Norfolk residents are concerned about the new Armed Forces Brewing Company HQ
The co-owner appeared on Fox Business in May, condemning the U.S. Navy’s use of a drag queen as a recruitment ambassador.
Dozens of Norfolk residents gathered at MJ’s Tavern on Wednesday to voice concerns about a military-themed brewery coming to the city.
They say that Armed Forces Brewing Company's’ extreme values are out of step with the community, pointing to an interview in which its co-owner condemned the U.S. Navy’s use of a drag queen for recruitment.
“I feel like our taxpayer dollars are going toward a brewery that’s not a good fit for the community, forcing us to have an anti-trans brewery into the community,” a woman who identified herself as Christie said at the town hall.
Those gathered at MJ’s Tavern — a prominent gay bar — talked about their concerns for the safety of the LGBTQ+ community and what could be done to block the brewery from moving in.
State Del. Jackie Glass (D–Norfolk) hosted the town hall.
Glass was quoted in the initial announcement from Youngkin welcoming the brewery, but has since said that she failed to do her due diligence to fully look into the company and its values.
“Just because we disagree doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to have a legal business,” Glass told the few dozen town hall attendees.
But Norfolk Councilor Andria McClellan said Armed Forces may have a tough time getting conditional use permits from the City Council needed to operate a brewery and serve alcohol at the facility.
Armed Forces Brewing will be able to open later this summer at the former O’Connor Brewing Company location in Park Place relying on permits granted to the previous tenant, which will carry over temporarily.
But the council will have to approve new conditional use permits for Armed Forces Brewing to be able to serve alcohol when the existing permits run out.
“The conditional use permit process takes into consideration political considerations. And we very much value input from the community,” McClellan said. “We have rejected several theses based on the feedback from civic leagues.”
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the brewer would move its headquarters to Virginia last week. The state is offering incentives to lure Armed Forces Brewing Company from Maryland, though the press release didn't elaborate on what the incentives are.
But some Norfolk residents say the business’s promotional videos and brewery owners’ statements are misogynistic and discriminatory toward the LGBTQ+ community.
They pointed to an Instagram video from June, in which the company was seeking investors. The video included Armed Forces co-owner and retired Navy Seal Rob O’Neill firing guns flanked by a woman in skimpy, military-themed costumes.
O’Neill also appeared on Fox Business in May, condemning the Navy’s use of a drag queen as a recruitment ambassador after tweeting, “I can’t believe I fought for this.”
McClellan said she’s not aware of any Norfolk councilmembers who were clued in on the governor’s deal ahead of the public announcement, and she said none of the nearby civic leagues were contacted by the brewery beforehand.
Those Norfolk neighborhood associations are one of the bedrocks of political power and organizing in the city and hold significant sway.
Armed Forces Brewing CEO Alan Beal declined to speak to WHRO for this story.
In an emailed statement, Beal said there is “no hate emanating from this organization” and said the company has donated to and supported military personnel of all backgrounds.