Jerry Falwell Jr. is known for many things: being a staunch, relentless Donald Trump supporter; heading evangelical Christian school Liberty University for years (he’s since indefinitely stepped down from that position); and recently appearing in a viral photo (since removed from his own Instagram) with his pants unzipped, with an arm around a woman later identified as his wife’s pregnant assistant. As of Monday, Giancarlo Granda, a business partner of Falwell and his wife, Becki Falwell, told Reuters in a now-viral interview that he had been in a sexual relationship involving the couple for years, beginning back in 2012, when Granda was in his early 20s. According to Granda, that relationship continued until 2018.
Granda told the outlet that he had sex with Becki Falwell while Jerry Falwell Jr. watched. This alleged detail matters, as Falwell himself came forward about the affair on Sunday, but his version was quite a bit different. And if you remember back to 2018, this isn’t even the first time this combination of people made national headlines. Let’s break it all down below.
In speaking to Reuters, Granda described his relationship with Becki as “intimate” and told the news outlet that “Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room.” Granda claimed these encounters occurred at the Falwells’ home in Virginia, as well as in hotels in both Miami and New York over the years.
Now, the day before this interview broke, Jerry Falwell Jr. gave a statement to the Washington Examiner, claiming that the man Becki had an affair with (not identified by name in Falwell’s statement) tried to extort money from the couple, adding that the couple met this person while on a trip eight years ago. In his statement to the Examiner, he described the affair as “inappropriate” and “something in which I was not involved.” Which is, obviously, a far cry from Granda’s version of the story.
Falwell’s attorney, Michael Bowe, told Reuters that Falwell “categorically denies everything you indicated you intend to publish about him.”
Another way in which the stories differ involves the claim of blackmail: Granda told Reuters he wanted to come to an agreement on a buyout from a business arrangement. In a statement to the Examiner, Granda said, “any allegation of extortion is falsely, defamatory and belied by clear documentary evidence,” adding, “The WHOLE truth will come out.” In a statement to the Associated Press, Granda said the Falwells were “attempting to get ahead of the story by creating a false narrative.”
As Falwell’s statement to the Examiner presents it, however, the Falwells “tried to distance ourselves from him over time,” adding, “Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family, and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies.”
As first reported by BuzzFeed News in 2018, the Falwells bought a youth hostel—later to be described as a “cesspool of vice” by Politco— in Miami Beach in 2013 with Granda (who lived in the area), where Granda would be the hostel manager. Granda was reportedly offered a stake in the hostel as part of the arrangement. This deal later turned into a massive lawsuit, as covered extensively by The New York Times.
The big-picture background behind this, of course, is that the Falwells are huge influences in the evangelical community. In fact, Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump for the 2016 election was considered absolutely monumental. In 2019, Michael Cohen claimed Falwell asked him for help dealing with “personal” photos, which Cohen claims were destroyed by the person who had them after Cohen himself intervened, according to a recorded conversation reviewed by Reuters.
Even more recently, Falwell faced major backlash for welcoming Liberty students back to campus after they departed for spring break amid the pandemic, leading community members to worry about students possibly bringing the virus back with them. Some students actually sued the school.
As Politico reports, not everyone involved at Liberty has been happy with Falwell, even before he left his position earlier this summer. Anonymous employees of Liberty told the outlet that Falwell’s partying and alleged inappropriate discussions about his own sex life with Liberty workers did not sit well with them—especially given that Liberty is a super-conservative Christian school, and Falwell himself a huge influence on the religious right. And of course, even Falwell’s 2016 Trump endorsement made negative waves, as many in the community assumed Sen. Ted Cruz would get that nod. Making the strange even stranger, Reuters has reported that, according to people familiar with the matter, Cohen is the person who helped convince Falwell to give Trump his endorsement, which obviously carried enormous weight.
Update: According to Religion News Service, Falwell has resigned from Liberty University.