NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk residents, elected officials and those in the craft beer industry say they’re not thrilled by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and other “divisive” messaging coming from Armed Forces Brewing Company, a new brewer set to take over the longtime O’Connor Brewing Company space on W. 24th Street.
“I do not tolerate hatred or bigotry,” said Del. Jackie Hope Glass, who shared her thoughts on the brewery in an Instagram reel on Monday, after originally praising the company’s arrival in a press release last Friday from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office.
The Navy veteran represents Norfolk in the Virginia House of Delegates and says she “could’ve done more due diligence in vetting Armed Forces Brewing executive leadership, full stop.”
“Norfolk, and most importantly Virginia, must be a place that refuses to accept anything less than respect and equality for all of its citizens,” said Glass, who called on residents to attend a town hall at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at MJ’s Tavern in Norfolk to voice their concerns.
A bulk of the criticism with Armed Forces, which was founded in Maryland, centers around spokesperson Robert O’Neill, the former U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 member known for shooting and killing Osama Bin Laden.
O’Neill has expressed anti-LGBTQ+ views openly on his social media, including saying “China is going to destroy us” because the U.S. Navy featured a servicemember and drag queen in a recruitment video, and sharing the false claim being spread on the right that LGBTQ+ people are pedophiles seeking to “groom” children.
He’s also spoken out against Bud Light for featuring transgender woman Dylan Mulvaney in a Instagram promotional video, something Armed Forces alludes to when pitching itself as an alternative.
Meanwhile company CEO Alan Beal has also aligned himself with controversial far-right figures like 2020 election denier Mike Lindell and country singer John Rich, who pulled Bud Light from his bar after the Mulvaney video.
She says she’s received “numerous emails, texts and messages outraged with this company coming to Norfolk,” and that their in-your-face branding and use of guns wasn’t the vibe that Norfolk is trying to send.
“Keeping it real, why did this company – with this type of branding – think this would play well in NFK?” McClellan wrote on Facebook. “They didn’t reach out to the local leaders, and they obviously don’t know the culture.”
McClellan said that while the sale by O’Connor (which declined interviews with WAVY) is a private one, City Council can decide whether or not to allow Armed Forces to operate a tap room and sell alcohol on the premises when they re-apply for a conditional use permit in a few months.
“We will consider input from the community as part of this process,” McClellan said.
Those in the craft brewing scene are also skeptical, with some saying customers should instead take their business to other more inclusive veteran-owned breweries in the area such as Bold Mariner Brewing, Rip Rap Brewing Co. and Young Veterans Brewing Company
Norfolk’s Andrew Coplon, the founder of Craft Beer Professionals, a national organization dedicated to educating and connecting the brewing community, said he wished Armed Forces Brewing would have just sat down and talked with the community, but so far, he said signs have not been promising.
“I’ll give you a great example,” Coplon said. “A local resident reached out to me yesterday via Instagram to share that they reached out to Armed Forces Brewing Company to start a dialogue about they were going to welcome the entire community, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, all of the above. They were immediately blocked.”
“Norfolk and the craft beer industry as a whole do not have room for those who fight against inclusion and anti-diversity,” Coplon said. “We don’t have room for a culture of hate like this.”
Coplon has created a form for residents to voice their concerns to elected officials here.
WAVY did reach out to Armed Forces Brewing for an interview and they shared this statement in response from the company’s CEO, Alan Beal:
“I’m rather disappointed that Delegate Glass didn’t contact me to discuss any of her concerns. As a resident of Norfolk, she is my representative, as well as Armed Forces Brewing Company’s. If she had spoken to me directly, she’d know that Armed Forces Brewing Company respects and embraces all of the military, veteran, first responder and patriotic community— that includes my undying respect and gratitude for Delegate Glass’s military service to our country. These heroes make up a VERY diverse group of Americans. Our AFBC Veteran’s Foundation raises money to help veterans and their families, regardless of their gender, gender identification, sexual orientation, race, religious or political beliefs. We love them all. There is no hate emanating from this organization. On the contrary, our entire mission is about brewing great beer that tributes American military service and to use our success to help veterans.”
Armed Forces is billing the O’Connor brewery as its flagship location and new headquarters going forward, and promises to have military veterans compromise at least 70% of its workforce. So far, it’s mostly been focused on selling its beers to large retailers like Walmart and Publix.
O’Connor, which faced backlash itself after allegations of racism, sexism and sexual harassment surfaced in 2021, said it will continue to make its beers locally in partnership with another brewery.
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