What was your August like? Jerry Falwell Jr.’s was busy, busy, busy. The 58-year-old evangelical-first-family scion, real-estate lawyer, and, until the other day, president of Liberty University, the Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, had by the seventh of the month posted and deleted an Instagram photo of himself (jeans unzipped, underwear showing) with his arm around a woman (pants unbuttoned, not Mrs. Falwell) with the caption “More vacation shots. Lots of good friends visited us on the yacht. I promise that’s just black water in my glass.” His indefinite leave of absence from Liberty was duly announced—the university says it will be investigating his tenure—and Falwell dropped out of the news cycle. But not for long.
On August 23, Giancarlo Granda entered the picture. Or, rather, re-entered. Granda had first met the Falwells, Jerry and Becki, in 2012, when he was 20 and a pool boy at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. He and the couple, who married in 1987, had been trading lawsuits in recent years over a South Beach business deal involving the Falwells’ son Jerry Falwell III. (Yes, there’s another one.) Now Granda was on TV describing having sex with Becki while Falwell, “drunk” and “giggling,” urged him on from the bed. (“Go for it.”) Falwell denied it, saying he was the victim of blackmail.
The saga continues. This week, a former Liberty student claimed that Becki had performed oral sex on him in 2008, when he’d stayed at the Falwells’ after band practice: “She was the aggressor.” And the ever helpful Michael Cohen surfaced to say that in 2015 he’d helped keep racy private photos of the Falwells from being made public. (In a statement, Jerry and Becki Falwell said of the former student’s allegations, “It is unfortunate that the coverage of our departure has turned into a frenzy of false and fantastic claims about us. These false and mean spirited lies have hurt us and our family greatly and we will respond fully with the truth at an appropriate time.” Falwell also denied there were photos and that he had worked with Cohen.) By August 25, Liberty and its president had parted ways. “I’m leaving because I think I’ve done all I can do,” Falwell declared to NPR. “It’s better to leave at the top.”
Especially when you can take $10.5 million with you on your way out the door. Falwell is entitled to the severance package because he hadn’t been formally accused and hadn’t admitted to anything, except a job well done, and well done on a mere million-dollar salary, use of a chartered jet, etc.
Now Granda was on TV describing having sex with Becki while Falwell, “drunk” and “giggling,” urged him on from the bed. (“Go for it.”)
A word about his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., for those who might not remember. The white conservative evangelical movement wouldn’t be the same without him. He was for many years a powerful national figure, founder not only of Liberty University but of the Moral Majority, which had considerable cultural and political impact in the U.S. for most of the 80s. He held strong views. After the attacks of 9/11, he observed, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” Just a couple of years earlier, he was supposedly the anonymous author of an article complaining that one of the Teletubbies, Tinky Winky, was a gay role model. In his spare time he enjoyed suing Hustler and Penthouse, and died in 2007 of cardiac arrhythmia after having collapsed in his office. Liberty went to Junior.
Even before August, his wasn’t the smoothest tenure. Falwell added construction projects, increased enrollment, and improved the sports program, but he “always seemed closer in spirit to his defiant, bootlegging grandfather than his Bible-thumping” father, Daniel Burke wrote at CNN.com, and “likely assumed that as long as he kept Liberty rolling in money, no one would care much about his personal morality.” That, according to a former Liberty official, was “a fatal miscalculation.” In any event, trouble had been brewing for some time. As Brandon Ambrosino reported in Politico a year ago, “Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains.” Did we mention that the Falwells are big Trump supporters?
Falwell holds predictable views on homosexuality (“forbidden by the Bible”), Islam (following the San Bernardino shootings in 2015, he called for everyone at Liberty to carry concealed weapons because “then we could end those Muslims before they walked in”), and the coronavirus (just a plot to “get Trump”; he reopened the university in March, calling one parent who protested a “dummy”). He has described his good friend the president as Churchillian, “one of the greatest visionaries of our time,” a man without “a racist bone in his body.”
So, what’s next for this charming over-achiever? Well, he also told NPR that he feels “free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!” But how long, really, before someone scoops him up? With Falwell’s track record, he could almost qualify for a high-level position in, God Almighty help us, a second Trump administration—by now, the former university president is probably just a few discredits shy of a Cabinet job. Go for it, as they say.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for air mail