Falwell has long courted scandal, but was previously met with seemingly endless patience from his backers at Liberty. The school’s leadership stuck by Falwell as he became one of Trump’s earliest and most dedicated supporters, and when, following the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, he encouraged students to get concealed-carry permits so they could “end those Muslims before they walk in,” ostensibly referring to terrorists. School leadership supported him through allegations of internal bullying and corrupt self-dealing, and when Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, said he helped Falwell destroy racy “personal photographs.” Falwell didn’t even lose his job in May, when he tweeted a picture of a face mask depicting figures in KKK robes and blackface, an attempt to mock Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Enough of Falwell’s supporters saw that photo as a debatable political stunt that the controversy dissipated. But it was still a turning point—a moment when pastors, alumni, and board members began questioning whether Falwell should stay in his role…

To those evangelicals who abhor Trump’s association with evangelicalism, however, Falwell’s support for the president was his original sin. Falwell provides “religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints,” Michael Gerson, the evangelical Washington Post columnist who served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote in an Atlantic cover story about evangelical support for Trump. Falwell was able to survive at Liberty for so long in part because many of the school’s leaders agreed with his politics, and they felt justified dismissing criticism of Falwell’s behavior as just another biased attack. The yacht photo, however, “could not be brushed off as someone else’s bad-faith interpretation of what Jerry had done, or some exaggeration or falsehood reported by the media, or a misunderstanding,” Prior said.