Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Jr. –“The Sun (Son) Also Rises (FALLS),” Apologies to Ernest Hemingway March 31, 2020
The vicious coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate the entire world, and the U.S. has clearly not been exempt. As of 3/31/2020, there are more than 175,000 confirmed cases with the death toll exceeding 3,400, more than the number of people who died in the initial 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks (Wash. Post). On 3/29/2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a respected member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that based on models, the U.S. could eventually see “millions of cases” and between 100,000-200,000 deaths (See cnn.com, Cole, D., 3/29/20). On 3/26/2020, the U.S. Labor Department reported unemployment claims had surged to a record 3.28 million. Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, callously stated, “Job claims numbers are ‘not relevant right now (cnbc.com, Cox, 3/26/20).’” Sec. Mnuchin, please ask the millions of people out of work if their unemployment is just an “irrelevant” statistical blip. Most doctors and allied healthcare personnel, as well as many U.S. governors are doing their best to emphasize the need for quarantine to stop the disease’s spread. They are fighting “Supreme Leader” Demagogue Donald’s attitude. In daily ridiculously politically-staged press conferences that the media should not cover, Donald declares without evidence that things are really getting better. Donald “Alternative Facts” Trump initially stated that people in this country should, despite the consensus of health experts, go back to work by Easter, 4/12/2020, and pack the churches then. Such a course of action would lead to an explosion of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths (See nytimes.com, 3/25/20, Kristof & Thompson, statistical model by Goh, De Kenninck, Tuite, & Fishman). On 3/29/2020, Trump finally realized that his Easter “return to normalcy” timeline was unrealistic. Now, Trump has extended the quarantine guidelines to 4/30/2020 to slow the virus’ spread (nytimes.com, Shear, M., 3/29/20).
Trump’s White House megaphone is amplified by his aiders and abettors, including GOP-FOX News and other right-wing talk shows. They dutifully and dangerously push his fake news coronavirus party line and then some. One of Trump’s biggest fans and most influential political supporters is Jerry Falwell Jr. In 3/2020, amid the coronavirus outbreak, Falwell Jr. promoted the conspiracy theory that North Korea and China conspired together to create the coronavirus (Peters, J., nytimes.com, 3/18/20). Falwell Jr. additionally stated that people were “overreacting” to the coronavirus outbreak and that Democrats were trying to use the situation to harm Trump (Heim, J., 3/13/20, washingtonpost.com). In a 3/13/2020 “Fox and Friends” interview, Falwell Jr. called the response to coronavirus “hype.” He added, “You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 (25th Amendment-- the President stepping down for disability/illness) didn’t work, and so, maybe now this is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump (nytimes.com, Stewart, K., 3/27/20).”
Besides uttering such drivel, Falwell himself has made the coronavirus situation worse by his own personal actions. On 3/22/2020, Falwell Jr., the president of Lynchburg, VA’s Liberty University announced that unlike nearly all other U.S. colleges and universities, Liberty would soon be reopening and permitting thousands of students and faculty to return to campus. Falwell Jr. made this decision even as the virus continued to rage and officials in Lynchburg discouraged his move (vox.com, Coaston, J., 3/25/20, politico.com, Ambrosino, B., 3/29/20). In Falwell Jr’s words, “I think we have a responsibility to our students—who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here—to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies , enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and not to interrupt their college life (vox.com, Coaston, 3/25/20).” VA’s Dem. Governor Ralph Northam asked Liberty University to reconsider its decision to invite students back to campus and “follow the actions of the leaders of VA’s flagship universities (vox.com, 3/25/20).” On 3/17/2020, Gov. Northam had banned gatherings of more than 10 people. So how has Liberty University reacted? Although there are social-distancing signs around campus, many students continue to sit together in the communal dining room way closer than the six feet apart required for social-distancing. In the dorms, there are few residential advisers present to remind students to stay apart. Classmates often hug each other and head to game nights and group dinners at off-campus apartments (See propublica.org, MacGillis, A., 3/26/20).
According to a 3/29/2020 NY Times report, nearly a dozen students have displayed symptoms of coronavirus, COVID-19, but only three have been referred to hospitals. Eight students were required to self-isolate. Falwell Jr. called the NY Times report “false (WFXRtv.com Digital Desk, nytimes.com, Williamson, E., 3/29/20).” Anger over Falwell Jr.’s decision to bring university students back amid the coronavirus pandemic to conservative Lynchburg is “boiling over.” A former Falwell Jr. associate says that many people in Lynchburg “want to tar and feather Falwell.” This individual added, “You have …16,000 petri dishes he’s inviting back to Lynchburg, who have gone out all over the country for spring break—he’s inviting them back into our city, our community, knowing that at some point they’re gonna have to interact with the public (politico.com, Ambrosino, B., 3/29/20).”
Falwell Jr. told ABC that at least “about one to two thousand students” have returned to campus dorms and cafeterias and the number could reach 5,000 (MacGillis, propublica.org, 3/26/20). You don’t have to be a physician to understand that this number of students returning to dorms and cafeterias will easily spread the coronavirus in VA. And Falwell Jr’s Liberty University is no small hidden away institution. It is one of the world’s largest Christian universities with roughly 15,000 students on campus and more than 95,000 students taking classes online. Founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell Sr., Falwell Jr.’s televangelist father, Liberty U has become a massive institution with hundreds of graduate programs and colleges under it. On his widely heard “Old Time Gospel Hour” program, Falwell Sr. often talked of his ambition to make Liberty a “Christian Harvard” or the evangelical equivalent of South Bend, Indiana’s Catholic Notre Dame University. When Falwell Sr., the founder and first President of Liberty University, suffered a sudden cardiac death on 5/15/2007 at age 73, son Jerry Jr. took over as Liberty U’s president (See usatoday.com, Page, S., 5/15/07, liberty.edu/aboutliberty, vox.com,3/25/20). Let’s meet Jerry Falwell Jr.
Jerry Falwell Jr. (57) has evangelical/political “royalty” encoded in his DNA. Lynchburg, VA native Falwell Jr., the eldest son of Jerry Falwell Sr., attended Lynchburg Christian Academy, later renamed Liberty Christian Academy, from which he graduated in 1984. Liberty Christian Academy, FYI, was founded by Falwell Sr. in 1967 and was described by the “Lynchburg News” as a “private school for white students.” It was known as a segregation academy and a ministry of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the megachurch that Falwell founded in 1956. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Falwell Sr. spoke and campaigned against racial desegregation and against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Years later, when he became a nationally prominent figure, Falwell Sr. regretted his segregationist stance and spoke of his close “black friends (See theledger.com, 2/17/07, thenation.com, Blumenthal, M., 5/16/07, LCA, webarchive.org, 2/28/17).” Son Falwell Jr. graduated from Liberty University in 1984 with a degree in religious studies and received a 1987 law degree from the University of Virginia Law School (liberty.edu/aboutliberty).
IMHO, Falwell Sr’s. most important contribution to evangelical Christians was his 1979 founding of the Moral Majority political action committee. Prior to that time, many Southern Baptists and evangelicals believed in staying out of politics while building their own parallel faith-based churches and schools. They viewed the idea of separation of church and state as requiring them to completely divorce themselves from civil affairs. Under Falwell Sr’s. Moral Majority, the strong evangelical wall between church and state was totally shattered and this group sought to impose their moral values on everyone else by getting involved “big time” in right-wing politics. They were anti-abortion, anti-gay, and opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. They stood for school prayer in the public schools, and teaching anti-evolutionary views, read, “creationism” in public schools. Falwell’s Liberty U teaches that dinosaur fossils are 4,000 years old (See Woodard, C., “American Nations,” 2011). Falwell Sr. and other white evangelicals made backing GOP candidates its modern-day “gospel.” Falwell Sr. was credited with delivering two-thirds of the white evangelical vote to Ronald Reagan in 1980. What actually brought Falwell Sr. together with other political conservatives was the IRS’ move to revoke the tax-exempt status of their “Christian” academies as segregationist institutions (cnn.com, 1/16/2016, Prothero, S.). Since that time, the evangelical bloc, extremely powerful in the South, has made that region a solid “Red” GOP base. The backing of the Moral Majority was crucial to Reagan’s 1984 re-election as well as H.W. Bush’s 1988 win. Although the Moral Majority was dismantled in 1989, the backing of the Falwell family and other sympathetic evangelicals was crucial to W Bush’s election wins in 2000 and 2004 as well as Donald Trump’s in 2016 (See Utter, “Conservative Christians and Political Participation). According the Pew Research group, 81% of white, born-again evangelicals gave their votes to Trump v. 16% to Hillary (pewsresearch.org/fact, Martinez & Smith, 11/09/16).
Son Falwell Jr. is a “chip off his Dad’s block.” He has continued his father’s support of right-wing GOP candidates. His 1/26/2016 endorsement of thrice-married (“family values”) Donald for the GOP nomination was viewed as a political game-changer. Many expected Falwell Jr. to endorse TX GOP Sen. Ted Cruz for president because Cruz’s father was an evangelical pastor and Sen. Cruz’s views were similar to Falwell Jr’s. However, months before his endorsement of Donald, Falwell Jr. had asked Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen for a personal favor. Falwell told Cohen that someone had come into possession of the sort of photographs that would typically be kept between “husband and wife.” According to a source familiar with Cohen’s thinking, the person who possessed the photos destroyed them after Cohen intervened on Falwell Jr’s. behalf (reuters.com, Roston, A., 3/24/20).” The obvious “quid pro quo” here? Falwell’s endorsement of Donald. Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence for federal campaign violations and lying to Congress (reuters.com, Roston).
We should not at all be surprised at Falwell Jr’s. actions to re-open Liberty U in the midst of this horrible pandemic. He will do anything to make Donald “look good.” Falwell Jr. stated that Donald had offered him the position of Sec. of Education, but that he had turned him down (AP, 11/26/16). A longtime Falwell Jr. associate with close ties to that family called Falwell Jr., “very defiant. It’s very much in his character. That’s a family trait. His father was the same way (politico.com, Ambrosino, 3/29/20).” Under Falwell Jr., Liberty U has come under scrutiny for its authoritarian control of employees and students, for its nepotism toward Falwell family-owned businesses in the school’s investments, and for the increasing influence of Falwell’s wife Becki in school affairs. A 2019 “Politico” article described Liberty U as a “dictatorship” in which Falwell Jr. ruled by fear. It also reported that Liberty sold merchandise promoting Trump’s presidential campaign. Although Falwell Jr. wanted to get rid of the racy photos of his wife, he himself had shown other Liberty employees provocative photos of her and had crude discussions about his sex life at work (politico.com, Ambrosino, 9/09/19).
Falwell Jr. is an absolute danger to our nation’s health and a disgrace, just like his “idol” Demagogue Donald. During this time, we must, instead, listen to the likes of Dem. Governors Andrew Cuomo (NY), Gavin Newsom (CA), Gretchen Whitmer (MI), and Andy Beshear (KY) for sane science-based information on how to deal with this health crisis. And on 11/03/2020, we must vote in droves plus to fire Falwell Jr’s. “un-American idol” Demagogue Donald.
Add VA’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam to the list of politicians who follows sane science-based information in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. On 3/30/2020, Gov. Northam, who is also a medical doctor, issued a stay-at-home executive order to Virginians. Northam said people should only leave their homes to obtain food, supplies, or medical care. All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. VA beaches, which had still been packed, are now closed except to exercising and fishing. Campgrounds have been closed. Travel between private residences is only permitted if it’s “essential.” All restaurants and non-essential retail stores may continue to stay open if they limit the number of people in a space to 10 or less. Restaurants are only permitted to do delivery, takeout, and pickup. And all higher education facilities, under Northam’s executive order, have been instructed to cease in-person classes. Any person holding a gathering of 10 or more people can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. Those who violate the cancellation of in-person college classes, the closure of public beaches, or the cessation of short-term stays at campgrounds can also face these charges (the hill.com, Coleman, J., 3/30/20, Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac).
Northam’s order that higher education facilities cease in-person classes was specifically aimed at Jerry Falwell Jr’s. Liberty University which had also re-opened its school to students returning from spring break. After some dithering about whether Liberty U would continue its in-person instruction in areas including flight-training, labs, nursing, and osteopathic medicine (americanindependent.com, AP, 3/20/20), Liberty finally stated it would comply with Gov. Northam’s executive order. On 3/30/2020, a Liberty U spokesman stated that the only in-person instruction still happening on campus, flight instruction, will now be suspended as well (fox5dc.com/news/liberty-university, AP). Hopefully, those Liberty students on campus will be staying in place and limiting their gatherings to 10 people or less.
The message is quite clear. Even stubborn Trump follower Falwell Jr. must yield when faced with a governor who has clear authority over him and rationally uses his power to protect the health of his residents. Gov. Northam stated that his executive order aims to reduce the expected medical surge in hospitals. Northam said that VA currently has 18,500 beds, including 2,000 ICU beds. As of 3/30/2020, VA had 1,020 confirmed coronavirus cases with 136 hospitalizations and 25 deaths. VA has tested more than 12,000 people. VA, however, is not yet at the point where it can test everyone who wants a test because of supply shortages across the country. Kudos, Gov. Northam for your behavior!