To begin with, I hadn’t planned to say any more about the most recent Jerry Falwell, Jr. scandal than to include the link in the last Friday Five to the story about him calling in drunk to a conservative radio show to try to explain away the scandal. I thought, of all the corrupt, greedy, grifting, manipulating things Falwell has done over the last several years, that this was fairly minor. Except nearly every day all week, whenever I logged into WordPress, I saw that a lot of people were coming in to click on a few of the previous posts where I went into details about his scandals and why they matter. This always happens when news stories about one of Falwell’s scandals are published. Half the time the way I find out about a new scandal is that I see lots of people clicking on my blog post Oh, you dirty devil—or The preacher and the pool boy… or my other post The Dark Domain, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at an agent of intolerance and his scandalous heirs, which prompts me to google news stories with Falwell’s name in the headline to find out what he’s done this time.
But I didn’t expect to read this on Saturday: Jerry Falwell Jr to take leave of absence after racy photo.
So Falwell was having a big party on his yacht. That’s right, the guy who leads a super conservative religious university and a massive evangelical ministry also owns a large yacht. And not only does he pose in a slightly racy photo—with his pants unzipped, holding a glass of what looks like maybe bourbon or wine, and his arm around a woman who is not his wife wearing unzipped daisy duke shorts and what appears to be a wig—and post said picture to his own Instagram, but also one of his son’s friends posts a video on Instagram or walking around the party where everyone is dressed kind or weird and trashy, lot of people are holding what appear to be cigarettes, lots holding drinks. Falwell, Jr appears in part of the video apparently drunkenly hanging on yet another young woman and slurring his speech.
Both posts are taken down within a day or so, and Falwell issues several explanations:
- It’s supposedly a “Trailer Park Boys” themed party, which I guess is a thing? So everyone is supposed to look kind of like characters from this comedy series, and they’re all holding candy cigarettes, not real ones. Oh, and no one was holding drinks, those glasses were just full of black water. Whatever that is.
- The unnamed woman’s pants were unzipped because she’s pregnant and couldn’t get the zipper up. By some bizarre coincidence, Falwell was wearing a very old pair of jeans that he no long fits into, and also couldn’t get his zipper up, and thought that in solidarity he should pull up his shirt and push his belly out while standing beside her for a picture.
- He’s on vacation, not at the University, so it doesn’t matter.
Liberty University, founded by Falwell’s racist, homophobic, misogynist televangelist father, is extremely conservative with an even more extremely strict set of codes of conduct for students and faculty. No smoking (tobacco, marijuana, or anything else), no drinking, no premarital sex, no being gay (you not only can get expelled for being caught having gay sex, if you admit your gay but swear you’ve never actually had sex you’re still in trouble), no interracial dating… the list goes on and on. Students can’t date without permission from the school administration, for goodness sake!
So that’s why these photos are scandalous. Now, I don’t know how they are more scandalous (from the point of view of the University’s evangelical base) than the earlier photos of Falwell, his wife, son, and daughter-in-law at a big Miami nightclub drinking comically large margaritas, but apparently they are.
Or the time he accidentally texted photos of his wife in fetish gear to the entire staff of the university… which is how the world found out about the second pool boy. See, Falwell’s explanation was that he meant to send to to this former student and now personal trainer because said trainer had helped his wife lose a lot of weight. For which (subsequent investigation found out) Falwell had repaid the trainer by forcing the university to cut the trainer a multiple million dollar real estate deal
Before I list off a bunch of other reasons that the organization should have probably canned him a while ago, I want to remind you why this matters to folks like you and me: his million+ dollars salaries come from being the head of two nonprofit organizations. A lot of the questionable real estate deals are financed by said organizations. Those organizations are exempted from lots of taxes. That means that all of the rest of us who aren’t exempt from those taxes are subsidizing these shenanigans with our tax dollars.
Then there is the fact that just before the Iowa Caucuses in 2016, Falwell surprised everyone to endorse Trump instead of Ted Cruz, who was the darling of the Evangelicals until then. And it appears Falwell did that because Trump’s fixer and former lawyer, Mike Cohen, made some blackmail photos involving Falwell’s wife and the first Pool Boy go away. Falwell’s endorsement swung the evangelical vote to Trump and (among other things) four years later we have tens of thousands of COVID-19 deaths that probably wouldn’t have happened if we had a competent president.
Any previous Falwell scandals: tried to sue reporters who wrote stories about the university refusing to refund tuition for students afraid to return to campus during a pandemic, he claimed that local politicians were begging him to force students to return to the campus (the politicians all denied it), he ordered a campus security guard to write up an arrest warrant for the reporters mentioned above and then lied on several news shows about how it was a magistrate that swore out the warrant, then local prosecutors dismissed the warrant, fired the entire Philosophy department teaching staff to make up for the cash flow drop off as students stopped enrolling during the pandemic, subjecting university staff members to frequent bragging about the size of his penis and the sexual antics he and his wife get up to, transferring millions of dollars to the pool boy (helping him buy a gay flophouse in Miami Beach) after the very young man started spending a lot of time with the Falwells—including numerous times when they sent their private jet to Miami to bring up back to stay at their mansion in Virginia…
It’s just so weird that this one stupid Instagram photo might be the thing that finally does him in.