21 Parkland Shooter’s JROTC Connections Spotlight Militarization of Schools

by Project Censored
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Public officials have offered their thoughts and prayers to the families of some 141 children, educators, and other people who have been killed in the dozens of school shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students, a teacher, and then themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As has become the norm, the Parkland shootings were followed by prodigious media and government hand-wringing about the Second Amendment and the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

But one aspect of Cruz’s biography that was not given much, if any, critical attention by the establishment press was his membership in his high school’s Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program before he was expelled. A series of reports and interviews by Pat Elder, for World Beyond War, Truthout, and Democracy Now!, highlighted Cruz’s connections to the Army JROTC program and its connections to other organizations, including the Civilian Marksmanship Program and the NRA. 

Examining links between JROTC programs and the militarization of schools, Elder, who directs the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that confronts militarism in schools, wrote, “Few in America have connected the dots between military indoctrination and firearms instruction on the one hand, and the propensity for training mass killers, whether their crimes are committed as enlisted soldiers in atrocities overseas or in American high schools.” Cruz not only participated in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s JROTC program, he was also a member of its four-person marksmanship team, which operated under the auspices of the Civilian Marksmanship Program and had received $10,000 in funding from the National Rifle Association “to upgrade and replenish equipment,” Democracy Now! reported. As Elder told Democracy Now!, the NRA “realize that if they can start linking the children with the guns at age 13 in the high schools, it’s a win-win proposition for them and for the sellers of weaponry.”

Florida is “arguably the most friendly state in terms of the militarization of the schools,” Elder said. Its statutes “allow a student who takes four years of JROTC to substitute biology, physical science, physical education and art for this straight-jacketed military indoctrination program.” In an article for World Beyond War, he further noted that, in Florida, JROTC is regarded as an Advanced Placement course for which students earn points toward their weighted GPAs, even though many of the courses are taught by retired soldiers with no teaching credentials and little or no college education. Florida, Elder explained, has simply gone further than other states, many of which allow JROTC participation to substitute for requirements in physical education and American government and civics.

As Democracy Now! reported, the Army awarded the Medal of Heroism to three JROTC cadets who died in the Parkland, Florida, shooting: 15-year-old Peter Wang and two 14-year-old freshmen, Martin Duque and Alaina Petty. Elder noted that the awarding of Army medals to JROTC cadets was “another example of the militarization of youth.” The Army would treat Wang, who was reportedly wearing a full uniform and trying to help other students when he was killed, “as a full-fledged soldier at his burial,” Elder said.

Some 1,600 American high schools enroll students in military-run marksmanship programs, teaching children as young as thirteen to shoot lethal weapons, Elder told Democracy Now!. JROTC programs are regulated by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). In the Democracy Now! interview, Elder described the CMP as the NRA’s “proxy.” As he explained, the CMP was established by Congress in 1903, after the Spanish–American War, with the goal of ensuring that large numbers of Americans, and especially youth, would know how to shoot weapons in the event of a war. In 1996, the CMP was privatized after congressional testimony by Paul Simon and Frank Lautenberg, who called the CMP a “boondoggle” and “a gift to the NRA.” Since then, Elder told Democracy Now!, the CMP “has managed to bankroll $160 million in privately traded securities” by selling “discarded Army weapons,” as it was mandated to by Congress.

The Army gifts outdated weaponry to the CMP which, in turn, sells the weapons at discounted rates to JROTC programs in schools and to individual members of CMP-affiliated clubs. As Elder explained in his February 27, 2018 report for World Beyond War, although the CMP has so far only recirculated surplus rifles, it is poised to expand its program to include surplus handguns, such as the semi-automatic M1911 pistol. Reporting that the Army’s cache of 100,000 of these handguns “could net the CMP more than $50 million,” Elder noted that 20 years of silence by Congress on CMP weapons sales was “a testament to the lobbying fire-power of the NRA.” 

A number of corporate news outlets—including, for example, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Fox News—reported on Cruz’s JROTC affiliation. Although the Times reported that the Pentagon “spends $370 million a year on Junior R.O.T.C. programs at about 3,400 high schools across the country” and the Washington Post noted that the NRA’s “fundraising and charitable arm gave $10,827 in noncash assistance to the Douglas JROTC in 2016,” both the NRA’s strong influence over the Civilian Marksmanship Program and the role of the JROTC in the militarization of the country’s schools were entirely left out of establishment media narratives.

Pat Elder, “JROTC, Military Indoctrination and the Training of Mass Killers,” World Beyond War, February 16, 2018, https://worldbeyondwar.org/jrotc-military-indoctrination-training-mass-killers/.

Pat Elder, “The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps is Not a Substitute for Education,” Truthout, February 16, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/39509-the-junior-reserve-officer-training-corps-is-not-a-substitute-for-education.

Amy Goodman, interview with Pat Elder, “Inside the U.S. Military Recruitment Program that Trained Nikolas Cruz to be ‘A Very Good Shot,’” Democracy Now!, February 21, 2018, https://www.democracynow.org/2018/2/21/inside_the_us_military_recruitment_program.

Amy Goodman, interview with Pat Elder, “Florida Gunman Nikolas Cruz Knew How to Use a Gun, Thanks to the NRA and the U.S. Army,” Democracy Now!, February 23, 2018, https://www.democracynow.org/2018/2/23/florida_gunman_nikolas_cruz_knew_how.

Pat Elder, “Cruz, Instagram, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program,” World Beyond WarFebruary 27, 2018, http://worldbeyondwar.org/cruz-instagram-cmp/; reposted as “How the Civilian Marksmanship Program Has Become a Premier Arms Dealer,” BuzzFlash, March 6, 2018, http://www.buzzflash.com/commentary/cruz-instagram-and-the-cmp-as-the-nation-s-premier-arms-dealer.

Student Researcher: Bethany Surface (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)


1.) Neil Reisner and Dave Philipps, “Florida School’s R.O.T.C. Lost 3 Cadets; Suspect was a Member,” New York Times, February 20, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/us/jrotc-cadets-florida-shooting.html; Lori Rozsa, “‘Selfless Service’: JROTC Remembers Three Slain in Florida High School Shooting,” Washington Post, February 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/selfless-service-jrotc-remembers-three-slain-in-florida-high-school-shooting/2018/02/19/1e3138f2-158b-11e8-8b08-027a6ccb38eb_story.html; and Frank Miles, “Junior ROTC Leader Shocked that Florida School Shooting Suspect Nikolas Cruz was His Cadet,” Fox News, February 18, 2018, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/02/18/junior-rotc-leader-shocked-that-florida-school-shooting-suspect-nikolas-cruz-was-his-cadet.html.