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Liberty University Sues Falwell Jr. For Millions Over Lies and “Loose Lifestyle”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The transparent moral and religious hypocrisy of the evangelical movement in our country has never been better exemplified than in the ongoing salacious allegations, images, lawsuits, and claims going on between Liberty University and its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr. At issue is the scandal that broke out where once close family friend Giancarlo Granda began making allegations that the Falwells lived a lifestyle filled not only with standard business and political corruption, but one that was clearly the opposite of evangelical expectations.

Now, Talking Points Memo reports that on Thursday, Liberty University launched a lawsuit against Falwell, saying that this prodigal son of the university's founder conspired to conceal important business details and personal details from the school. The lawsuit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages, which the university says can be tripled under Virginia law to no less than $30 million, from Falwell, saying that in hiding the details of his wife's intimate affair—and his alleged appreciation of this affair—Falwell mislead Liberty officials down a dark road that has damaged the school's reputation and subsequently cost them financially. They want additional money for punitive damages as well as other damages. Thoughts and prayers.

The Liberty lawsuit claims that Falwell misled the school when renegotiating his 2019 employment agreement. It's also a clear opportunity for the school to create a legal wedge between future litigation that might target their connections with the Falwells and their corruption. Of course, Liberty University sat a long time with a man who has been publicly embarrassing and wrong at every turn. They have also been sued for taking advantage of their embarrassing leader's lies to the public and the student body. As Granda tweeted along with the TPM story:

Falwell parted ways with the school in August of 2020. This came with the publishing of a report by Reuters with Granda. Granda gave a very descriptive and long interview to Reuters. He provided emails and other pieces of evidence detailing how he met the Falwells as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel in 2012, and he began having a sexual affair with Becki Falwell when he was 20 years old that went on for some time in various places around the country. The salacious aspect of the story was that Granda alleged that Jerry Falwell Jr. was a willing audience for his wife's affair with Granda, and the three continued this open lifestyle for quite a while all over the country.

Falwell has admitted that his wife had an affair with Granda, but he says that all of this was extortion on Granda's part and every other allegation made by Granda about Jerry's complicity was a lie. Liberty points to the existence of numerous images, posted to social media over the months leading up to the Granda revelations, that seem to confirm that the Falwells did not live a particularly Christian lifestyle—at least not the kind of "Christian lifestyle" Liberty is selling.

Liberty accuses Falwell in the lawsuit of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and of engaging in a "conspiracy of silence" over alleged extortion attempts from Granda while negotiating a higher payment package from the evangelical institution.
"Had Liberty's Executive Committee known in 2018 and 2019 that Granda was attempting to extort Falwell Jr. and thus planning to damage Liberty, and had it known the full circumstances of Granda's extortion of Falwell Jr., then the Executive Committee would have refrained from entering into the 2019 Employment Agreement," the suit states.

Let us all be clear here: This is not a story about shaming Jerry Falwell Jr. or his wife Becki for living an open sexual lifestyle. This is a story about shaming the Falwells for living a lifestyle that they're afforded by promoting shame against that lifestyle in others. They're being shamed because the loose boundaries of their relationship have been condemned in others by themselves and the powerful organizations they represent—and from which they make lots of money. The money they make, the homes they own, and the private chartered planes they fly are built on this morally bankrupt lie.

A day before the lawsuit was filed, Politico confirmed with the university that Falwell's son, Trey Falwell, was "no longer employed by the university." According to the source, this was brand new news to Trey. It also was in line with stories that school officials were trying to further distance themselves from the Falwell family. Politico reported that the university's president, Jerry Prevo, had sent out an email to the school's employees that "No Liberty University employee at any level is permitted to communicate with Jerry Falwell, Jr. or Becki Falwell about university matters."

According to The New York Times, the lawsuit directs the court to Falwell's redesign of his contract, saying he deceived the Liberty board's executive committee into adding "a higher severance payout if he resigned for 'good reason' or if Liberty terminated his contract without cause. Mr. Falwell claimed to the committee that this would serve as a 'safety valve' for both him and the university if his full-throated support of former President Donald J. Trump proved damaging to the school's reputation." The lawsuit says that this was a little look at this hand while my other hand picks your pocket, and that Falwell was insuring himself against the Granda allegations and subsequent fallout on the horizon. In so doing, Falwell's "infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty."

Will this change the minds of racist evangelicals who have blindly followed this corrupt leadership for years? The short answer is no, it won't. What Falwell has been peddling for many years now is evangelicalism based in anti-Christian morality of business and land ownership over people. The fact that he seems to be a hypocrite of the highest (or lowest) order might not matter to people who think Donald Trump is someone you should vote for.

Falwell Jr. Apologizes For Suggestive Photo In Unzipped Pants

Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. was forced to apologize after he posted a scandalous photo with his wife's assistant on a yacht in which both of their pants are unzipped and their stomachs are exposed.

"She's pregnant, so she couldn't get her pants up. And I had on pair of jeans that I hadn't worn in a long time so I couldn't get mine zipped either. And so I just put my belly out like hers," Falwell said Thursday on a local talk radio show, adding that he's "apologized to everybody" for the photo.

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This Week In Crazy: Alex Jones Makes Incoherent Case For White Reparations

Eclipse apocalypse, white reparations, and a journalism crash course from a conspiracist blogger. Welcome to This Week In Crazy, The National Memo’s weekly update on the loony, bigoted, and hateful behavior of the increasingly unhinged right wing. Starting with number five:

5. Joe Arpaio

Awaiting sentencing for a July contempt of court conviction, the former Arizona sheriff — who, along with then-Celebrity Apprentice host Donald Trump, was at the forefront of the birther movement in 2012 — Skype’d into Alex Jones’ show on Wednesday to thank theTWIC regular for potentially convincing the president to pardon him.

“I want to thank you, Alex, and your staff, Jerry Corsi, Roger Stone, for bringing this story out and reaching the president,” Arpaio told Jones. “I supported him from, what, two years ago at the same forum that he did yesterday and I’m with him and I’m with him to the end.”

Despite early rumors to the contrary, Arpaio was not invited — and didn’t show up — to Trump’s rally on Tuesday night in Phoenix. He told reporters on Monday, “I don’t want to cause any havoc, if you know what I mean.”

(h/t MediaMatters)

4. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

The president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia — who told students at a convocation service after the San Bernardino attack in 2015 that they should get concealed carry permits to “end those Muslims before they walked in” — is apparently self-styling as moral policeman.

“You know, [Trump’s] a little abrasive sometimes in the way he says things, and we have some thin-skinned Americans sometimes who ignore the substance of what he’s saying because they’re put off by his demeanor,” Falwell told Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes. “And I think we need to grow up as a people and stop being so easily offended. It’s offensive for anybody to say that President Trump is a racist. He’s anything but.”

3. Paul Begley

This week was punctuated by the solar eclipse for which at least one McDonald’s shut down for a whole three minutes to allow its employees “to allow our employees to enjoy the ‘once in a lifetime’ spectacle of the totality of the Solar Eclipse.”

To summarize: President Trump looked directly into the sun, Tucker Carlson made fun of him for it, and — as far as I know — the world didn’t end. This despite Indiana Pastor Paul Begley’s prophecy that the eclipse was a sign of the apocalypse.

“It happened in the plagues of Egypt,” he reasoned — citing Joel 2:31 — during his radio show, Coming Apocalypse. “In one of the plagues the sun went dark for three days.”

2. Michael Snyder

Pastor Begley’s li’l theory was only the second craziest interpretation of Monday’s eclipse. The crown belongs to smalltime conspiracist and Idaho congressional candidate, Michael Snyder, whose Tuesday post on The Economic Collapse Blog was titled Is It Significant That The USS John S. McCain Was Damaged In A Collision On The Same Day As The Solar Eclipse?

The first thing I learned on my first day working in media was not to ask a question in a headline because the answer is more often than not no. And then Snyder came along this week and totally negated the lesson, because (spoiler alert) he indeed thinks it’s significant that the USS John S. McCain was damaged in a collision on the same day as the solar eclipse:

To me, it definitely feels like we have reached a ‘turning point.’  … I have written about the extraordinary confluence of events that are going to happen over a 40 day period beginning with the eclipse and ending with Yom Kippur on September 30th.

I certainly don’t anticipate anything too cataclysmic during the coming weeks, but I do believe that someone up there is trying to tell us something.

(h/t Right Wing Watch)

1. Alex Jones

You’ll remember the InfoWars figurehead from number five — and every other TWIC I’ve written. Remember when Joe Arpaio thanked Jones for pleading his case for a pardon to Donald Trump? Think for another paragraph about that line of communication between Alex Jones and the president. Now this:

On Monday — just over a week after a woman was killed and 19 others were injured in defiance of a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee  — Jones issued a “travel advisory” for white people and tried to make the case for white reparations.

“I’ve issued a travel advisory for the United States for white folks going to places like Denver, Detroit. Places like Chicago, places like Seattle, because I’ve been to these towns and I’ve experienced it,” Jones whined. (It’s worth noting here, he was doused with hot coffee during his man-on-the-street “invasion” of Seattle on Friday.)

He added:

There needs to be reparations for white people the last 20, 30 years, getting attacked and killed by the tens of thousands every year. Seriously, if you want to play this whole game, and I’m not actually asking for that. There needs to be real travel advisories. They used to have in the 60s some places like Selma, Alabama, The New York Times would put travel advisories out for black folks. Well, you know what? They needed a travel advisory. That’s true.

(h/t Media Matters)

Inside Donald Trump’s Extremist Education Agenda

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency left education policy experts at a complete loss to explain what this would mean for the nation’s schools. During his campaign, Trump gave few clues about what would inform his education leadership, only that he had some antipathy for the Department of Education, he was no fan of Common Core and he would advocate for more “school choice.”

After his election, experienced education journalists at Education Week predicted Trump would embrace conservative Beltway think tanks and state education policy leaders who had bristled under the rule of Obama’s education department, and would reject the influence of teachers unions, civil rights groups, and politically centrist education “reform” groups.

Many who pointed out “personnel is policy,” speculated Trump would pick an education secretary from the ranks of his transition advisers who came mostly from the above-mentioned DC-based circles and state government centers. Other knowledgeable sources predicted Trump might draw education policy knowhow from “outsider” sources, such as the military, big business or the charter school industry.

Not a single source I can find anticipated Trump would look for education expertise in the deep, dark well he repeatedly seems to draw from: the extremist, right-wing evangelical community.

The DeVos Nomination

The first clue that Trump would embed the extremist views of radical Christian orthodoxy in the White House’s education policy apparatus was his nomination of Betsy DeVos to be the nation’s next Secretary of Education.

As Politico reports, DeVos is a “billionaire philanthropist” who “once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to ‘advance God’s Kingdom.’”

Politico reporters point to numerous recordings and interviews in which DeVos and her husband Dick, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, promote education policies as avenues to “greater Kingdom gain … lament that public schools have ‘displaced’ the Church as the center of communities,” and refer to their efforts to advance private, religious schools as a “Shephelah,” an area where battles, including between David and Goliath, were fought in the Old Testament.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Katherine Stewart, an expert observer of the Christian right, writes, “Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right.”

Stewart points to numerous examples of DeVos-related family foundations that have generously donated to “conservative groups” pushing religious right doctrine including, the Alliance Defending Freedom,” the legal juggernaut of the religious right,” and “Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family.”

But Trump’s selection of DeVos for education secretary is not the only clue that the nation’s education policy may be in for a sharp veer to the religious right. As Stewart reports, “The president-elect’s first move on public education [was] Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation … Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.”

Falwell Jr. Came First

The Associated Press was first to break the story about Falwell Jr. being offered the job, reporting also that he declined it saying, “He couldn’t afford to work at a Cabinet-level job for longer than [two years] and didn’t want to move his family, especially his 16-year-old daughter.”

“Here is Trump, ready to hand the job [of Secretary of Education] to a religious zealot whose sole goal,” writes Michelangelo Signorile, the Gays and Lesbians editor for the Huffington Post, “would likely be to infuse evangelical Christian doctrine into public schools.”

Signorile also calls Falwell Jr. an “enemy of LGBTQ rights” and states, “It’s hard to believe Falwell would continue the Obama administration’s pro-LGBTQ programs if he actually became Secretary of Education, nor would he likely take the job with any stipulation that he must so.”

Need more evidence that Trump will usher in an education agenda largely dominated by the evangelical community? Another candidate Trump also considered for education secretary was Larry Arnn.

The Hillsdale College Connection

As the Daily Caller reports, “Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College, a small conservative liberal arts school in Michigan known for declining all federal funds.”

Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan (the Devos family’s home state), is regarded as “the conservative Harvard,” in some circles, and has been the recipient of generous donations from numerous funders of the rightwing conservative movement including the Koch brothers’ family foundation. Hillsdale also sponsors the Rush Limbaugh Show.

Hillsdale students overwhelmingly supported Trump for president, according to the campus newspaper, and at least seven Hillsdale professors and administrators publicly endorsed him.

According to an article in The Atlantic, Hillsdale is one among a number of conservative private colleges that rejects federal funds including financial aid for students. Many of these colleges, while they are rejecting federal funds, “are seeking, exemptions from the US Department of Education from provisions under Title IX of the laws governing higher education, which protects students from discrimination in housing, athletics, and access to facilities on the basis of such things as gender, sexual orientation, sex or pregnancy outside marriage, or having an abortion.”

Hillsdale has a long-held reputation for discriminating on the basis of gender preference and identity, and news outlets in the LGBT community have reported incidents in which Hillsdale staff and officials openly discriminated against gay students.

Arnn also came under fire from many liberal sources for describing nonwhite students as “dark ones” during a state legislature subcommittee hearing regarding the adoption of Common Core State Standards. Hillsdale’s official apology for that incident was arguably worse than Arnn’s remark, a Michigan blogger notes, as the college used its apology as another opportunity to take a swipe at government enforcement of affirmative action policies.

In addition to Hillsdale’s strong resentment of federal intrusion, especially on issues of civil rights, the college also has deep commitments to another favorite of conservative, religious advocates: charter schools.

A Chain Of Religion-Based Charter Schools

As I report in an in-depth investigation of the conservative movement’s influence on charter school expansions in Colorado, in addition to reinforcing gender and race inequity, Hillsdale operates the Barney Charter School Initiative, which is essentially a consultant service for a chain of 16 charter schools called Classical Academies. These charters purport to offer “the same course of study that helped propel Western Civilization to the top of the world,” according to what at least one of these schools says on its website.

The Barney project’s strong political agenda was revealed in its former mission statement, since taken down, which said the Initiative seeks to “recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism that has corrupted our nation’s original faithfulness to the previous 24 centuries of teaching the young the liberal arts in the West.” The statement also said, “The charter school vehicle possesses the conceptual elements that permit the launching of a significant campaign of classical school planting to redeem American public education.”

Charter schools created with the help of the Barney Initiative are also proving to be an ideal vehicle for evading laws enforcing separation of church and state. Since my investigation into the opening of a Barney-related charter in Colorado called Golden View Classical Academy, an independent news outlet in that state confirms the school indeed provides students a religion-based curriculum on the taxpayers’ dime.

As Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Independent reports, charter schools like Golden View “have found a legal workaround, and many Democratic and Republican lawmakers are looking the other way.”

Goodland recalls when Golden View applied to the district school board for approval, the school’s director “assured the board Golden View would not use a religious curriculum” and “agreed to comply with the intent of Colorado’s sexual education law by providing ‘appropriate instruction on human anatomy, reproduction and sexuality.’”

Yet, she notes the school’s family handbook, “adopted before the charter application was approved includes references to teaching about sexual intercourse only “in the context of a monogamous relationship between two people of opposite sexes,” a focus on abstinence, admonitions on “the moral and physical consequences of promiscuous sex,” and the “limited effectiveness” of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Goodlad blames a loose, unregulated waiver process for allowing charter schools like Golden View to skirt state laws, and she points to Colorado public officials  who provide charters ample leeway to ensure they have the  “autonomy” which they claim justifies their existence.

Keep in mind, Barney-related charters like Golden View, that essentially function like private religious schools while receiving taxpayer money, are scattered across the country; their network is growing, and a Trump administration that has pledged to provide more money for “school choice” will only help fuel more rapid expansions of these schools.

“Neither the public nor lawmakers understand the extent of the problem,” Goodlad concludes.

How DeVos And Hillsdale Intersect

Unsurprisingly, Hillsdale president Arnn says Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, “is someone he ‘knows and admires,’” according to right-wing news outlet Breitbart.

And why not, since Hillsdale also has strong ties to DeVos and her immediate family.

As the Hillsdale campus newspaper reports, DeVos’s “roots in Michigan philanthropy run deep and also intersect with Hillsdale College. Betsy DeVos’ brother is Erik Prince, a 1992 graduate of Hillsdale College and the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, now named Academi. In 2009, the DeVos family also founded ArtPrize, an international art competition that featured the work of five art professors and students this year. Most notably, Richard DeVos, Betsy DeVos’ father-in-law, co-founded Amway with Jay Van Andel. Van Andel’s son, Steve, was a 1978 graduate of Hillsdale and currently serves as the chairman of Amway. In 2013, after he donated to graduate school scholarships and operations, Hillsdale named its graduate school of statesmanship in his honor.”

Jay Van Andel was also, at the time of his death, a trustee of Hillsdale College, according to Wikipedia.

Most Extremist Administration Ever?

“Those who know DeVos say her goals are not sinister,” Politico reporters caution, “though they acknowledge the policies she’s likely to advance would benefit Christian schools. In fact, Trump’s $20 billion school choice program that would allow low-income students to select private or charter schools was devised with the help of the advocacy group DeVos headed until recently.”

Despite the strong evidence Trump’s education agenda may be driven by right-wing evangelicals, advocates for charter schools in the Democratic Party keep looking for reasons to believe Betsy DeVos is not going to be the extremist she is often portrayed as in media reports.

On hearing the news of the DeVos nomination, the politically centrist hedge fund-backed Democrats for Education Reform released a statement congratulating DeVos on her appointment and applauding her “commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools,” while at the same time regretting that her nomination is the outcome of a political campaign driven by “bigoted and offensive rhetoric.” (Never mind the charter schools DeVos helped grow in Michigan seem less than “high quality.”)

Another centrist Democrat deeply embedded in the investment community, Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Partners, hopes a Trump administration will offer up a plan for charter school expansion that includes “sweeteners for the Congressional Black Caucus” – a condescending and white privilege phrase if there ever was one.

Emma Brown, the education reporter for the Washington Post, notes many advocates for charter schools “worry” Trump’s embrace of charter schools may be identified with his “rhetoric about immigrants, inner cities, and women,” but still hope some kind of “strong accountability” will be in the new administration’s charter school governance, even though those accountability measures have proven to be easily gamed by the savviest charter operators.

“Playing the politics of niceness has never been so convenient for the Dems of education reform,” writes college professor and former charter school leader-turned reform critic Andre Perry. “DeVos’s belief in limited state oversight, for-profit charter management, and vouchers didn’t give Democrat proponents of charter schools any pause in the past. And for many it doesn’t now.”

If Perry is correct, that’s a shame, because anyone who strives for a clear-eyed view of the Trump administration’s oncoming education agenda will find there is no evidence—zero—of anything other than the most extreme policy agenda for the nation’s public schools.

Jeff Bryant is director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. He has written extensively about public education policy.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) stands with Betsy DeVos after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar