"Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Liberty University" by Shealah Craighead / Public Domain

Jerry Falwell Jr. dreaded the spotlight. Then came Donald Trump.

Aug 17, 2020

By Michelle Boorstein and Susan Svrluga

A few days after Jerry Falwell Jr. buried his father in 2007, an author writing about the family visited Falwell Jr.’s office and made what he thought was an obvious comment. With the death of Jerry Falwell Sr., a charismatic religious-right titan, Falwell Jr. was about to become president of a Christian mega-university as the heir of the extremely famous brand name.

“I said: ‘You’re really in the spotlight now, eh?’ ” said Dirk Smillie, then a Forbes writer working on a book about the family and the booming university Falwell Sr. had created in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. “If I was in his place, I’d expect a number of emotions. But instead he had this look like he was being taken to the guillotine, like: ‘This is, like, the last thing I want to do.’ He was dreading the visibility that would come from having to replace what his father had engineered.”

Over the next 13 years, Falwell Jr. transformed from a shy, reclusive real estate developer and lawyer nervous in public settings to a highflying national figure — known not only for his leadership of the country’s most prominent evangelical university, which boasts 85,000 students, but also for a long series of controversial social media posts — some criticized as Islamophobicsexist and racist — and for his zealous public defense of President Trump.

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