Jerry Falwell Jr. was a prominent conservative evangelical leader and the president of the conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty is one of the largest Christian universities in the world with over 94,000 students and a $1.71 billion endowment.
Falwell took over Liberty University when his father Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and a prominent leader in the conservative evangelical movement, died in 2007.
Falwell was a prominent supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign and throughout Trump’s presidency.
Falwell wrote an op-ed in August 2016 in the Washington Post that endorsed Trump and wrote, “We are at a crossroads where our first priority must be saving our nation. We need a leader with qualities that resemble those of Winston Churchill, and I believe that leader is Donald Trump.”
Falwell resigned from Liberty University in 2020 after controversy over a lewd Instagram photo and details of an affair involving Falwell’s wife Becki Falwell and a former pool attendant.
Trump Fixer Covered Up Falwell Photos, Falwell Endorsed Trump
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, said that he helped to prevent the release of personal photos of Falwell during the 2016 presidential election campaign. In a call with actor Tom Arnold, Cohen said, “There’s a bunch of photographs — you know, personal photographs — that somehow, the guy ended up getting.” Cohen said in the call that he had photos of Falwell stored on his cell phone, noting he had “photos between husband, wife, and the whole bit.”
Cohen said in the call that he was asked by the Falwells in 2015 for help. Cohen wrote in his book “Disloyal” that Falwell said that the photos showed Becki Falwell “half-naked” on top of a tractor.
He flew to Florida and met with the lawyer for the person who had the photos of Falwell. Cohen said, “I was going to pay him and I was going to get the negatives and do an agreement where they turn over all technology that has the photographs or anything like that, any copies.” He said that instead of that happening the person with the photos deleted them.
After the episode, Cohen persuaded Falwell to support Trump before the 2016 Iowa caucuses and campaigned with Trump to attract the support of conservative evangelical voters. Trump came second in the Iowa caucus.
Falwell spoke in support of Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Unzipped Instagram Photo, Liberty Leave Of Absence
In August 2020, Falwell posted a photo to Instagram that showed him posing alongside a woman with his pants unzipped while he had his arm around her. In the caption, Falwell wrote, “More vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass. It was a prop only.”
After being criticized for the picture, Falwell apologized and deleted the picture. Falwell said the woman in the photo was his wife’s assistant and that he was imitating her inability to get her pants zipped while pregnant.
In a radio interview, Falwell said, “I’ve apologized to everybody, and I’ve promised my kids … I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out.”
The board of trustees for Liberty then announced that Falwell had to take an indefinite leave of absence from his role as president and chancellor of the school.
Conservative evangelical leader Franklin Graham defended Graham’s behavior in an interview with the New York Times and said, “All of us in life have done things that we’ve regretted. I think he certainly has regretted that. It was a foolish thing.”
Jerry Prevo, chairman of the school’s board of trustees and a retired pastor of a Baptist church in Alaska, was named as acting president of the school.
Calls For Resignation After Instagram Photo
After the Instagram photo and leave of absence, there were calls for Falwell to be fired.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) said Falwell’s “ongoing behavior is appalling” and that he was “convinced Falwell should step down.”
A group of 50 Liberty alumni pastors sent a letter to the board of trustees asked for a new president of the university to be named. They said, “LU needs a Godly, spiritual leader as its president and chancellor, a leader whose life is characterized by integrity and character whether personal or public.”
Save 71, a group of Liberty alumni, faculty and students, asked for Falwell to be replaced with a “responsible and virtuous Christian leader” and accused him of damaging the “spiritual vitality, academic quality, and national reputation of Liberty University.”
Giancarlo Granda Affair
Giancarlo Granda said that when he was 20 years old he began a sexual affair with Jerry Falwell Jr. and Becki Falwell that lasted for several years, from 2012 to 2018. Granda said he met the Falwells while working as a pool attendant at Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in March 2012.
Video: Giancarlo Granda interview on Good Morning America about Falwell affair
“Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” he told Reuters.
Granda said his sexual encounters with the Falwells happened at hotels in Miami and New York and at the Falwell’s house in Virginia.
Granda said in the Hulu documentary God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty that Falwell “liked to record his wife having sex with me.”
Granda-Falwell Miami Hostel Investment
Granda was paid $1.8 million by the Falwells as part of a purported investment in a youth hostel in Miami Beach. The investment was disclosed after Falwell became involved in a lawsuit with other investors in the project.
The hostel was located at 810 Alton Road in Miami and was described by Politico as “a dilapidated boarding house quietly hidden behind non-descript storefronts.”
Politico noted, “The Falwell-owned hostel encourages behavior that would get Liberty students expelled—the drinking, the smoking, the advertising for strip clubs, the free shuttles to local bars, the possibility of co-ed sleeping arrangements, and so on.”
The hostel closed some time after 2015.
Details Of Granda Affair
Granda said that Becki Falwell, while wearing a bikini, approached and propositioned him while he was working at the pool at the Fontainebleau hotel in March 2012.
Granda provided the Washington Post with photos, emails and text messages documenting the affair with the Falwells.
In one recording, the Falwells discussed with Granda the details of a weekend they shared at a resort and their fears that the vacation would become public.
Screengrabs of a Facetime conversation appeared to show Becki Falwell topless and drinking wine while speaking to Granda as Jerry Fawell watched them.
Granda alleged that he was groomed by the Falwells and said that his involvement with the couple ruined his relationships with girlfriends and made him consider suicide.
Falwell Admits Affair, Alleges Extortion
After Granda spoke to Reuters in August 2020 and was preparing to publish their story exposing the affair, Falwell issued a statement that said his wife had an affair with Granda.
Falwell: “Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved.”
Falwell claimed that Granda attempted to extort money from the Falwells to cover up the affair. Granda denied the allegation.
Falwell made his allegations to Paul Bedard, a conservative writer for the right-wing Washington Examiner who frequently promoted conservative causes.
In his statement Falwell said, “While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive. Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies.”
Falwell Resigns From Liberty
On August 25 2020 Falwell submitted his resignation to Liberty’s board of trustees. He told reporter Richard Chumney, “It’s a relief. The quote that keeps going through my mind this morning is Martin Luther Ling Jr: ‘free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last.’”
Liberty’s board accepted his resignation. In a statement they said, “The Liberty University Board of Trustees acted today to accept the resignation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. as its President and Chancellor and also accepted is resignation from its Board of Directors. All were effective immediately.”
The board said Falwell would receive a severance payment as had previously been agreed to in his contract and that no adjustments would be made despite the scandal.
Falwell’s severance payment from Liberty was $10.5 million. Falwell negotiated his contract in July 2019, specifying that he would be paid $2.5 million over 24 months and then would receive a payment of $8 million.
After the resignation, Liberty staff members were told to refrain from interacting with Falwell. In an email to staff, Liberty University general counsel David Corry said Falwell had made a series of “uncomfortable” calls to university employees.
Corry wrote, “If you are uncomfortable taking a call or engaging in other types of communication with Mr. Falwell, you are free to decline to do so and you are also free to refer them to Jerry Prevo.”
Liberty University Community Reaction
After Falwell resigned, there were calls for an outside investigation of the university. Marybeth Davis Baggett, a former English professor who taught at Liberty for 17 years, told the Washington Post, “Any steps toward healing at Liberty must involve an unflinching investigation of the extent of the damage Falwell’s leadership has wrought and the institutional figures and forces that enabled it.”
David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, told students at a worship service, “this moment that we’re in is a mess” and called Falwell’s behavior an “embarrassment.”
Eli Best, a junior at Liberty in 2020, told the New York Times, “The president of a university not abiding by his own standards, in terms of bars and alcohol and sexuality — all those stories, that tipped me off. It was like a flashing sign in our faces.” Brooke Smoke, a senior that same year, said, “I think everybody has been waiting for this. Thank God, the witch is dead.”
Falwell Sued Liberty
Falwell sued Liberty University in October 2020, alleging that the school had damaged his reputation. Falwell complained that the school accepted Granda’s statements about the affair without verifying them.
In his lawsuit, Falwell claimed, “By forcing Mr. Falwell’s resignation from Liberty immediately following Granda’s false and defamatory statements, Liberty sent the unmistakable message to the public that Granda’s false statements were, in fact, true.”
Two months later, Falwell dropped the lawsuit.
Liberty Sues Falwell
Liberty University sued Falwell in April 2021. In the suit, Liberty alleged that Falwell had breached his contract and engaged in a conspiracy to mislead the school’s board of trustees.
Liberty sought $10 million in damages from Falwell and the return of any Liberty University property that was still in his posession.
The university said Falwell “fashioned a deceitful scheme to manipulate the Executive Committee of Liberty” during the negotiations for his last contract with the institution.
Liberty alleged that Falwell created a “Granda plan” to conceal the connection between his family and Granda. The university wrote in their complaint, “Had Liberty’s Executive Committee known in 2018 or 2019 that Granda was attempting to extort Falwell Jr., and thus planning to harm Liberty, and had it known the full circumstances of Granda’s extortion of Falwell Jr., then the Executive Committee would have refrained from entering into the 2019 Employment Agreement.”
Falwell said the lawsuit was filled with “lies and truths” and that “I will defend myself against it with conviction.”
Falwell’s “Real Liberty Graduation” Party
In April 2021, Falwell invited Liberty students for an event he described as the “real Liberty graduation.” The event was to take place at a location Falwell described as “our farm” in May 2021. Asked about the planned party, Falwell told Religion News Service, “I just want to thank the students because they’ve shown me so much love through all this ordeal. Everywhere I go, they’re so forgiving. They’re so loving. And I want to reciprocate by having them out to my farm.”
“God Forbid” Documentary
God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty was a documentary about the Falwell scandal released on Hulu in 2022.
Trailer for God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty