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The Curious Case of Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett attends a screening of the television series “Empire” in Los Angeles, Calif., March 12, 2015. (Phil McCarten/Reuters)
Three days after the alleged attack, it’s not clear what actually happened. Here’s hoping we find out more.

The case of the openly gay television actor who has alleged that he was beaten up by racist homophobic Trump fans late Monday/early Tuesday at 2 a.m. grows more curious by the hour. Three days later, it’s not clear that an attack took place. And Jussie Smollett’s behavior has been odd.

On Tuesday, in response to a Joe Biden tweet expressing outrage over the alleged hate-crime assault on Smollett, longtime Chicago TV reporter Rafer Weigel of Fox 32 wrote: “Might be best to tone down the outrage on the #JussieSmollett story until more evidence comes in to suggest it actually happened.” Later the reporter added: “To be clear. I am not accusing [Smollett] of lying. I’m saying #ChicagoPD and Chicago FBI have been working round the clock & have found nothing to support it. And given the extremity of his claims and where they allegedly took place it has them skeptical.”

On Wednesday, police revealed that they have looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video recorded around the area (near 300 E. North Lower Water Street) where Smollett says the attack took place. Police called it a “very high density” area for surveillance cameras, but they still have found no evidence that any assault took place. There are no witnesses and nothing like the assault described appears on any of the videos. What they have released are low-quality images of two “persons of interest” who crossed paths with Smollett and could have been witnesses or bystanders or even perpetrators.

TMZ led the way on the story Tuesday with claims that “sources directly connected to” the actor said that as Smollett was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop, someone yelled, “Aren’t you that faggot Empire n*****?’”

TMZ’s sources added that the two attackers were both white and wearing ski masks. They allegedly beat him so badly they broke one of his ribs, and also put a rope around his neck, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, “and as they left they yelled, ‘This is MAGA country.’” A crudely lettered note sent to Fox’s Chicago studios last week made a death threat and an anti-gay slur against Smollett, but the actor turned down Fox’s offer to provide him with a round-the-clock security detail, according to TMZ.

Smollett did not initially mention the MAGA detail to police, according to a department spokesman. He waited until a subsequent interview with police later in the day on Tuesday to inform them of this. In addition, police said that Smollett couldn’t identify the race of his attackers because their faces were concealed and didn’t know what liquid was poured on him.

There is one possible piece of corroboration for Smollett’s story: He and his manager both say the two were talking on Smollett’s phone when the attack happened. The manager says he heard at least some of the attack, including the MAGA remark and the slurs. Police would like to examine Smollett’s phone to find out more. But they say he won’t give it to them.

There is of course ample evidence of animosity between the actor and Donald Trump’s side, but so far all of the expressions of hatred are coming from Smollett. This is the kind of remark Smollett makes about the president on Twitter:

Surveillance video shows Smollett walking into an apartment building and past security guards without stopping to ask them for help or to tell them he had just been subjected to a vicious assault and hate crime. In this video, he was wearing a rope around his neck “like a necktie but shaped like a noose,” according to a police spokesman. At some point the police were contacted and Smollett was interviewed in a friend’s apartment at 2:42 a.m. He asked police to turn off their body cameras so the encounter would not be recorded. At this point, he was still wearing the rope around his neck, police said.

So let’s recap what Smollett says happened, together with what Chicago reporters have heard from police. Two men recognized a gay black actor from a TV show at 2 a.m. on a Chicago street during an extreme cold snap while he was on his phone. Instead of taking the phone from him, they began to shout slurs at him. The assailants happened to have a rope and an unknown liquid with them. They put a rope around his neck, but instead of strangling him with it, they just left it there and then ran away. Instead of calling the police immediately on the phone, Smollett walked into an apartment building and past security, without informing anyone about the alleged assault, and he kept the rope around his neck for some three-quarters of an hour. He neglected to tell the police about the MAGA remark in this first interview, revealing it only later in a subsequent interview. He took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital that morning and was released later in the morning. TMZ posted a picture of Smollett with a small scratch or cut beneath his right eye.

That’s pretty much all we know. Here’s hoping we find out more.

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