He was almost shouting now, his voice rising as he competed with the half-dozen demonstrators interrupting him.

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., stepped to the lectern at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol to introduce his latest bill targeting critical race theory, calling the college-level academic framework on systemic racism a “violation of our students’ civil rights.”

“This is what the left does, by the way,” Good said to reporters, gesturing to the small crowd that had just called him a racist. “Because the left can’t handle the truth.”

“You try to erase my history!” a woman fired back.

“Shame on you!” the protesters soon began shouting, nearly drowning him out on that September afternoon as he tried to invoke the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But Good was not ashamed. He was defiant. A longtime CitiFinancial district manager and Liberty University athletics fundraiser, Good had embarked on a new mission: crusading against the threats he perceives to the America of his upbringing — a small Virginia community shaped by evangelist Jerry Falwell Sr.

The self-described biblical conservative, a former county board supervisor in rural central Virginia, has taken a scorched-earth approach to his first year in Congress, castigating members of his party he has deemed not conservative enough while allying himself with some of the House’s most bombastic lawmakers.

Advertising

A member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, Good has embodied the kind of GOP purity test that has conflicted more-moderate members of the party in the post-Trump era. He still believes the falsehood that fraud cost Donald Trump the election, he said in an interview. He said he still believes the government’s pandemic response is “phony” and has even encouraged high school students in his district to defy a school mask mandate.

And though he rarely garners the same viral fame, he has joined Republican lawmakers such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar in protesting masks on the House floor — and has been fined for refusing — or in rallying outside the Justice Department to demand answers about the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants.

To some in the Liberty athletics department’s orbit who knew Good at an arm’s length, his ascension to no-holds-barred congressional agitator has been puzzling if not intriguing: How, some wondered, did the quiet, mild-mannered glad-hander they once greeted in the stands at football games get to be so loud?

To others who know the Liberty graduate more closely, however, he hasn’t changed — always just as stubborn in his convictions but now with a bigger megaphone.

“I think he was tailor-made for this position, to be quite honest with you,” said one of his former wrestling coaches in the 1980s, Jesse Castro, who is now head coach at Liberty. “I could see it, even back then.”

— — –

Good grew up watching the charismatic Thomas Road Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell Sr. build an evangelical empire in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from nothing in the 1970s.

Advertising

One of four brothers, Good moved in 1974 with his family at 9 years old from New Jersey to a little unincorporated community called Evington, so his father could attend Liberty Baptist Seminary in nearby Lynchburg.

The move positioned Good and his family at the center of Falwell’s universe. They were sitting in the pews of his church just as Falwell launched the nationwide Moral Majority movement in the late 1970s — encouraging evangelicals to bring Christian values to the ballot box, opposing issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Today, some of Good’s allies say the congressman is carrying out Falwell’s vision. Having witnessed Falwell mold the foundation of the religious right, Good ultimately became the first graduate of Falwell’s university to be elected to Congress.

“Dr. Falwell had a great influence on my life from a political standpoint because of his vision, and I think that’s what you see here in Bob,” said state Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, a fellow Liberty graduate who has known Good’s family since the 1970s.

It wasn’t necessarily Falwell the man who led Good toward politics later in life, Good said, but rather the sense of urgent Christian political activism that Falwell galvanized, particularly in the aftermath of the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade.

“Foundationally, fundamentally, prior to that, many Christians didn’t engage in politics,” Good said in an interview. “We didn’t really get into the political realm. Some didn’t recognize the disparate differences the parties were beginning to take, which has become more pronounced now. You almost can’t separate the moral issues from the fiscal issues.”

Advertising

Falwell’s influence permeated Good’s upbringing. While his father was a student at Liberty Baptist Seminary, his mother worked as a cashier at the building hosting Falwell’s “Old-Time Gospel Hour” Christian television program, according to a 1978 article in Thomas Road Baptist’s newspaper.

His family grew up poor, intermittently on food stamps or without a car, Good said. One August evening in 1978, when Good’s family had fallen on hard times, an “anonymous benefactor” dropped off tuition money at his home for Good and his brothers to attend Lynchburg Christian Academy, according to the article. Falwell had founded the private Christian school as an extension of his ministry at Thomas Road Baptist in 1967. (According to the book “Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right” by Seth Dowland, the school in its early years functioned as a “segregation academy” for white students, which Falwell later denied.)

The benefactor, Good says now, was Falwell, who allowed Good and his brothers to attend the Christian school free of charge all through high school — an act of kindness Good said altered the course of his life.

Good went on to win a state high school wrestling championship and secured a partial wrestling scholarship to then-budding Liberty University. Soon, in the mid-1980s, Good would meet his future wife, Tracey, a cheerleader, and major in finance, dabbling in politics through the College Republicans.

“I think Bob himself will tell you he wasn’t the most athletically gifted person, but what he lacked in giftedness he made up for in work ethic,” said Castro, who coached Good as a graduate assistant in the ’80s.

Good’s former Liberty colleagues described a similar persona. Good, after a 17-year career with Citibank, returned to lead his alma mater’s athletics booster program in 2005, while lobbying Falwell and the administration to restore the wrestling program that had gone on hiatus. Kevin Keys, who shared a tiny office with Good for years, saw him as an ambitious employee who combined a “wrestler’s mentality” with corporate prowess to dramatically expand Liberty’s athletics fundraising.

Sponsored

“He always had the vision and desire to go after goals that were bigger than what was put in front of him,” Keys said, noting that he would see that same trait emerge as Good aimed for Congress years later.

But compared with more-flamboyant personalities at Liberty during the era of university president Jerry Falwell Jr., who resigned last year amid personal scandals, Good largely kept his head down, said one former athletics department employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss her former colleague. In one conversation, she said, he even seemed to express feeling bad about asking people for money, given Liberty already had so much.

Chad Hasson, a Liberty graduate who got to know Good while leading a Liberty sports podcast, remembered him as an amicable and “very quiet” family man. “Most of the time you had to kind of make eye contact and approach him first. He wasn’t the type of guy who was going to come up to you if you didn’t want to talk,” he said. “I think politics has kind of changed that.”

— — –

Good’s first vote in elected office came nearly six years ago, when a unanimous Campbell County Board of Supervisors in 2016 voted to reject the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Symbolic votes about gun rights and transgender people’s access to public restrooms followed.

His friends had pressed him to run for the county seat, desiring a reliable fiscally conservative vote, he said. And when Democrats attacked his record during his congressional run, they affirmed his choices.

“This is a very conservative area,” said Walker, the Lynchburg delegate. “You look at the voting record and say, hey, this is real America. We don’t want anybody telling us we can’t have a gun. We don’t want anyone telling us abortion is right.”

Advertising

Good said he ran for Congress only because district party leaders could not find anyone else more experienced to challenge then-GOP incumbent Denver Riggleman, who fell into hot water with the district’s far-right faction after officiating a same-sex wedding, sitting on a climate-change panel and supporting more immigrant-worker visas.

Now, after defeating him and Democrat Cameron Webb, Good has taken the same firebrand approach from Campbell County to Washington — urging localities in his district to reject laws or policies with which he disagrees, lambasting Democrats’ spending and pursuing culture-war legislation unlikely to make it out of committee.

He has stayed miles away from bipartisanship, telling a Republican fundraiser crowd over the summer that he was hard-pressed to find a single piece of legislation he would slap his name on next to a Democrat’s. When 13 House Republicans voted for the “phony” infrastructure bill, he said he hoped they would be primaried out of office.

Good’s opposition to the bill upset Democrats in the district hoping their congressman, while perhaps a Trump ally with fundamentally different views on most issues, might still be able to support broadband expansion and highway funding. The 5th District — larger than Good’s former home state, New Jersey — stretches from Southside Virginia all the way north to Warrenton, including blue bubbles such as Danville and Charlottesville.

“He’s going to reject anything that the Democrats are for,” said Bedford resident Joe Krcmaric, who has taken to writing furious letters to the editor about Good’s actions in his local paper. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong — to him, it’s right or left.”

At the heart of Good’s opposition is his claim that Democrats’ trillions in spending — both on the infrastructure bill and the social-spending package — will “transform us into a Marxist, socialist country.”

Advertising

“I would argue that creating dependency on government and undermining the family is a moral issue,” he said in an interview. At a news conference this summer, he went further, charging that Democrats would not just put the country on a path to public-treasury dependency but also on a “path to bondage,” citing an 18th-century historian.

But while he has framed Democrats as radical, he has not hesitated to defend his allies on the House Freedom Caucus when they express support for violent extremism.

He defended Greene and Gosar when Democrats — and some Republicans — voted to remove them from their committees over Greene’s support of antisemitic and extremist conspiracy claims and Gosar’s sharing of a violent anime video depicting him murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Good characterized Democrats’ actions as a “double standard” and an effort to “silence Republican voices.”

When Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., supported a bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, however, he lobbied to remove them from their committees and the Republican Conference.

Stymied by the Democratic majority in Congress, Good has instead tried to implement his legislative priorities through persuasion at the most local level. All summer, he traveled from school board meeting to school board meeting. He urged parents and school officials to reject mask mandates, state anti-discrimination policies protecting transgender students and critical race theory — an intellectual movement, not a part of Virginia’s curriculum, that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism, which Good said he does not believe exists.

Good’s crusade earned him a standing ovation at some school board meetings in red strongholds as he drew on the same “parental rights” themes that energized supporters of now-Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. But constituents at others left befuddled about their congressman’s priorities — and rankled over his denial of the pandemic’s dangers.

Advertising

Yolanda Langhorne, whose 6-year-old granddaughter is severely immunocompromised, attended a Cumberland County school board meeting in August hoping to hear board members discuss the school mask policy. “I just want to see her continue to live,” she said.

Instead, the only person to discuss masks was her congressman.

“I would just ask our schools to resist Richmond and not commit what I consider to be child abuse, forcing our children to spend all day with a mask on,” Good said.

Langhorne said she found solace in the fact that “at the end of the day, he doesn’t make the rules.” Apparently unmoved by Good’s appeal, the Cumberland County school board announced the next day that it would be implementing a mask mandate, pursuant to state law.

In an interview, asked what he believes the government should do to mitigate the pandemic, since he has not supported any of its measures, Good suggested the government should have done nothing. He presented a hypothetical world in which the government never even uttered the word “COVID,” never introduced mask mandates, never closed businesses or schools — so imagine, he said, “we never heard of COVID.”

“How many of us would be saying: ‘What’s been going on for 18 months? People around us are dying’?” Good said. “We’re 18 months in, and I don’t even know if I know anybody, on a personal level, who succumbed to the virus … And I know thousands of people personally, because of the nature of what I did at Liberty.”

More than 1,300 people have died of COVID-19 in his district, state health data shows.

Advertising

He declined to disclose whether he is vaccinated, describing it as a private matter, but added, “You can probably surmise yourself.” Just after the November election, he asked Youngkin to reject the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates in Virginia.

Hasson said he had been trying to reconcile the man on television with the one he saw with his family at football games, concluding he has had to “morph his persona” to fit the political moment. He said he did not agree with Good’s positions on election fraud or the pandemic but believed Good had to play to his party’s base to effectively fight for conservative principles and against Democrats’ agenda.

“What worked at Liberty as a Flames Club director was being very soft-spoken, kind, shaking hands and smiling with everyone, because that’s what made people want to give money to a booster club,” Hasson said. “What’s working in politics is being this abrasive, on-the-offensive type of personality.”

It’s not working for everyone.

Karen Swallow Prior, a former English professor at Liberty University and a member of Thomas Road Baptist, said she ended her support for Good before he even got started.

A longtime socially conservative Republican voter who once was a prominent anti-abortion activist, Prior said she thought her congressman was going to be a “normal Republican” — fighting abortion and tax hikes. But then, just weeks after the election, she saw him appear at the Dec. 12 “Million MAGA March” in downtown Washington, where thousands gathered in support of Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud.

Addressing the throngs of largely maskless rallygoers, Good said, “This looks like a group of people that gets that this is a phony pandemic!” — before accusing Democrats of stealing as many votes “as they needed” to win.

Advertising

Prior, now outspoken among evangelicals against Trump, was appalled. She had just voted for Good based on his reputation at Liberty.

“Bob Good is basically the reason why — he was my wake-up call to the Republican Party and the reason I have determined that unless things change drastically I will never vote Republican again,” said Prior, who now teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

If Jerry Falwell Sr. had been an influence in his life, she said, she couldn’t see it now.