’ former PR shop

The COO left the group this week after enduring a barrage of attacks from a website named FreedomWoke, which had been agitating for his dismissal by citing his record lobbying for the legislative arm of the Humane Society and his work on behalf of Animal Wellness Action. “Why is FreedomWorks Going ‘Woke’?” the site read.

The entity behind that anti-Irby campaign is Berman and Co., a public relations firm founded by the PR executive Richard Berman, whose work for corporate interests led him to be dubbed by his critics as “Dr. Evil.” Berman is no longer with the firm, but Berman and Co. confirmed its involvement.

“Donors and FreedomWorks staff deserved to know about Marty Irby’s record of supporting Big Government liberals,” said Will Coggin, FreedomWoke spokesperson and vice president at Berman and Co. “He should go pursue his animal rights agenda elsewhere.”

It’s fairly uncommon for PR shops to wade into specific leadership battles within non-governmental entities. But Berman and Co. has a long and acrimonious history fighting animal rights groups. One of the entities with which Berman and Company has been associated is HumaneWatch, an organization accused of being a front group for corporate interests that has repeatedly targeted the Humane Society. HumaneWatch is among the websites that raised concerns about Irby.

In a series of texts, Irby said he resigned as FreedomWorks’ COO on Tuesday while he was in Los Angeles for the Hollywood premiere of “Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West,” a documentary that focuses on wild horses for which he was a special adviser and cast member. Irby has a background in Republican politics, including serving as a press secretary for former Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), but he said he is also driven by a desire to help “American equines and other animals.”

Having left his post at FreedomWorks, he said he was going to focus on his role as a senior adviser at the Animal Wellness Foundation in Los Angeles and open his own lobbying and public relations firm focusing on the farm bill authorization.

“I have new opportunities as a result of the film that premiered that have opened some doors for me in a big way,” he told POLITICO before sending along a number of glitzy photos from the red carpet of the movie premiere.

Irby accused FreedomWoke of waging a campaign against him to distract from what he called “corruption within the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.” He argued for legislation called the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act that would reform the checkoff programs that provide funding for research and promotion of commodities.

“I will say that I am a die hard Trump supporting Republican who has been a supporter of President Trump since he first announced his run for President in the primary in his first run,” he wrote in a text. “These attacks come only because I am an effective threat to the corruption in industrial agriculture because I have worked to successfully enact 12 animal protection laws since 2018 and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is scared shitless about what the public will find out if the OFF Act passes.” (Another Berman entity, the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom, has been involved in pushing meat industry interests, including a campaign against fake meat)

Over the past month, FreedomWoke cast Irby as an animal rights extremist who had worked for groups that have propped up Democrats. Its website included a photo of Irby standing beside former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and points to his past praise for Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey (Irby said he was simply comparing him with Joe Biden).

In an interview, FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon confirmed Irby’s departure, saying he wished the former employee well, but referred further comment to human resources, which did not return a request for comment.

Berman and Co. declined to provide details about its donors, but its history of advocating against animal rights organizations and using nonprofit groups to carry out its policy agenda has raised concerns in the past. The Humane League of Philadelphia sued the firm and other related entities after a Berman-affiliated nonprofit paid for an advertisement in the The New York Times that read, “WHY IS THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES HELPING A TERRORIST GROUP RAISE MONEY?”