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Boat in Yorktown parade disqualified for controversial political message

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Posted at 3:37 PM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-08 08:39:43-05

YORKTOWN, Va. – A boat that was awarded first place in the annual Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade has now been disqualified after many expressed concerns over its messaging.

The parade took place on the York River downtown on Saturday, December 4, 2021.

The boat reportedly had a lighted sign stating, “FJB”– a phrase that stands for “F – Joe Biden” and “Let’s Go Brandon,” which references those who do not support the President.

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Over the weekend, Dr. Walt Akers, a member of the Board of Directors for The Yorktown Foundation, issued a statement apologizing.

The statement reads:

“The Yorktown Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote community activities in and around Yorktown, Virginia. To achieve that mission, we serve as an administrative umbrella organization for smaller groups and committees that focus on specific events. These include the annual Virginia Symphony performance in Yorktown, the Celebrate Yorktown Committee, the Tall Ships Committee, Art on the Riverwalk, the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade and many other small projects.
"As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Yorktown Foundation and its sub-ordinate groups are apolitical.
"On December 4th, 2021, several members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors were made aware that a boat with an overt political message had participated in the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade, and that the judges had awarded it first place. In discussions with the event organizers, they explained that they were equally perplexed that the boat had won and they took immediate corrective actions.
"The event organizers immediately notified the judges that the boat would be disqualified because its political statements were at odds with the mission of the Foundation, and the second-place boat would be advanced to the winning position. Further, the event organizers agreed to take steps in the coming year to review all entries in advance and ensure that they do not detract from the community spirit that this event is designed to foster.
"The members of the Yorktown Foundation wish to reiterate that our mission continues to be to unify our community through events and activities that showcase everything that is wonderful about Yorktown, York County and our citizens. While we recognize that political divisiveness is a factor in our daily discourse, we DO NOT want it to negatively impact anyone’s enjoyment of our community events.
"We regret that this incident occurred, and we will work to avoid such events in the future.”

By Tuesday, the Lighted Boat Parade was getting national attention for all the wrong reasons.

The controversial boat turned heads Saturday for both its beauty and messaging.

Capt. Bill Berger owns the boat.

“When we left, we were declared the winner,” Berger said. “48 hours later it was stripped from us and I think it’s from pressure.”

A panel of judges awarded it “Best in Show.” Hours later, the committee disqualified the boat because of what the letters spelled out.

“FJB” and “Let’s Go Brandon” are widely considered to be vulgar and insulting phrases against President Joe Biden. “Let’s Go Brandon” has been used to mean, “F – Joe Biden.”

The Yorktown Foundation is an organization that oversees the parade. Akers sits on the board of directors for the Foundation.

“We absolutely apologize for this,” Akers said. “We had no idea this was going to happen, and we regret it. We're going to take every action going forward to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen again.”

Akers admits the large crowd was cheering loudly in support of the boat, which is why he believes it won first place. He said he doesn’t think the judges knew what the message meant at the time.

“It was very well lit, it was a beautiful boat,” Akers said. “The guy did a great display. If it wasn't just for this political issue, I think the guy would have had a very good chance. The crowd was very responsive to it, and I think it's possible the judges may have responded to the crowd activity.”

Berger argues he was clear on his parade entry application that his theme was “Let’s Go Brandon.”

“I think our message got across,” Berger said.

News 3 asked what the meaning behind the message was.

“We have a horrible president,” Berger responded. “Is it inappropriate? In today’s world, I don’t think so.”

The family-friendly event has been running for 25 years. Akers said this has never happened before, adding because the foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, it can’t be involved in political speech.

“This brings up another potential failing on our part, because I don’t think we’ve made it as clear as we need to, that by law we’re not allowed to have any political view that’s specifically eliminated by the IRS.”

The Foundation met Tuesday night to discuss the event’s future and ways to prevent this from happening again.

Members said the Foundation will make sure the rules are clear moving forward. They’re considering pulling the plug on the event altogether unless the committee makes some changes.

Meanwhile, Berger said he doesn’t regret the way he decorated his boat and was just having fun, adding the backlash on his views has been unfair and harsh.

“It was part of our sort of SNL skit, I would say because Joe Biden went upstairs tripping,” he said. “What I regret right now is the attacks. The attacks from the Internet people to the people on my boat. These people want to say that I did all this bad stuff on this parade, but then they aren't going to stand by them, and they attack my people with threats. I've got my people, my crew getting threats now. I've had people telling me they hope my boat sinks. That's like telling somebody that I hope their house burns down. They don't understand the investment in that boat. I think those kinds of attacks are unnecessary.”

News 3 reached out to a couple of judges on the panel for comment and have not heard back.

Meantime, the Foundation said it’ll meet with the committee possibly in February to discuss the future of the parade.