Who Is Jerry Falwell Jr.?

Who is Jerry Falwell Jr.? The onetime darling of American evangelicals has recently been taken down by a sex scandal involving blackmail and a cuckolding fetish.

Falwell Jr., son of well-known televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr., once had it made as the heir to an extremely lucrative religious educational institution, Liberty University, which today has estimated assets valued at around $3 billion (via The Daily Mail), and is the largest Christian college in the world (via Politico). Prior to his involvement in a shocking sex scandal, Falwell Jr. drew a salary of $1 million a year running the college, an institution famous for its hardline take on Christian virtue. He is neither a minister nor pastor; he is an attorney.

Jerry's fame and fortune are due to his late father, who was once a force of nature in politics, becoming a mouthpiece and a figurehead for American evangelicals in the 1980s (via The New York Times). Once a simple Baptist preacher in Lynchburg, Virginia, Falwell Sr. became famous through his TV show, "The Old-Time Gospel Hour." As an outspoken political firebrand, he was loved, loathed, and laughed at in equal measure — for example, he is particularly well remembered for declaring that the kids' TV show "Teletubbies" is gay propaganda (via The New York Times). Falwell Sr. founded Liberty University in 1971, and the politically influential "Moral Majority" organization in 1979. He died in 2007, passing the baton to his son.

Liberty University scandals

Falwell Jr.'s own tenure as president of the University proved to be uneasy. Liberty has a strict code of conduct: no drinking and no sex outside marriage. Even "racy" music is banned from the campus (via The New Yorker). But Falwell himself was not really known for his piety — something that would become very obvious later. He was instead a businessman, and he successfully helped the university to expand and grow financially (via The Daily Mail).

Falwell became the subject of media vitriol in 2019 when complaints about him were reported in Politico Magazine. Many of those working at Liberty came forward to report that they did not feel Falwell should have inherited his father's legacy due to flagrant corruption and bad behavior. One informant went as far as to say "We're not a school; we're a real estate hedge fund ... "

Some of the accusations against him were related specifically to allegations of nepotism and the squandering of the school's resources. Falwell not only hired his own wife, but he also handed out valuable contracts to his friends and funneled money from lucrative projects back to his family. According to Reuters, for example, on one occasion Falwell secured a parcel of University land for his personal trainer. Coupled with this, many people at the university just didn't like the way Falwell managed things. They found him and his wife too authoritarian. Those who disagreed with the Falwells feared for their jobs when they wished to offer valid criticisms.

Political connections

In addition to his role as university president, Falwell has also been a powerful figure in American politics. Falwell's father backed Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (via Liberty University), and his son followed in his footsteps, publicly declaring his support for Donald Trump despite the candidate's sometimes unchristian conduct (via The Guardian). The evangelical Christian community was undoubtedly swayed toward voting for Trump, who received 81% of the white evangelical vote in 2016.

Following Falwell's endorsement, Trump gave a commencement speech at Liberty University in 2017 (via Time), while Falwell pumped money into a pro-Trump campaign (via Politico). According to Vanity Fair, Trump even offered Falwell an important political position, as Education Secretary. Falwell inevitably declined the position on the grounds he would have received a substantial pay cut, but he later visited the White House while Trump was incumbent, maintaining a cozy relationship with the president. In the wake of Falwell's most recent scandal, Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney and " fixer," came to Falwell's aid (via Reuters).

Political controveries

Prior to getting involved in a sex scandal, Falwell already cut a controversial figure, speaking publicly on difficult issues in an inflammatory manner. In 2009, for example, he defended Carrie Prejean, then Miss California, who was herself under fire for attacking gay marriage (via The Guardian).

One of his biggest political gaffes involved a speech he gave at Liberty University in 2015, in which he suggested that students carry weapons to gun down Muslims, saying, "I've always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in ..." (via another article by The Guardian). More recently, in 2020, he was accused of posting a racist tweet. The post featured one man in blackface and another in a Klan robe (via CNN). Falwell defended himself by stating that he was trying to highlight Virginia's racist past.

Finally, Falwell has also been lambasted for his views on coronavirus. He caused alarm in early 2020, when he reopened Liberty University at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, writing off concerns about the illness as an "overreaction" (via The New York Times).

Bad behavior

While Falwell was never loved in liberal circles, he eventually lost the love of many Christian conservatives as well. Some of those working on Liberty's campus objected to Falwell's lifestyle choices and began to turn on him. Falwell made many decisions that might have been shrugged off were he not running a conservative Christian college, such as talking very openly about sex and visiting nightclubs (via Politico).

Being open about his sexuality turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. In 2020, family man Falwell unwisely posted a photo of himself on Instagram with his pants unzipped, clutching a young pregnant woman (via Vanity Fair). The woman featured in the photo has her stomach exposed and Falwell appears to have an alcoholic drink in his hand. While Falwell denies the photo is anything other than innocent, it nevertheless sparked outrage among some evangelicals, who felt they had found evidence of Falwell's flagrant hypocrisy (via Insider). The yacht party in question was themed around the TV show "Trailer Park Boys," which has also been criticized by some for its inappropriate content.

The final nail in Falwell's coffin arrived in the form of an interview with a Miami pool boy, Giancarlo Granda, in 2020 (via Independent). In the interview, Grenada claims that he was part of a lurid three-way sexual relationship with Falwell and Falwell's wife, Becki, claims that led to Falwell's resignation from Liberty University on August 24, 2020 (per Vanity Fair).

God Forbid

Hulu's new documentary "God Forbid," released in November 2022, gives vivid details about the affair that finally destroyed Falwell's career. (The trailer is on YouTube.) In it, pool boy Giancarlo Granda claims that Falwell has a cuckolding fetish — he enjoys watching his wife have sex with other people (via Independent). After luring him to her hotel room one day, Granda and Becki began to have sex while her husband watched. According to Falwell, his wife had an affair with Granda — but he was not involved (via Vanity Fair).

Granda went on to claim that the tryst went on for seven whole years, during which time the couple treated Granda to a lavish lifestyle in exchange for sex. The partnership eventually went south after Granda's friends, Jesus Fernandez Jr. and Jesus Fernandez Sr., sued Falwell for allegedly backtracking and not including them in a business deal.

The pair used explicit photos of Granda and Becki as insurance, threatening to release the photos to the public (via The Guardian). Although Falwell went to Michael Cohen (above), to make the story disappear, efforts to cover up the mess backfired when Granda retaliated by going directly to the press in 2020.