By Michelle Boorstein and Susan Svrluga
“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 Islamophobic, sexist and racist — and for his zealous public defense of President Trump.
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