Sex, money and Christian values: the fall of Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump’s mainstay on the religious right

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A torrid scandal and embezzlement accusations plunge the man who gave the president the ultrareligious vote in 2016 and was key to his victory in the middle of the electoral campaign

How is it possible that the evangelical and moralistic right in the United States is pushing Donald Trump to the White House, a vulgar man, married three times, who has never set foot in a church, a supporter of abortion until recently, notoriously promiscuous and accused of abuse sex by dozens of women? The answer has its own name: Jerry Falwell Jr., president of one of the largest evangelical universities in the country, Liberty University, until two weeks ago. A sex scandal and embezzlement charges have wiped out his image. The alliance of four years ago will not be repeated. Trump has been left without his main supporter within the North American Christian right.

Donald Trump’s 2016 primary campaign was due to pass its first major test at the Iowa caucuses. There, the favorite was Senator Ted Cruz, hoping to deliver a coup of authority and remove the pesky tycoon. Cruz was the candidate of the religious right. He had even launched his campaign for the presidency at Liberty University, a huge conservative education business with more than 100,000 students and a budget of over $ 1 billion. Liberty University was the door to the evangelical vote, thanks to the enormous predicament of its president, Jerry Falwell Jr. However, just before the Iowa caucuses, Falwell gave his public support to Trump. It was a major surprise, it opened the door for other religious leaders to support him, and for many, it gave him the key boost to winning the nomination.

In May 2019, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed that just a few months before that momentous moment for American politics, he had helped Falwell get rid of some “personal photos.” Cohen was Trump’s plumber, the one who had taken care of covering up scandals like the case with the porn actress Stormy Daniels so that they did not go out during the campaign. According to Cohen, someone was extorting Falwell and his wife, Becki, with compromising photos. “They are terrible,” Cohen told his interlocutor. In conversation, he says he kept one. The problem eventually solved itself, he says.

No one has been able to establish a direct causality between these events. They can only be put next to each other. Falwell has a problem with some alleged compromising photos. Trump’s personal attorney helps him remove them, but he keeps one. Months later, Falwell stuns the Republican Party by supporting the least religious of all candidates for the presidency. Cohen hints in his explosive new memoir that the two are related. Falwell categorically denies it.

The media investigated that story during the summer of 2019 and found a character named Giancarlo Granda. The Falwells met him at a Miami hotel in 2012. He was then 20 years old and worked as a pool cleaner. The Falwells made friends with the young man, took him on a trip, met Trump, and offered him financial help to set up a hostel in Miami. The business went bad, they ended up fighting, and that’s where the threat of using certain photos against them came from. But what was in those photos?

The bombshell came on August 24, when Granda, in an interview with Reuters, revealed that these are sexual photos of him with Becki Falwell. Jerry Falwell Jr. participates in them, he says, watching from a corner of the room. The relationship lasted years, he says. Granda also provides text messages that prove their relationship. The Falwells have acknowledged the sexual relationship, but he denies that he participated in his wife’s sexual encounters with the lover.

The scandal also came after the university forced Falwell to take a permanent leave of absence after uploading a photo to Instagram in which he appeared in his underwear showing his belly next to a pregnant woman. He claims it was a joke. On the same day the 24th, Falwell announced his resignation as president of the university. Your problems are not over. Liberty University is investigating apparent shady deals and irregularities in which Falwell mixed his personal finances with those of the institution to enrich himself. The man who opened the doors of the religious right for Trump, and who was willing to fight for him again this fall, is knocked out.

Granda’s last text message to Falwell read: “Since you are fine with ruining my life, I am going to take the kamikaze route. It’s a real shame because I wanted to resolve this peacefully and get on with our lives. But if what you want is a conflict, so be it. ” In another message, Falwell replied: “You should know by now that I am not going to allow myself to be extorted. I have always treated you well and I have held back against your threats because I did not want to ruin your life. From now on, don’t contact me or my family again. ” It was a fatal miscalculation.

Jerry Falwell Jr. is the son of Jerry Falwell (1933-2007) an evangelical preacher who was one of the key figures in the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Republican ideological rearmament in the late 1970s. Falwell was the best-known telepreacher of the time when he founded Moral Majority, the organization through which the religious right, which until then had not left the churches, became an inescapable force in American politics. The son was never a preacher, he dedicated himself only to management to grow the business set up by the father, with remarkable success.

Falwell Sr. is also famous for having sued Larry Flynt, the porn mogul, for libel, who published in the magazine Hustler a satirical column in which he came to say that the reverend had slept with his mother. The lawsuit reached the Supreme Court. In 1988, the court ruled in Flynt’s favor and set an important precedent for free speech in the US Falwell and Flynt ended up being friends and giving interviews together. The pornographer even wrote a kind obituary to the inquisitor when he died.

These days, Flynt seems to have enjoyed the downfall of the Falwell name and has not missed an opportunity to settle scores. On September 1, in an article titled My last goodbye to the Falwells, accuses the son of not being a true Christian, like his father, but of practicing “the gospel of prosperity, that is, the gospel of greed above all values.” “In the end, disgusting hypocrisy catches up with the majority,” writes Flynt. “If there were a second coming of Christ, I have no doubt that his priority would be to seize the whip and banish forever all the charlatans and false prophets who have perverted his message.”

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