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Jussie Smollett Changes His Story Again

Jussie Smollett poses on the red carpet before the 47th Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, June 9, 2016. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

The actor Jussie Smollett continues to talk about the alleged January 29 attack on him during a frigid night in Chicago, giving Good Morning America his fullest description yet of his claims. It differs substantially from what he told police initially after the alleged assault.

Smollett told GMA that the alleged attack began with a nasty comment from one person who accosted him on the street. He heard someone yell, “Empire” and then “f****** Empire n*****.” He replied, he now says,“What the f*** did you just say to me? The man added,“This MAGA country, n*****, then punched him in the face. He says he fought with the attacker, and as the two “tussled he became aware that a second assailant was present, kicking his back.

After all of this, the two assailants simply ran away, and a shaken Smollett realized that there was a rope around his neck. Police have said that there is only a 60-second gap in surveillance footage between an image of Smollett with no rope around his neck and an image of him with a rope around his neck. He told GMA both that he was talking to his manager Brandon Moore during the attack and that the phone was in his pocket, but it fell on the ground in the scuffle. After the encounter, Smollett realized that Moore was still on the line. He picked up the phone and shouted at Moore, “There’s a f***ing rope around my neck!” He didn’t call the police to tell them about the attack and the direction in which his attackers had fled.

In previous versions of the story, Smollett a) didn’t mention the MAGA comment (in his first interview with police, 40 minutes later) and b), in a TMZ story based on sources “directly connected to Jussie”  said the attackers yelled “This is MAGA country” (no n-word) not at the outset of the attack but as they were leaving. That TMZ story also claimed Smollett had suffered a “fractured rib. Smollett now says he suffered merely a “bruised rib.

Obtained by FOIA request, the police report based on an interview with Smollett at 2:42 a.m. on the night of the attack does not align with the story Smollett tells on GMA. In that report both attackers, males dressed in black, one with a black ski mask covering his face, appeared simultaneously and both began with verbal abuse. There was no delay between when Smollett became aware of the first and second attackers. Says the report, “two unknown males approached him and gained his attention by yelling verbatim, ‘Empire [redacted] [redacted], those words being “racial and homophobic slurs. Then the attackers proceeded “to batter the victim about the face with their hands and pouring an unknown chemical substance on to him staining his clothing. There is no mention of being kicked in the back. There is no mention of Smollett fighting back. There is no mention of Smollett saying,“What the f*** did you just say to me?” The report adds,“The victim does not remember any more distinguishing features of the offenders, or in which direction they fled.” 

Yet Smollett told GMA “I saw where they ran.”  How does he know this now if he didn’t know it then? He also told the show he offered to police the following distinguishing features: a body description and a description of the eyes and bridge of the nose of the first attacker. These details are unmentioned in the police report. He didn’t get a look at the second attacker.

Disturbing as all of this would be, Smollett left the rope around his neck and calmly walked home. He went to his apartment building, past security, and didn’t tell security personnel about the attack. Forty minutes went by before Moore called police. Why the delay? Smollett says, “We live in a society where as a gay man you are somehow considered to be weak. I am not weak and we as a people are not weak.

What does weakness have to do with this? A person who is attacked, especially in a hate crime, has a duty to society to report the attack immediately. Did it take Smollett 40 minutes to ponder whether he wants racist and homophobic attackers to be free to roam the streets of Chicago and assault others?

Smollett also told GMA that he was sure the two individuals police called “persons of interest — nearly unidentifiable shapes who appeared in grainy, low-quality images on nearby surveillance video — were the two people who attacked him. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did. Police have said that the video shows the two individuals walking away from the scene of the alleged attack, 15 to 30 minutes before Smollett says it happened.

Despite the horrific nature of the alleged assault, Smollett seemed to indicate in his GMA interview that he was more hurt by online gossip about his story.

“I’m p***ed off. It’s the attackers, but it’s also the attacks, he told Robin Roberts. By “attacks he seems to mean social-media posts. “At first it was the thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth then that’s because it’s the truth. Then it became a thing of, like, how can you doubt that? How can you not believe that? It’s the truth….Then it became a thing of, like, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth. You don’t even want to see the truth. 

It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now….For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing. I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f*****, they called me a n*****. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.

As for why Smollett refused to turn his phone over to police (he did turn over heavily redacted phone records), he said, “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry but — I’m not gonna do that. Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmate’s number, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos.

“I don’t know what that’s gonna be, to hand over my phone for — and honestly, by then, inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there, he said.

A dozen or so Chicago PD detectives have been working on the case, not to mention the FBI agents investigating a hateful letter sent to Smollett a week before the alleged assault, but it’s possible the matter will simply fizzle out with no definitive truth being established. Police have reportedly been canvassing stores to look for images of the purchase of a white rope such as the one recovered from Smollett.

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