Shortly after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, two former Special Forces soldiers saw a business opportunity that married their past experience with a present danger.
The plan: to place former military veterans like themselves in schools to combat the mass shooters of tomorrow.
“Cops were there, but they didn’t do anything, because they weren’t trained to act,” said Drew White, an ex-Green Beret. “Special operators are trained to move forward and end a threat.”
His former comrade Jordan Goudreau ran with the idea and launched Silvercorp USA. Its motto: protecting our most precious assets.
That was early 2018. The plan never got off the ground, according to White. And now, two years later, Goudreau is at the center of a foiled plot to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
In a video posted from an undisclosed location, Goudreau claimed responsibility for the failed raid that Venezuelan authorities say resulted in the deaths of eight people and the arrests of several others, including two ex-Green Berets.
“I’m just at a loss for words, honestly,” White told NBC News. “It’s mind-blowing to me.”
Goudreau, 43, did not return repeated requests for comment. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. had no “direct involvement” in the armed incursion last weekend but will use “every tool” available to secure the return of the captured Americans.
Much of how the plot came together remains murky, but a portrait has emerged of Goudreau, a decorated U.S. commando who has boasted about having protected President Donald Trump and has attended at least one Trump rally wearing an earpiece and scanning the crowd as if he were a security guard.
Born in Canada, Goudreau graduated from the University of Calgary with a computer science degree and went on to enlist in the Canadian army, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He later served in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces medical sergeant and indirect fire infantryman from 2001 to 2016, an Army spokesperson said. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, gaining a reputation as a fearsome warrior with an expert shot.
“The best of the best,” White said. “He was exceptional.”
Goudreau has said that after he left the military, he did private security work in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Then came the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 14 students and three staff members were killed.
“I saw Parkland, and I was like, ‘Well, nobody’s really tackling this, so I want to fix this,'” Goudreau said in an interview with The Washington Post in November 2018.
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Speaking at a school safety expo in Florida, where he was among about 100 vendors hoping to land business, Goudreau said he wanted to secretly embed former Special Forces operators in schools.
“He’s a cool shop teacher,” Goudreau told The Post before role-playing a potential conversation with a student. “‘Hey, what’s up, fellas.’ I go sit down with a kid who’s alone, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I just try to see whether there’s any problems.”
“The beauty of it is it’s all for the price of a Netflix subscription,” added Goudreau, who said he wanted to charge individual parents — not the schools — $8.99 each.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, on Oct. 26, 2018, the Florida-based Goudreau attended a Trump rally in Charlotte, N.C., according to a review of video and still images from the event. Goudreau is seen wearing a black suit and tie, with an earpiece, walking around Bojangles’ Coliseum with his eyes fixed on the crowd.
An Instagram photo uploaded to the Silvercorp USA page shows him at the rally standing next to a man wearing a lanyard around his neck with the word “security” printed across it.
“Protecting our Greatest Assets,” read the caption of the post, which has since been removed.
A Secret Service spokesperson said the agency “does not use contract security organizations or personnel to conduct protective operations.”
“This individual is neither an employee nor a contractor of the U.S. Secret Service. It is common for organizations that host events to contract with companies and individuals to assist in managing attendance and attendees.”
A spokesman for President Donald Trump’s campaign said it “never hired Mr. Goudreau, his company Silvercorp USA, or any of his other companies.”
A spokesperson for Bojangles’ Coliseum said it didn’t contract with Goudreau or Silvercorp for the rally.
White, the former partner, said he and Goudreau drifted apart after the company failed to secure a single school contract.
The pair had met a decade earlier when they were serving together in Germany. Goudreau went on to become the best man at White’s wedding, he said.
“I was all in on school security,” White said. “He said there were other things he wanted to do, and I just wasn’t into anything outside the borders of the U.S.”
According to White, Goudreau had signaled that he was interested in following the path of a private security company like the one formerly known as Blackwater, which gained infamy for its operatives’ deadly tactics while doing security work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He wanted to take contracts more like Blackwater,” White said, before referring to the company’s new name, Academi.
The Silvercorp website says it operates in more than 50 countries and has advised some of the “most prolific units on the planet,” including Delta Force, Israel’s Duvdevan, Germany’s KSK and Britain’s SAS.
White said that he didn’t know whether any of that was true and that he had remained largely in the dark over Goudreau’s activities throughout much of 2019.
Goudreau’s social media accounts offer some clues to his professional dealings.
The first indication of any connection to Venezuela came in February 2019, when he worked security at a concert along the Colombian border that was held in support of Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the U.S. and several other countries. The “Venezuela Live Aid” event was organized by the British billionaire Richard Branson.
“Controlling chaos on the Venezuela border where a dictator looks on with apprehension,” Goudreau wrote in a photo posted to his Instagram account showing him standing on the concert stage.
In August, Goudreau got in touch with White about a plan to help secure oil fields in Venezuela.
White said he set up a meeting with some potential investors, but Goudreau ultimately presented a very different operation: a plot to oust Maduro by force.
The idea seemed half-baked, and it rubbed everyone the wrong way, including White.
“The assumption was that it would just go away,” he added. “It never seemed actionable. It never seemed like anything real.”
But on Sunday, Goudreau and a former Venezuelan army captain appeared in a video identifying themselves as the organizers of an effort to invade Venezuela.
“A daring amphibious raid was launched from the border of Colombia deep into the heart of Caracas,” Goudreau said. “Our units have been activated in the south, west and east of Venezuela.”
In a similarly curious move, Goudreau tweeted about the mission late Sunday and tagged the president. “Strikeforce incursion into Venezuela. 60 Venezuelan, 2 American ex Green Beret @realDonaldTrump,” it read.
The overthrow plot was foiled, Maduro announced Monday. Eight people were killed while trying to make landfall, and several others were arrested, including Americans Luke Denman and Aidan Berry, Venezuelan authorities said.
In an interview with an exiled Venezuelan journalist, Goudreau said the operation was initially supported by Guaidó.
“They said they were going to finance it,” Goudreau said, referring to Guaidó and his team. “But in the end they didn’t.”
Goudreau claimed that he was left to seek donations to support his men, whom he described as “60 Venezuelans who were hungry, still training, thinking about liberation, and they went and did it.”
Guaidó has denied any involvement in the raid.
Trump said Friday that the U.S. government had no role in the failed incursion.
“This was a rogue group that went in there, a lot of Venezuelans,” Trump said in a interview with “Fox & Friends.” “I think people from other countries also. It was a group of people that went in and I saw their pictures on a beach and it wasn’t led by General George Washington obviously.”
Goudreau has stopped giving interviews, and his whereabouts are unknown. He’s now being investigated by U.S. authorities for possible arms trafficking, according to The Associated Press, which was first to reveal details of the plot.
According to an extensive Washington Post account of the failed incursion, Goudreau had pitched Guaidó representatives a self-funded plan to take out Maduro in exchange for a nearly $213 million payout. The relationship soured, but Goudreau still set the operation in motion, The Post reported, even after Guaidó’s team had considered it dead.
In an interview with NBC News, Ephraim Mattos, a former Navy SEAL who runs a nonprofit humanitarian aid group in war zones and provided medical training to some of Goudreau’s men, said he was shocked and horrified to learn that the operation went forward in such helter-skelter fashion.
“It’s so beyond stupid, the plan that they put together, that it’s hard to fathom that Goudreau allowed it to go forward,” Mattos told NBC News. “I feel horribly for the Venezuelan guys who followed him and got involved. These are really good guys.”
Mattos works with Venezuelan exiles who smuggle food and medical supplies into the country. One of them told him about a group of other Venezuelan defectors who were living in Colombia and were interested in getting tactical medical training.
Mattos arrived in early September to find about 20 ill-equipped men living in a five-bedroom house with little food and no running water. They told him about an imminent plan to oust Maduro. That came as a shock to Mattos, whose understanding was that these former soldiers and policemen were hoping to take back their country at some point in the future.
Mattos wanted to know who was in charge. They gave a name he had never heard before: Jordan Goudreau. Mattos said the Venezuelans described him as a Delta Force member and Trump bodyguard who had the backing of the U.S. government.
Mattos was immediately skeptical. He looked up Goudreau’s website and realized that he was, in fact, a civilian contractor. After running a two-week training course, Mattos returned home to the U.S. feeling apprehensive about their plans and concerned that they were being misled.
“It was unacceptable that they thought he was a representative of the U.S. government, because he should know better as a Special Forces guy to make it extremely clear who he is and what he represents,” Mattos said.
Mattos later tried to get in touch with Goudreau to “try to talk some sense into him,” but after a brief introductory exchange via Instagram — which was viewed by NBC News — Goudreau didn’t respond to a follow-up message.
Mattos stayed in touch with the Venezuelans and became convinced that nothing was going to happen despite their repeated claims that weapons and U.S. reinforcements were on the way.
Now that two Americans are among the captured, Mattos said he believes Goudreau should turn himself into the Venezuelan government in exchange for their return. “There’s a good chance that those guys are going to rot in prison because of what he did, and he wasn’t even with them,” Mattos said.
White said he, too, was stunned to learn that Goudreau had moved forward with the plan. He’s also worried about the fate of Denman and Berry, both of whom he served alongside.
As for the idea to stock American schools with former Special Forces operators? “I still believe in the cause,” White said.