Jonathan Martin, a prominent anti-Trump Christian author, was escorted off the grounds of Liberty University by campus police officers Monday night. He was told to never return or he would be arrested for trespassing.
Liberty has been known for its conservative politics since it was founded in the 1970s by Jerry Falwell Sr., a prominent figure on the religious right. Its current president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has taken campus politics to new levels with his unfailing support of Donald Trump, a man he’s called a “dream president” for evangelicals.
He has also demonstrated intolerance for those who criticize the president. It was this behavior, culminating in a report that Falwell was teaming up with Steve Bannon to oust “fake Republicans,” that prompted Martin to travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, on Monday. His goal was to meet with students and alumni to organize a prayer gathering in protest of the school and its leader’s political activity.
Falwell Jr. denies he was silencing Martin. It was merely about safety, he said. In an email, he told me members of the Liberty community are allowed to engage in peaceful protest and debate, but “Mr. Martin is not a student, faculty member, or employee.” Those outside of the Liberty community are required to organize events according to “facility use protocols” to ensure safety and order, but he said Martin did not follow these. The gathering, Falwell said, was little more than a publicity stunt:
It may be possible that Jonathan Martin knew his unauthorized event would ultimately not be permitted to occur on the private property of Liberty University but he simply hoped to garner more attention to his cause by having his efforts stopped. So be it. The judgment was made that it was safer to stop the event before it started than to attempt to turn away an unknown number of people who traveled to Liberty’s campus. Either option likely gives Mr. Martin’s cause the publicity he apparently seeks. The University cannot be concerned with whether its actions provide additional oxygen to either side of a debate but rather must be concerned about safety and security of its campus.
Martin was on campus as a guest of Johnnyswim, a band performing at Liberty. Martin told me that he was backstage in the green room when campus police officers arrived. Amanda Ramirez, one of Johnnyswim’s two lead singers, confirmed that they invited him to attend and informed university officials that he would be joining them. She said she was “shocked” by the college’s “overboard” behavior. On Twitter, the band called the university police’s response “a ridiculous act.”