YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — An annual lighted boat parade in Virginia that’s usually a fun holiday tradition has been marked with controversy this year. The winner has been stripped of his trophy because of the political messaging on his boat.
Capt. Bill Berger won with his “Let’s Go Brandon”-themed boat over the weekend in Yorktown. “Let’s Go Brandon” and “FJB,” both of which appeared on the boat in lights, are phrases used to criticize President Joe Biden.
“My boat was best in show to the crowd,” said Berger. “They had the awards ceremony, and they presented me winning the best in show, and 48 hours later, I got the phone call I was disqualified. They said my boat was too political.”
Berger said the committee knew about the theme and allowed it. “They should not have been surprised. They had plenty of time to disqualify me,” he said.
However, the Yorktown Foundation, which oversees the groups running the parade, said no political speech is allowed since it operates as a 501c3 nonprofit.
“At some level, we as a foundation have not properly advised our lower groups on what the rules are as far as a nonprofit corporation,” said Yorktown Foundation Director Walt Akers. “I’ve made more apologies in the last 48 hours than for the rest of my life, I hope.”
Akers said politics aren’t allowed outside of saying “America is great.”
“If we were to allow something like that, we would lose our nonprofit status, and all of these organizations under us would be dissolved,” he said.
Berger, who admitted his boat had an anti-Biden theme, said “FJB” meant “falling Joe Biden.” FJB has also been affiliated with a profane statement about Biden.
“We had the letters separated and meaning “falling Joe Biden,” and we had him falling down a ladder,” Berger said.
The other sign, reading “Let’s Go Brandon,” was inspired by a chant heard in the background of a news broadcast about NASCAR driver Brandon Brown, in which a reporter thought the crowd was chanting “Let’s go, Brandon” when, in fact, they were chanting “f–k Joe Biden.”
Berger’s boat has since been stripped of its title and the prize given to the runner-up instead.
The Yorktown Foundation provided WAVY with a copy of its statement regarding the boat with the “overt political message” and its first-place win, saying in part:
“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.”
Parade organizers posted an apology on their Facebook page Wednesday morning, saying the committee “will be making several corrections” before next year’s event.
“We apologize about the disruption to the holiday festivities, and we especially apologize to our family and friends in attendance that may have had to explain to their children the political nature of the message,” they stated.
Organizers said next year it would review the entries more carefully and “ensure that they do not detract from the community spirit that this event is designed to foster.”
“Before we have any other event in Yorktown, we are going to make sure everyone understands we are government and by IRS laws, that restricts us from having any political speech,” Akers said.