Liberty University President Says He'll Only Wear a Mask If It Features Governor's Alleged Blackface Photo

Virginia's governor announced a mandate about wearing face coverings just as the state saw its biggest daily spike in new cases of the novel coronavirus

Jerry Falwell Jr.
Jerry Falwell Jr. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has expressed his disapproval of a new order requiring face coverings in Virginia with a custom mask targeting the state’s governor.

Falwell’s criticism comes after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a mandate Tuesday evening that Virginians — with some exceptions, like eating and exercise — must wear masks in public to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order goes into effect on Friday.

The mandate was announced just as Virginia saw its biggest daily spike in new cases: a jump from 1,483 on Monday to 1,615 Tuesday, according to local TV station WAVY.

Since April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people wear face coverings in public where social distancing is difficult, such as in stores and crowded areas. The coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets like those from coughing and sneezing.

Falwell, the outspoken conservative leader of the evangelical Christian school based in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Wednesday tweeted out a photo of a face mask that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe.

That photo first made headlines last year. It was published in a medical yearbook more than 30 years ago and was on a spread with Northam's name.

While he initially apologized for the photo, Northam, 60, later denied either man was him and a subsequent investigation didn't reach a conclusion either way.

“I was adamantly opposed to the mandate from @GovernorVA requiring citizens to wear face masks until I decided to design my own,” Falwell, 57, wrote on Twitter alongside a photo of his mask, which he later said he had made for himself but would not be re-selling for others. (Falwell also defended himself saying he didn't think black people would be offended by him re-using the photo.)

“If I am ordered to wear a mask, I will reluctantly comply, but only if this picture of Governor Blackface himself is on it!” he wrote on Twitter.

Falwell added the hashtags “#VEXIT” and “#EndLockdownNow,” joining those who have protested protection measures put in place to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S.

In other tweets, Falwell took aim at Democrats like Northam.

The governor faced significant backlash when the photo in Falwell’s mask, taken from Northam’s medical college yearbook, resurfaced in early 2019.

“When I was confronted with the images yesterday I was appalled that they appeared on my page,” he said during a press conference on Feb. 2, 2019. “but I believe then and now, that I am not either of the people in that photo.”

During the same press conference, Northam did admit to darkening his face for a costume in a separate incident.

“That same year I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume,” he said. “I look back now and regret that I did not understand the harmful legacy of an action like that. It is because my memory of that episode is that vivid that I truly do not believe I am in the picture in my yearbook. You remember these things.”

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