LYNCHBURG, Va. — Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, which touts itself as the world’s largest Christian university, is now claiming that there is a “criminal conspiracy” and “attempted coup” against him as both current and former staffers recently provided copies of email correspondence and other information about him to the media, exposing alleged inappropriate behavior and characterizing Falwell’s leadership as a “dictatorship.” Additional emails were published on Thursday that showed Falwell calling a student “emotionally imbalanced and physically retarded” and characterizing Liberty’s police chief as a “half-wit.”
Politico published a report on Monday that features details from interviews and correspondence with two dozen current and former members of “Liberty’s board of trustees, senior university officials, and rank-and-file staff members who work closely with Falwell.” The expose’ was written by Liberty graduate Brandon Ambrosino, who wrote another article in 2013 about his positive experience coming out as a homosexual on campus.
Christian News Network also reported that same year on the questions raised over the university allowing Ambrosino to be enrolled in its Baptist Theological Seminary.
“They are reluctant to speak out — there’s no organized, open dissent to Falwell on campus — but they said they see it as necessary to save Liberty University and the values it once stood for,” Ambrosino wrote this week. “They said they believe in the Christian tradition and in the conservative politics at the heart of Liberty’s mission.”
The staffers were kept anonymous as they said that they were afraid to talk, and the article notes that many employees and board members are required to sign a confidentiality agreement that remains in force even after their departure.
“If you teach or work at Liberty, you must get approval from Falwell’s office before you speak to the media,” it states. “Talk to reporters without his approval — or publicly criticize him, even obliquely — and you could lose your job.”
Among the numerous accusations in the report include allegations that Falwell engages in inappropriate and graphic talk about his sex life with his wife, that he sent photos of his wife engaged in risque’ poses, and that he uses his position as a real estate developer for self-dealing in benefiting his family.
It was also noted in the article that Falwell, his wife Becki, and his son Trey were photographed at a nightclub in Florida called WALL. Falwell seemed to initially deny that he had ever been at the club, responding, “There was no picture snapped of me at WALL nightclub or any other nightclub.”
However, when Falwell was provided a copy of one of the photographs from 2014, he asserted that it must have been photo-shopped.
“I never have seen the picture you claim is of me below. If the person in the picture is me, it was likely photo-shopped,” he asserted.
But on Wednesday, Falwell took to Twitter about the matter, contending to followers, “Just for the record, I never denied going into a club with my family to listen to music for about 30 minutes years ago. I only denied I asked anyone to scrub pics of me. I never knew of any pics until a week ago. DUH.”
The Politico article alleged, according to staffers, that Falwell had asked his IT person to make the photograph fall lower in Google searches as he was unhappy that it was posted online.
World Red Eye, which took the photographs, has since pushed back against Falwell’s assertion that the images were altered in any way. The company said that it was actually surprised to find out that Falwell was in the photo and didn’t know why Politico had requested it.
The report also notes that in May, Reuters obtained a recorded conversation from then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen in which he states that Falwell had asked him to help deal with some “racy” photos that should be kept “between husband and wife,” as they had somehow fallen into an individual’s possession.
“This report is not accurate,” Falwell told conservative commentator Todd Starnes after the report went public. “There are no compromising or embarrassing photos of me.”
However, the Miami Herald reported in June that it had obtained three photographs, and the “images [are] not of Falwell, but of his wife in various stages of undress.” A Liberty official told Politico that “[i]f you read how Jerry is framing his response, you can see he is being very selective” by denying the photos in crafting the matter to be about himself.
Cohen had reportedly stated that he believed the images were swiped from Falwell’s phone, suggesting that they were sent to him by his wife. However, Ambrosino wrote in his expose’ that he was informed by officials that Falwell has also “shown or texted his male confidants — including at least one employee who worked for him at Liberty — photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses.”
While the report states that at least one photo was sent on accident, it is not clear if all were a mistake or intentional — if the allegations are true.
A number of those interviewed for the article also confirmed that Falwell is “very, very vocal” about sexual matters between himself and his wife.
On Thursday, Reuters released a report outlining that it had obtained dozens of emails sent by Falwell since the inception of his presidency at Liberty University in 2008. It stated that Falwell has “denigrated” students, parents and staff in various emails, calling one student “emotionally imbalanced and physically retarded” and characterizing Liberty’s police chief as a “half-wit.”
Other emails include calling some students who were using a certain university-owned gym “social misfits” and one dean “a bag of hot air.”
Falwell told reporters this week that he has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) about the matter as he believes those who leaked emails and information to Politico (and likely now Reuters) are engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to oust him as president.
“The emails are stolen property and the fact that all these people in different states are joining together and sharing stolen emails with the press makes it a criminal conspiracy,” he told CNN.
“There is no self-dealing at Liberty University,” Falwell further contended. “I have never written a single check, have not gotten a single penny from any Liberty transaction except for my salary, which is approved by the board every year.”
He likewise denied detailing sexual activities with his wife, telling the outlet “I’m just going to say it’s not true.”
Falwell has also threatened to file a civil suit against those who made the claims to the media and leaked internal emails. He believes that it is theft to share the emails since they belong to the university.
As previously reported, in 2016, then-board member Mark DeMoss, the founder of the Atlanta-based public relations firm DeMoss, and the chairman of Liberty University’s executive committee for 25 years, said that he was forced out of his position for expressing objection to Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump.
In speaking with the Washington Post, DeMoss remarked that that Falwell’s endorsement of Trump was a “mistake” as the then-presidential candidate’s practice of name-calling runs contrary to the values of the school.
“The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense, and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. That’s what’s disturbing to so many people,” he said in part. “It’s not Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.”
DeMoss says that he was soon contacted by Falwell and the committee, which expressed “their disapproval of my speaking publicly about the subject.” While Liberty University contested the facts of what happened, DeMoss said that he later received a phone call from an attorney who allegedly said that if he did not resign from the board, he would be removed.
Falwell believes that he is currently being targeted by former staffers in part because of his support for Trump.