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Joshua Klohr felt that no one was paying attention to his claims of injustice.
So, the former Marine sergeant donned his old dress blues Sunday and hung himself on a ten-foot cross across from the state capitol in Denver, Colo., where 60,000 Coloradoans were celebrating 4/20, the unofficial holiday of marijuana users.
While serving as a Marine recruiter in Boulder, Colo., Klohr said he struggled to make recruiting goals, despite working 14-16 hours a day. He refused to “fraud” enlistees into the Corps by ignoring factors that would disqualify them from service, he said, and ultimately said he could not do what was required of him in the region, which his superiors interpreted as quitting. When he went to trial, he said, he was not allowed to testify in his own defense, and was quickly found guilty and harshly punished.
Klohr admits that he hid information about himself in order to join the Marine Corps. He enlisted despite having been expelled from school, having physical problems — including asthma — and a criminal record. According to reports from the time, Klohr was charged by Denver police in 2005 with setting a cat on fire and throwing it off a roof. He was 18 at the time.
Klohr, who was demoted to private, sentenced to a month in the brig, and discharged from the Corps last year after being convicted at special court-martial of insubordinate conduct, disobeying a superior officer, and failure to obey an order, said he believes he was railroaded out of the Corps, and his crucifixion stunt was the only way to bring attention to his case.
Once a photo of his demonstration began to circulate around Facebook, Klohr quickly began to receive the attention he sought—little of it positive.
“Dude was butt hurt over being court martialed,” one commenter wrote when the photo appeared on the off-color Marine humor page Just The Tip, Of the Spear. “He just wanted the shock value, so people would pay attention to his whining.”
Maximilian Uriarte, creator of the popular Terminal Lance web comic, also shared the photo on his page.
“I feel like the imagery of Christ and his point (what I've gathered anyway) are two very unrelated things,” Uriarte wrote. “Even as an art piece, Christ implies martyrdom, he's just using it as "shock value." He's not a martyr, he's just a dude that got a court martial and f***** over.”
Klohr, who spoke with Marine Corps Times on Monday, said he stayed on the cross for an hour, attached by a harness and hooks for his arms. About 30 people stopped by to read binders filled with his description of his plight, he said, and a few engaged him in conversation.
After seeing the outrage online, Klohr said he’d begun to regret his demonstration.
“I don’t want people to talk me up on websites as this disrespectful person,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful or anything ... To get people to see how serious I am I had to do something extreme.”
Klohr said his use of the Marine Corps uniform and a widely revered religious symbol were not intended to be sacrilegious or insulting to anyone.
“There was a lot of symbolism that I was trying to throw out there,” he said.
Ultimately, he said, he hopes to secure a presidential pardon and to expose unrealistic standards and unethical practices within Marine Corps recruiting.
A Marine Corps spokesman, Capt. Tyler Balzer, said that while there were federal laws governing the wearing of the Marine Corps uniform, the Marine Corps had no jurisdiction over Klohr, a discharged Marine.
“It'd be up to a federal prosecutor to pursue any charges against him,” he said.
Federal law prohibits non-active service members from wearing the uniform, with specific exceptions. As a Marine who received a punitive discharge from the Corps, Klohr does not meet any of those exceptions.