Sep 3, 2020

How the Moral Have Fallen

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The evangelical Christian college Liberty University announced on Monday that it is opening an independent investigation into its recently resigned president Jerry Falwell Jr., heir to its founder, Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell. It's been a long time in coming.

Some may say that all the signs were there for a long time before last week. It’s certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week. While we still didn’t know the full scope of the matter, we have learned enough about the past to know that we had no choice but to take the leadership of Liberty University in a new direction.

So now we know what it takes to push this bastion of moral rectitude into decisive action. Notably it's none of the issues specifically stated in the university's announcement, "financial, real estate, and legal matters." It wasn't the self-dealing and cronyism that have been raising serious, internal concerns for some time. It wasn't even the "racy" photos that have appeared and disappeared from social media, or been handled by Donald Trump's former fixer, now convicted felon, Michael Cohen. No, what finally pushed the board of directors to act was a salacious sex scandal involving his wife, Becki. One even wonders if sexual indiscretions on his own part would have been enough. Falwell has been exposed, horror of horrors, as a cuckold.

Falwell Jr.'s problems started in earnest a few weeks ago when he bizarrely uploaded, then removed, an eyebrow raising photo of himself with a young woman later identified as his wife's assistant.

Even if this photo was as innocent as he claimed, merely a bit of playfulness with a pregnant employee, Falwell Jr. was giving himself license to engage in behavior strictly proscribed for students at the university he helmed.

According to Liberty student Alexandra Green, the photo shows Falwell to be even more of a hypocrite than people realize.

The photo “should actively anger you on behalf of the students who have faced significant consequences on campus for the *same* actions,” Green wrote in a series of tweets.

“Drinking? Smoking? Possession of cigarettes/alcohol? Against the rules regardless of age,” Green said, referring to Liberty’s rules for students. “Could result in a ‘$300 fine, 30 hours community service, and/or expulsion.’ Real people who could not afford the fines have been fined for this. Real people were kicked out for this.”

Green says that unbuttoning one’s pants could get someone “$150 and/or 15 hours or community service for being in ‘any state of undress with a member or the opposite sex.'”

It was also not the first compromising photo to reach the public, but this was embarrassing enough to the school that they announced a leave of absence for their president. It was the series of revelations about his wife that expedited drastic and decisive action.

Last Monday Falwell Jr. made the bizarre disclosure that his wife had the been the object of a "fatal attraction" threat, following a brief affair some years ago. He claimed the much younger man, Giancarlo Granda, was blackmailing them with threats of exposure. How any of this resembled Fatal Attraction -- the iconic, if terrible, movie about an extramarital fling, with a dangerously obsessional stalker -- was the first problematic question about this announcement. Granda wasn't boiling any bunnies, he didn't want to keep Becki Falwell, he just wanted the money he thought he was owed from a real estate venture.

And then it got stranger. It was Becki who had aggressively pursued the 20 year old pool boy for sex. with her husband as a spectator.

"During my work shift at the Fontainebleau Hotel in March 2012, I was chatting with some girls my age (20 at the time)," Granda told POLITICO. "Becki said, 'Those girls don’t know what they’re doing, you need someone with more experience.'"

After chatting, Granda said, Becki suggested they go to a hotel room.

"And then she goes, 'But one thing.' And I'm like, "Okay.' And she's like, 'My husband likes to watch.' And just then he comes out and he's wearing a Speedo."

Thus began a seven year entanglement with the powerful couple, in which Falwell Jr. enjoyed watching his wife have sex with Granda from a corner of the room or on video cameras. In Granda's telling, if anyone was "fatally attracted," it was the Falwells, who were very unwilling to let their boy toy go unscathed. And, unlike the Falwells, Granda can show receipts.

Granda also shared an audio recording that he says captures a conversation he had with the Falwells in 2018. In it, Becki complained about Granda describing his relationships with other people: “He’s like telling me every time he hooks up with people. Like I don’t have feelings or something.” Jerry then chimed in: “You’re going to make her jealous.” “I’m not trying to do that,” Granda replied.

Earlier texts show a friendly and romantic dynamic between Granda and Becki Falwell. One 2012 text message, which Granda said came from Becki, read in part: “Right now I am just missing you like crazy .... Have you had this effect on all of your lady friends?”

. . .

Granda said that while he entered into the sexual relationship with the Falwells willingly, today he feels the couple preyed upon him. “Whether it was immaturity, naïveté, instability, or a combination thereof, it was this ‘mindset’ that the Falwells likely detected in deciding that I was the ideal target for their sexual escapades,” Granda said.

Granda's description of a predatory Becki Falwell is bolstered by the account of another young man, who described her as "the aggressor." The former Liberty University student, and bandmate of the Falwells' son Trey, spoke under the condition of anonymity to Politico. He reported multiple, escalating advances from the teen guitarist's mother. It started with flirtatious innuendo, but led inexorably to uninvited oral sex, when he was sleeping in the guest room.

“I’m laying in the bed and I hear, like, giggling to the side of me on the floor. And, pardon my French, but I was like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ I look over and it’s Becki,” he said. “Just, you know, in my room. I’m like, ‘You can’t be in here. This can’t happen.’”

He was a 22-year-old student at Liberty. She was the wife of the president of the school. The Falwells were, effectively, the First Family of conservative evangelicalism in America.

After some prodding, he coaxed Falwell into leaving. He slept, woke up and acted like things were normal.

A few nights later, he stayed the night again. Again, Falwell came into the guestroom where the then-student was in bed.

This time, she was more aggressive. The former student remembers that Falwell climbed into bed with him, and quickly took down his pants.

“I was like, ‘uh, what are you doing?” the former student said. Falwell then proceeded to give him oral sex.

The young man was left with feelings of guilt, shame, and depression, over the adulterous relationship he'd been manipulated into.

The picture that emerges of Becki Falwell is more Mrs. Robinson than Dan Gallagher.

This sordid tale, though, includes the added element of a complicit, voyeuristic husband. The Falwells adamantly deny his involvement in her admitted affair, but the recorded conversation (see above) significantly undercuts that denial.

The Falwells, of course, have the right to whatever sex life they want to enjoy, with other consenting adults. The problem is not with their choice of lifestyle, but with their active, political involvement in denying sexual liberty to other Americans. They are the inheritors and stewards of a religio-poltical empire built on a culture war against sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, and the reproductive choice that have allowed women both sexual agency and bodily autonomy.

Jerry Falwell Jr. was also instrumental in moving the religious right from the margins, into the very heart of the Republican Party. Michael Cohen didn't "fix" Falwell's shady activities out of kindness. It was part of a quid pro quo that ensured the Falwell stamp of approval on Trump's candidacy. Thus did a twice divorced adulterer and notorious, unrepentant playboy, become the darling of the Christian Right.

In our new Bizarro World reality, Trump's longtime associate Roger Stone -- who once crippled his career as a GOP operative and self-described "dirty trickster," by advertising openly as a swinger -- is now on the Megachurch circuit.

Stone's newfound religious conviction does not seem to include any disavowal of either his shady  political tactics or his sex club activities. Stone is a recently convicted felon, whose commutation by Trump raises startling ethical, even legal, concerns. But his appeal to the evangelical base is light on atonement and heavy on victimhood.

Get Me Roger Stone -- Official Trailer

The irony is that this ludicrous popinjay and disgraced libertine fits right in with the Christian Right of our times.

Falwell Jr. resigned amidst his own public denials that he was resigning, finally declaring that, yes, he had resigned.

Appropriating Martin Luther King Jr.'s final words from his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech, Falwell told NPR that he is stepping down from his role at the university in Lynchburg, Va., saying he is "free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last!"

"That's the way, I feel," the 58-year-old added.

There is something uniquely horrifying about hearing privileged white men co-opt the victim status and struggle of marginalized minorities. Martin Luther King's quotation of that old Negro spiritual was aspirational, part of a "dream" of liberty, in some distant future. King wasn't about to float away on a golden parachute of $10.5 million. He was assassinated not long after uttering those words.

More to the point, what exactly is Falwell Jr. so joyously free from? Did he not like his job? Was he really so constrained,  by the very strictures he imposed on others? Perhaps the bonds of moral expectations were more painful than we know and this was his way of declaring his joy that he and his wife will now be able to freely cruise young men in Miami clubs. No doubt they'll run into Roger and Nikki.

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