TOMMY Jordan shot to fame after posting online a video of himself firing bullets into his daughter’s laptop. Now he has a more wholesome target in his sights: educating child victims of the Libyan revolution. During a visit to the North-East, he spoke to Mark Tallentire.
TO British viewers, Tommy Jordan’s YouTube video “Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen” might come across a little uncouth, ill-advised even.
But Tommy isn’t stupid.
Now a national celebrity and unlikely parenting icon in his native USA, the man dubbed Laptop Dad wants to put his newfound fame to good use to raise £500,000 to build mobile schools to bring education to the suffering youth of post-Gadaffi Libya.
For those not familiar with Tommy’s rise to fame, a brief overview is necessary.
Early last year, Tommy’s teenage daughter Hannah Marie, upset with her lot in their North Carolina home, posted a message on Facebook outlining her objections, to put it politely.
Describing herself as ‘Your P****d Kid’, Hannah told her parents she wasn’t their slave, it wasn’t her responsibility to “clean up your s**t”, she was “tired of this bulls**t” and when they “get too old to wipe your ass”, she wouldn’t be there.
The 15-year-old thought his father Tommy and mother, Amy, would never see the message. Unfortunately for her, Tommy works in IT.
Furious, he filmed an eight-minute video response addressing each of Hannah’s points.
In the climax, he gets out a .45 gun and shoots his daughter’s laptop – then tells her she’ll have to pay for its repair.
The video became an Internet sensation. It has been viewed more than 38 million times. Mr Jordan received tens of thousands of emails and attracted nearly 100,000 followers across YouTube and Facebook.
Back at home, Tommy and Hannah made up – kind of.
“We got home, talked about it, and then went our separate ways for a little while but we came back together and we were laughing about it soon afterwards,” the 15-year-old told a US TV show.
“I think he overreacted a little bit but I understand.”
At that point, the story might have ended. But Tommy wanted to use his “eight minutes of fame” for good.
Now, following a chance Facebook conversation with a North-East academic, he is on a mission to bring hope and schooling to Libya.
Working with Dr Gillian Gillespie, a senior lecturer in sociology at Northumbria University and leader of the Iranian Refugee Action Network which helps refugees and victims of rape, torture and persecution around the world, he is piloting Project Pheonix, an ambitious scheme to build up to six mobile schools to take education to the most remote parts of the North African desert.
He wants to raise £500,000. It’s a big ask. But he collected the first £3,000 in just ten days and now he’s in the North-East to meet Pheonix volunteers and supporters and drive the fundraising campaign forward.
“Every single person we’ve talked to said it was a great idea,” he said, speaking between meetings.
Many companies have offered gifts or services free of charge, he says, with a mixture of enthusiasm and pin-point focus. Unicef, the world’s leading children’s charity, is also in support.
That’s not to say the project has been without its challenges.
Libya was under Muammar Gadaffi’s control for 42 years and its 2011 civil war, and the ensuing NATO-led military intervention, has taken a terrible toll on its physical and human landscape.
Tommy should know. From 2006 to 2008, he worked in Libya.
“Things have changed a lot,” he says.
“A lot of infrastructure we built we when were out there has now been bombed out.”
One particular challenge has been Libya’s so-called political isolation law, banning anyone who held a senior post in Colonel Gadaffi’s regime from government.
This led to Project Pheonix, which was initially aimed at building permanent schools, switch focus to mobile educational facilities.
Tommy and others have spent the last six weeks redrawing their plans: pulling together designs, costs and fundraising strategies.
Things are still in the development process. It’s undecided as yet whether the schools will be built in the US, the UK or Jordan, for example.
But Tommy is determined the scheme will reach fruition.
“I always wanted to go back. I love the country and the people.
“Everything you read in the States is ‘Muslim this’, ‘Jihad that’, ‘terrorist the other’. We’ve no real understanding.
“When you set foot in the country for the first time, it’s a totally different experience.
“They’re the most polite, gentle people I’ve ever met in my life. You have to be careful not to abuse them because they’re so kind. It’s an amazing country.
“They haven’t known freedom since before I was born. Now they have an opportunity to come back from 42 years of oppression.
“They have their freedom and they’re trying their best to grasp it.
“We’ve had a constitution for 200 years and we’re still getting things wrong. They’ve only had a constitution a year. They’re doing good.
“They’re open to it. They want to see their kids succeed. If you can educated these kids, in 15 years’ time you’re not going to get the Jihadist bombers coming out of Libya – you’re going to get educated people who can help with the reconstruction.”
A chief executive, he speaks with authority. But asked about his route to fame, he seems a little embarrassed.
“I don’t think the UK cares as much,” he says.
“There are more important things going on.
“Like it or not, it threw my family and myself into the spotlight.
“So once you’re there, what are you going to do? We’ve tried to find some good out of it.”
TO see Tommy Jordan’s original video, search youtube.com for ‘Facebook Parenting’. For more information or to support Project Pheonix, visit 8minutesoffame.com or gofundme.com/phoenixlibya