"These people are truly evil"
In "classified" videos, Armed Forces Brewing Co.'s CEO smears his critics before a crucial vote
Editor’s note: The Fingers special report below is in the public interest, so I’m publishing it without a paywall. For those reading Fingers for free, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription today:
Thank you to all the paying subscribers who already fund my independent journalism about drinking in America.—Dave.
Most craft breweries depend on local drinkers for support, especially in years of flat-to-down growth like these past few. But here in Virginia, a polarizing military-themed brewery—you know the one, readers—is taking a novel new tack, vilifying its new neighbors as “truly evil” “extremists” in private dispatches to investors in advance of a crucial, hotly contested vote on its permits.
It’s been a month nearly to the day since Fingers first broke the news that the Commonwealth of Virginia lined up over $300,000 in potential tax breaks to lure Armed Forces Brewing Co. (AFBC) and its bellicose brand to Norfolk. In the interim, community opposition to the project—touted by Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin—has hardened, with two civic leagues and a key committee all voting to deny vital permits to the incoming brewery. On Monday, the Virginia Mercury, a nonprofit newsroom, reported that the firm has operated at a loss for the past two years, and paid no taxes in 2022, reanimating questions about why this particular business, with its cultural baggage and partisan politics, was given the red-carpet treatment by Commonwealth economic-development officials.1
With a make-or-break vote at Norfolk’s City Council just one week from today, AFBC is pulling out all the stops to muscle its application across the finish line. It has marshaled its 9,000+ retail investors (the firm, like BrewDog, has relied on Regulation A equity fundraising to fuel its operation) to deluge city officials with emails of support. It has publicly threatened the city with a lawsuit if councilmembers do not vote in its favor. And in private videos reviewed by Fingers (some of which were first surfaced by the Mercury) AFBC chief executive Alan Beal himself has recently smeared the coalition of progressives, LGBTQ+ organizations, and concerned residents as hysterical wing-nuts in an apparent effort to shore up shareholder support as uncertainty mounts about the business’s future.
In three of his most recent so-called “Classified Briefing” videos, Beal’s demeanor oscillates between pugnacious and anxious, on one hand lambasting the “evil, evil forces” for opposing AFBC’s application for conditional-use permits to operate at a preexisting brewery location in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, and on the other noting that a failure to secure those permits would render the business’s brick-and-mortar expansion—codenamed “Project Seawolf” by Virginia’s Economic Development Partnership (VEDP)—dead in the water.
“It is imperative that we do this,” says Beal in “Classified Briefing 11.17.23,” exhorting AFBC shareholders to “get involved” in the civic process of a city in which many of them presumably do not live. (Beal opened the forerunner to AFBC, Seawolf Brewery, with partners in Annapolis in 2018.) “This is the final decision on our conditional use permit. Besides suing the city of Norfolk and going to court over it, this is the final decision on it.”
Neither AFBC, VEDP, nor Governor Youngkin’s office responded to Fingers’ request for comment for this story before deadline.
These videos are in the public interest, and Fingers has preserved them in the event that AFBC takes them down in the future. I am linking directly to AFBC’s player here to demonstrate the purportedly private videos’ public availability.
Below are other notable quotations from Beal’s three most recent “Classified Briefings.” Taken together, they paint a picture of a company intent on doubling down on the conservative culture-war schtick that has galvanized its new neighbors to oppose it in the first place. Even if AFBC does eventually receive its permits, it’s hard to imagine local drinkers forgetting the brewery’s—or Beal’s own—behavior in securing them.
Editor’s note: All quotes below are from Beal; all emphasis is mine throughout.
On the “evil” nature of those opposing the brewery’s conditional-use permits:
God bless this company that we’re building together, and we're fighting for against evil, evil forces. [Classified Briefing 12.1.23]
These people are, I'm gonna be frank with you. These people are truly evil. [Classified Briefing 11.21.23]
On opponents’ alleged threats against AFBC:
The opposition is still out there. They’re still spreading lies. And I'll tell you what, these people are extremists. They're even out there commenting that they're going to burn our building down and and vandalize the windows of our building. And I gotta tell you, those are class… just communicating those kinds of threats are Class Five felonies in the state of Virginia. So we're not going to take this kind of behavior. And we're going to take action on this kind of behavior. Okay? Legal remedies. [Classified Briefing 12.1.23]
AFBC’s spokeswoman, Pam Catindig, has yet to provide me examples of opponents spreading misinformation about the brewery. (She pulled the same move with Jim Morrison, the reporter of the Virginia Mercury’s piece.) If AFBC responds to my latest inquiry, I’ll again ask for those examples, as well as examples of the felonious threats the brewery claims to be receiving.
On the unfavorable vote from the Norfolk Planning Commission:
The Norfolk City Planning Commission votes us down, four to two, to not recommend our conditional use permit to the Norfolk City Council. Let me be frank here. That was a shit show yesterday there at the City Planning Commission hearing. [Classified Briefing 11.17.23]
We thoroughly expected to get a favorable vote yesterday, a lot of assurances from the city’s Planning Commission staff that we were going to get that that vote that positive vote. Didn’t happen. [Classified Briefing 11.17.23]
On allegations that Beal (who has never served in the military) is “stealing valor” by operating a brewery that panders to military drinkers:
Now they throw in ‘Alan Beal is committing stolen valor,’ from an interview, the last interview I did with Maria Bartiromo, she thanked me for my service twice. And I didn't correct her on it. You know I have never ever claimed to be a veteran, shareholders. You know that. You know that I didn't serve. And I'm thanked by veterans across the country every day for my service to the veteran community. You know, I didn't hear her even say that. But if, when somebody says that, a lot of times I process it as ‘Thank you for your service to our veterans.’ So, you know, I’m going to make more of a conscious effort when I go on TV, and correct anybody that says that. Okay? But stolen valor intent is absolutely ridiculous and false. [Classified Briefing 11.21.23]
On opponents’ supposed attitudes towards the military community in general:
These people do not care about our military families. They do not care. They care about their social and political agendas. That's all. [Classified Briefing 11.17.23]
Beal was talking here about a charitable partnership that fell apart after the charity received criticism from the community for working with AFBC. Conflating AFBC (a private, for-profit enterprise) with The Troops writ large is obviously expedient for Beal; in fact, it’s sort of core to the whole business model. But it elides the facts that there are veterans that oppose AFBC, and that none of the opposition (that I’ve reviewed) focuses on the military in general—just this brewery’s marketing and message in specific. This makes some sense: Norfolk is home to the largest naval station in the country, after all, making military presence an abiding fact of everyday life.
On the Norfolk City Council’s upcoming vote:
The City Council of Norfolk has no legal grounds to deny our conditional use permits, not at all. Tweets, mean tweets, or whatever you want to call them, from board members, advisory members, or shareholders, is not a reason to shut us down. It's not a good reason. We're not doing anything illegal in Norfolk. We’re not running around the facility with AR-15s and guns, we don't have barbed wire on the fences, we're not beating up gay people. Everyone is welcome at the brewery. [Classified Briefing 11.17.23]
This is an apparent reference to former Navy Seal Robert O’Neill, who starred in AFBC’s original video ad in 2021. O’Neill’s prominence may have previously been fruitful for the brewery, but lately, he’s found himself embroiled in controversy, and worse: he was arrested in August in San Antonio for public intoxication and misdemeanor assault. The company has repeatedly declined to clarify its current relationship with O’Neill to Fingers.
“The misinformation is that Robert O’Neill is Armed Forces Brewery and that’s not the case,” a lawyer for AFBC told Morrison last month, noting that O’Neill remains a 4% owner of the brewery but has been removed as brand ambassador. That appears to contradict the most recent offering circular that AFBC filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission; O’Neill is listed as AFBC’s “Director of Military Operations and Board of Directors Member” in that document.
On the legal action Beal is planning if the Norfolk City Council doesn’t go their way:
We’re gonna get through this. And, you know, this is just an obstacle. And, again, we're very confident that city council does not want to make this into, they don't want to get in litigation with us and make this into a national news story, as well. So we're pretty confident that they're going to do the right thing and get us our conditional use permits. [Classified Briefing 11.17.23]
Why would VEDP court a business with this kind of balance sheet? Several hours after deadline, as this story was being finalized on 12/5/23, VEDP spokeswoman Suzanne Clarke replied to my inquiry on that very point. “When an incentive amount falls below VEDP’s required financial review threshold of $30,000, company financial records are not requested,” she told Fingers via email. Through the Virginia Jobs Incentive Program incentive, which VEDP directly administers (as opposed to the others, which are managed by different agencies), AFBC could be eligible for $24,500—under the threshold for mandatory scrutiny. Clarke declined to comment on AFBC’s reception in the community.