North Korea is not known for its social-media savvy. When the Democratic People’s Republic launched its official government Twitter account under the handle of @uriminzok (meaning “our nation”) in August 2010, it started making friends in a sluggish and erratic fashion. When they weren’t antagonizing South Korea or sending out links to propaganda, Pyongyang’s social-media wizards followed barely a dozen tweeps, seemingly at random: a few Americans here, a Vietnamese account there, and a Venezuelan radical just for the hell of it.
After two and a half years, the North Korean Twitter account has nearly 11,000 followers, roughly the same number as that of the Croatian government (but about 10,000 more than the government of Somalia’s account). Meanwhile, @uriminzok has, for whatever reason, severely downsized the number of Twitter users it follows. As of yesterday, these were the remaining three—none of whom is Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who is currently in North Korea on a high-profile visit:
If one of these seems like it’s not like the other, that’s because it isn’t. Meet Jimmy Dushku, the last and only American whom North Korea still follows on Twitter. In fact, he’s the only active tweep it follows, as @qwertyvn and @Pyongyang_DPRK haven’t tweeted in months.
Dushku, who goes by the nicknames “Jimmer” and “Jammy” (for his love of Jammie Dodgers biscuits), is a 25-year-old independently wealthy investor from Austin, Texas, who projects an online image of himself that is, shall we say, larger-than-life. Having started a website development business at age 14, Dushku now has his money in construction projects in Europe, residential properties in Texas, and mining and agriculture in Brazil and Peru. When he’s not globetrotting on Falcon 50s or other private jets, you can find him playing Rachmaninoff on his piano, riding his Ducati Monster, giving marketing tips to friends, and swinging by charity events.
In certain corners of the internet, Dushku has gained a degree of notoriety for being Coldplay‘s biggest fan. “I’ve never been into partying or anything like that, so while my friends are at the bars, I’m usually enjoying the world class entertainment of Coldplay,” he writes in an email to Mother Jones. Dushku has attended, by his own count, nearly 60 Coldplay concerts across the country from Dallas to New Jersey, which he has methodically documented and photographed. Ever the diehard fan, Dushku has no problem chastising his friends for “disrespecting” Coldplay in front of him:
Dushku has also skirted the edges of celebrity in Austin and Los Angeles, where he also has a home. He is frequently asked whether he is related to Eliza Dushku, star of Bring It On and Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Dollhouse. He is not, though he did invite the 32-year-old actress to one of his birthday parties at the Sizzler in Los Angeles. (“She didn’t show.”) His surname was enough, however, to prompt Kenny Hamilton, Justin Bieber’s trusted bodyguard and Jimmy Dushku’s “homie”, to try to arrange a meeting between the two Dushkus.
Also, Jimmy unsuccessfully lobbied Comcast and Universal Studios to grant him a walk-on role in one of the upcoming Fast and Furious movies, citing the original as his favorite film. (“You almost had me? You never had me! You never had your car!” Dushku occasionally blurts out in meetings, channeling Vin Diesel.)
And here he is golfing with actor Dennis Quaid, an ex-neighbor whom Dushku affectionately calls “a great guy”:
So why, exactly, did North Korea decide to follow Dushku in the first place? He has no personal or political connections to the Hermit Kingdom, much less any affection for its binge-drinking, roller-coaster riding, Kobe Bryant-watching, nuclear-armed supreme leader. “People always ask me how it happened, and I honestly can’t remember,” he says. “It started sometime back in 2010. I was initially surprised, but I always try to make friends with people from all different locations and backgrounds.”
“Out of courtesy,” Dushku says, he followed North Korea’s account in return, and they began communicating. The first tweet below says “Have a nice day, my friend” in Korean.
@uriminzok ?? ?? ??? ? ??
— Jimmy Dushku (@JimmyDushku) April 20, 2011
@uriminzok Hello my friend, I made a video for the people of North Korea. I hope all is well. http://www.twitvid.com/VD0VD
— Jimmy Dushku (@JimmyDushku) December 9, 2010
Then came the backlash. After word got out that Dushku was being followed by @uriminzok, his inbox was instantly inundated with angry and graphic messages from complete strangers who suspected him of being a sympathizer or even a secret agent of the Korean Workers’ Party. The death threats, primarily from South Koreans and Korean Americans, escalated into attempts to post his address and personal information on forums such as 4chan.
As a result, Dushku became seriously concerned for the safety of his family and himself. “One person wrote in detail about how he was going to come to my house and hurt me; others tell me they hope I die, or that they will be the one to do it,” Dushku says. “On the other hand, the most entertaining messages I’ve received have been from Australians. They always send such cheerful messages and it’s a nice change from the negative ones.”
Since all the negative attention started, Dushku has laid low, generally declining to give interviews to Western media and cable TV, but occasionally speaking to Korean, Japanese, and Chinese news agencies in order to prove that he is “not an uneducated and evil person.” He still receives threatening emails and tweets, but nothing that causes too much alarm.
Regardless of why this tweet-based acquaintance came into being, Dushku is content with the situation as is. He claims that due to this amicable relationship he has a standing offer from North Korean officials to visit their country. “I’d love to see the Arirang Festival in person,” he says, referring to the annual gymnastics festival held in Pyongyang that honors the Korean People’s Army, dead dictators, and the ruling party. “I have been very interested in the country, from a historical point of view, for many years now. Behind all of the headlines you see on the news, there are people who live there.”
When I chatted with Dushku, Schmidt had just arrived in North Korea on his “private, humanitarian” mission. Only time will tell if Jimmy Dushku—America’s Coldplay-obsessed, Bieber-bodyguard-befriending, Vin Diesel-quoting, jet-setting businessman—will follow suit.