Some Liberty University graduates plan to send back their diplomas to the evangelical school in Lynchburg, Virginia, to protest the college president’s unwavering support of President Donald Trump, which they say has left them “with shame and anger.”
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 140 alumni members had expressed support for the “return your diploma” effort on Facebook after university President Jerry Falwell Jr. lauded Trump’s remarks on the recent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “bold” and “truthful.” That praise came despite Trump laying blame for violence on both the rallying hate groups and counterprotesters.
A 32-year-woman was killed Aug.12 when a white supremacist allegedly drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, and two on-duty Virginia state troopers died that same day when their helicopter crashed.
“Anything other than strong condemnation from Trump [of the hate groups] is disappointing,” Georgia Hamann, a 2006 LU graduate and attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, who penned a letter to the school on behalf of the participating alumni’s behalf, told HuffPost on Sunday.
The group intends to mail the diplomas to Falwell’s office on Sept. 5, and it also seeks his removal as the school’s president. The letter on the group’s Facebook page says Falwell, son of the university’s founder, has failed to condemn “things which are patently against the religion he and LU claim.”
Those actions, the letter says, “have filled us with shame and anger as alums.”
“I think all of the alumni have been troubled by Jerry Falwell Jr.’s intense defense of Trump,” Hamann said.
Fellow 2006 graduate Chris Gaumer, who’s a former LU Student Government Association president, echoed that sentiment to HuffPost on Sunday, He called Trump’s comments “disgusting and abhorrent.”
“It doesn’t really get too much more important than this,” he said of standing up against the hate groups.
In an earlier interview with NPR, Gaumer said that in siding with Trump, Falwell was siding with Nazi and white supremacist sympathizers. That makes him “and it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit,” said Gaumer, who resides in Lynchburg.
Falwell defended his words, as well as those of Trump, during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. Falwell suggested that Trump laid blame to both sides in the Charlottesville clashes because he “has inside information.”
Some of those protesting, Falwell suggested, may have been “historical purists” who were upset about the efforts of Charlottesville officials to remove from a park a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
He also noted that as part of his commentary on the Charlottesville violence, Trump had labeled as “evil” white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members.
Falwell waved off the alumni protest, saying his support for Trump, which included an endorsement during his presidential campaign, is misunderstood.
“One of the reasons why I supported him is because he doesn’t say what’s politically correct,” and “he’s not focus-grouping every word he says,” Falwell said. “My support for the president is his bold and truthful willingness to call terrorist groups by their real names, and that’s something we haven’t seen by presidents in recent years.”
Hamann snapped back at that assessment, saying such praise for someone being politically incorrect without concern over the possible repercussions is “just so troubling.”
“That can’t be your world view,” she said.