Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has accused a group of students who vowed to return their diplomas to denounce his support of Donald Trump of doing nothing more than "grandstanding."
During a recent interview with Fox News contributor Todd Starnes, Falwell responded to a group of students who called for his resignation and promised to return their diplomas: "It's a joke. It's grandstanding, that's all it is," he said, adding that when those graduates apply for jobs they will put Liberty University's degree on their resume.
The students organized the effort after Falwell, a longtime Trump supporter, defended the president's response to a bloody white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
While many criticized Trump for saying "both sides" were responsible for the Charlottesville violence, Falwell tweeted,"The truth as stated by @realdonaldtrump is that violent white supremacists, Nazi, KKK and similar hate groups are pure evil and un-American."
He later said Trump "does not have a racist bone in his body."
"I know him well. He loves all people," he said Monday in an interview with Fox & Friends, adding that Trump made "very clear" who the culprits were because he called out 'the Nazis, the white supremacists, the KKK members by name.'
Chris Gaumer, a former Student Government Association president and 2006 graduate, told NPR the decision to return his diploma was simple.
"I'm sending my diploma back because the president of the United States is defending Nazis and white supremacists," Gaumer said. "And in defending the president's comments, Jerry Falwell Jr. is making himself and, it seems to me, the university he represents, complicit."
Georgia Hamann, a 2006 Liberty graduate who works as an attorney in Phoenix, said a friend of hers started the movement and said she believes more students will join the cause.
"Our hope is that the moderate alumni of the school, folks who are moderate Republicans ... will call on the school to manage this situation better, to rebuke Mr. Falwell for his apparent inability to distinguish between what's politically incorrect, as he puts it, and what's morally correct," Hamann said.
The group has also written letter to university officials calling on Falwell to repudiate Trump's remarks, NPR reported.
Reads the letter: "While this state of affairs has been in place for many months, the Chancellor's recent comments on the attack upon our neighbors in Charlottesville have brought our outrage and our sorrow to a boiling point. During the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, white supremacists, nationalists, and neo-Nazis perpetrated brutal violence against anti-racist protesters, murdering one woman and injuring many. Instead of condemning racist and white nationalist ideologies, Mr. Trump provided equivocal and contradictory comments. The Chancellor then characterized Mr. Trump's remarks, which included the claim that some of the persons marching as white nationalists and white supremacists at the rally were 'very fine people,' as 'bold' and 'truthful.' This is incompatible with Liberty University's stated values, and incompatible with a Christian witness."
Falwell, who invited Trump to give the first commencement speech of his term as president to Liberty University graduates, also told Starnes said he is "proud" of Trump for calling out evil by its name.
He accused the media of portraying Charlottesville as a "philosophical war between liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, Jews and gentiles" when in reality, it's "just good versus evil and we all need to we all need to be united in fighting any form of terrorism whether it's Timothy McVeigh or Islamic radicals flying planes into buildings."