The incendiary story of an alleged hate crime attack targeting Empire actor Jussie Smollett immediately went viral yesterday, with media reporting the attackers made racial and anti-gay comments while using President Trump’s “MAGA” slogan during the 2 a.m. assault in downtown Chicago.
But conflicting versions of the incident from Smollett himself, and details reported by the media being outright contradicted by Chicago Police have raised questions about what actually happened.
Debra Heine noted on the PJ Media last night that police had found surveillance video of Smollett, but had not been able to find video of the alleged assailants.
The explosive details of the incident were initially broadcast by TMZ:
“Empire” star Jussie Smollett was brutally attacked by 2 men who beat him up, put his head in a noose and screamed, “This is MAGA country.”
Sources directly connected to Jussie tell TMZ, the actor arrived in Chicago from New York late Monday, and at around 2 AM he was hungry and went to a Subway. We’re told when shortly after he walked out on his way home, someone yelled, “Aren’t you that f***ot ‘Empire’ n*****?”
The 2 men — both white and wearing ski masks — viciously attacked Jussie as he fought back, but they beat him badly and fractured a rib. They put a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him and as they left they yelled, “This is MAGA country.”
Jussie took himself to Northwestern Memorial where he was treated. He was discharged later Tuesday morning.
The TMZ article now features a FaceTime screenshot of Smollett in the hospital taken by Empire creator Lee Daniels that Fields had initially posted online but then removed.
Chicago Police issued this initial statement:
Statement on #ChicagoPolice hate crime investigation. We are taking these allegations very seriously and encourage anyone with information to report anonymously to https://t.co/yYAqzcVIfu pic.twitter.com/DxipALHXaz
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 29, 2019
The Chicago Police issued subsequent statements denying TMZ’s claim that Smollett reported the suspects yelling “this is MAGA country.” However, Chicago Police later said that Smollett did reveal the detail in a second interview — taken after the TMZ story had spread:
MORE: Chicago PD says detectives did a follow-up, supplemental interview with Jussie Smollett, where he did in fact tell police his attackers yelled “MAGA country.”
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 29, 2019
The Daily Beast later reported that a Chicago Police spokesperson refuted TMZ’s claim of the defendants being male and white. The spokesperson stated the gender and race of the alleged assailants were unknown to Smollett because they were wearing ski masks and gloves.
Then other odd details began to emerge, further clouding the situation.
Chicago Police stated that they have yet to find any video evidence of any attackers or their vehicle:
CASE UPDATE: Tonight #ChicagoPolice detectives expanded the search area for cameras to be able to provide photos of the alleged assailants in this attack. Thus far, no video of the alleged assailants or a vehicle has been discovered but we are continuing to broaden our search pic.twitter.com/glRMbAX6D0
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 30, 2019
Chicago Police do not have any video of the assailants and continue to look for surveillance video. Investigators heard the "MAGA country" claim in media reports and called Smollett again. In that supplemental interview he shared that info with police. 2/2
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 30, 2019
Then a police spokesman said that when officers first arrived on the scene, nearly 45 minutes after the alleged attack, Smollett was still wearing the rope around his neck:
All of the above is attributable to a Chicago police spokesman.
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 29, 2019
Smollett also asked the officers to turn off their body cameras when they entered the residence, a high-end apartment reportedly owned by his friend:
CPD spokesman says, per department policy, officers informed Smollett they were wearing activated body cameras. He did request the cameras to be turned off. 2/2
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 30, 2019
Local media reported that Smollett was even reluctant to give police a statement initially, and refused ambulance transport. He later “self-transported” himself to Northwestern Hospital.
ABC News reported that “an unknown chemical substance” was used in the incident. There has been no police confirmation that it was bleach, as TMZ initially reported and many other media outlets shared.
Chicago Police stated that they are treating the incident as a potential hate crime, and that the FBI is assisting them in their investigation.
It should also be noted that Smollett has expressed animus toward President Trump going back years before he announced his campaign for the presidency:
I think someone should kick Donald Trumps ass… That's all.
— Jussie Smollett (@JussieSmollett) December 15, 2011
Early last year he tweeted out this racially tinged invective targeting Trump:
Shut the hell up you bitch ass nigga. You will continue to run this country further into the ground and risk lives every time you breathe. You’re not the president. Just a dumpster full of hate. FOH. Sick to my stomach that literal shit currently represents America to the world. https://t.co/qoNWllmZIm
— Jussie Smollett (@JussieSmollett) January 12, 2018
Given the shifting and sketchy details available so far, some have urged caution about the narrative getting ahead of the known facts of the situation:
But that warning has fallen on deaf ears. Politicians, Hollywood figures, and the usual racial grifters all tried to capitalize on the narrative:
What happened today to @JussieSmollett must never be tolerated in this country. We must stand up and demand that we no longer give this hate safe harbor; that homophobia and racism have no place on our streets or in our hearts. We are with you, Jussie. https://t.co/o8ilPu68CM
— Joe Biden (Text Join to 30330) (@JoeBiden) January 30, 2019
“I love him. He’s a fantastic human being.” @RepMaxineWaters reacts to the attack on @JussieSmollett. (🎥 Via @NatashaSAlford) #MillennialMediaRow pic.twitter.com/a2bCKLuHpU
— theGrio.com (@theGrio) January 30, 2019
There is no such thing as “racially charged.”
This attack was not “possibly” homophobic. It was a racist and homophobic attack.
If you don’t like what is happening to our country, then work to change it. It is no one’s job to water down or sugar-coat the rise of hate crimes. https://t.co/QAi0IYtSeR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 30, 2019
Jussie Smollett,’Empire' Actor, Reportedly Attacked In Possible Hate Crime.NPR. VILLAINY, RACISM,HOMOPHOBIA, PROMOTED BY MOST INFAMOUS 🤡IN 🌎,IS THE POISON THAT KILLS🇺🇸.WHITE ONLY IS NOT RIGHT.🇺🇸 IS PPL OF COLOR.🙏🏻GOP GOES DOWN WITH SHIP djt
— Cher (@cher) January 30, 2019
I’ve been trying to figure out all day what to say about the racist, homophobic, violence against @JussieSmollett.
Not sure I can describe what I’m feeling in a neat & tidy tweet. His trauma deserves more.
I’m sad. Living together on the planet shouldn’t be this difficult.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) January 30, 2019
Being interviewed by WABC TV on the reported hate crime on #JussieSmollett in Chicago. It must be fully investigated and justice must be done. pic.twitter.com/ijdG2afvQm
— Reverend Al Sharpton (@TheRevAl) January 30, 2019
- TMZ initially claimed Smollett was physically assaulted by two white males shouting “this is MAGA country” and anti-gay and racial slurs, and that they doused him with bleach and put a noose around his neck.
- Chicago Police initially denied the “MAGA” claim based on their initial interview. Smollett only added that detail in a second interview, after it had already been widely reported.
- Police spokesmen also said that since the assailants were wearing ski masks and gloves, their race and gender are unknown to Smollett.
- When police officers arrived at the residence, Smollett was still wearing the rope around his neck 45 minutes after the incident, was reluctant to provide a statement, and asked for their body cameras to be turned off.
- Police have been unable to obtain any video evidence of the assailants or their vehicle.
- Smollett clearly has a long-standing axe to grind with President Trump.
Given recent incidents, it would seem prudent to allow law enforcement authorities to investigate the matter before leaping to conclusions or pushing highly charged political claims.
But this incident has already been politicized, and it’s unlikely that prudence and caution are going to prevail until more facts are known.
This article has been updated to correct the date of Smollett’s tweet criticizing President Trump. The tweet was sent January 2018, not 2019. The name of the creator of ‘Empire” has also been corrected.