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Youngkin lured a military-themed brewery to Norfolk. Some say the owners' values don’t mesh with the community.

Norfolk Del. Jackie Glass speaks at a town hall about a new brewery coming to the city. (Image: Zach D. Roberts)
Norfolk Del. Jackie Glass speaks at a town hall about a new brewery coming to the city. (Image: Zach D. Roberts)

Dozens of Norfolk residents gathered at MJ’s tavern Wednesday evening to voice concerns about a military themed brewery coming to the city.

They say the business’ extreme right wing values are out of step with the community.

“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 Delegate Jackie Glass 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 Councilwoman Andria McClellan said Armed Forces may have a tough time getting business permits from the City Council.

Armed Forces Brewing will be able to open later this summer at the former O’Connor Brewing Company location in Park Place relying on special permits granted to the previous tenant to operate a brewery at the location..

That’s because permits from the previous tenant will carry over temporarily.

But the council will have to approve new conditional use permits for Armed Forces 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 of these based on the feedback from civic leagues.”

Republican Governor 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 to the former O’Connor Brewing location in Norfolk’s Park Place.

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 where the company was seeking investors, which 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 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 council members who were clued in on the governor’s deal ahead of the public announcement, and 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 Thursday. 

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.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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