Scan through the pages of any supermarket tabloid and you’ll see that despite their presence within these periodicals, many actors want nothing more than to be left alone in public. Lucrative as the vocation may seem, living in the limelight is never easy. For some celebrities, it can even prove to be dangerous.
On January 22, 2019, actor Jussie Smollett received a strange envelope at the production studio where he worked on Chicago’s West Side. The envelope itself was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park four days earlier and it had a most unwelcome message written in the return address section…
The outside of the envelope bore the letters “MAGA,” the unmistakable letters of President Donald Trump’s former “Make America Great Again” campaign; a campaign that had come to symbolize bigotry and hatred in the wake of the former businessman’s presidential win. Smollett and his executive producer used gloves to open the envelope just in case.
Inside the envelope were a strange white powder, ultimately determined to be crushed aspirin, and a threat written in cut-out letters that read, “You will die black (expletive).” It was a clear threat and Smollett called the police about it, but nothing could be done until they determined the envelope’s owner…
Days later, Smollett got out of production at around 2 a.m. and hungry, went looking for a Subway sandwich. The openly gay, black actor was heading back to his apartment when two men approached him from behind. The men lobbed racial and homophobic slurs at him and declared loudly, “This is MAGA country,” before hitting him and wrapping a noose around his neck.
Smollett survived his ordeal and authorities were called. Within a day, the Chicago police department had at least a dozen detectives reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance footage. They saw images of Smollett walking downtown but there didn’t seem to be any videos of the attack. The assailants had apparently managed to commit the assault off camera…
Soon though, Chicago PD released official images of the two people they wanted to question. Footage of the two men on New Street near Illinois Street between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m. put them in the perfect location for the attack about a half hour later. Unfortunately, the image was too dark and their faces were indistinguishable.
News of Smollett’s attack soon hit the airwaves. Smollett’s fans were outraged and social media exploded with support. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago, gay TV host Ellen DeGeneres, even President Trump himself, all spoke out in Smollett’s defense…
Despite the support of celebrities and politicians alike, many on social media seemed skeptical about the validity of Smollett’s claims. Something didn’t seem to add up about the whole thing. Chicago PD had similar concerns. Smollett had been cooperative enough and had worked with police the whole way, but his story was rapidly beginning to drip water.
The growing skepticism regarding his attack didn’t stop him. Smollett persevered. He was determined to spite his attackers, so he gave a concert in West Hollywood, CA. It was his first performance since the attack. “I had to be here tonight, y’all,” he told his fans. “I can’t let them win. I have so many words in my heart…” All was not as it seemed, however…
Won’t Let Them Win
Smollett assured his fans that though he was not yet fully healed, he was determined to stand strong for them. Meanwhile, the Chicago police continued to follow-up on any and all leads regarding the attack. They asked Smollett to turn over his phone records so that they might use them in the investigation. For some reason, the actor seemed reticent to do so.
Smollett’s original account of the attack indicated that his music manager had been on the phone with him as the attack began, so it seemed pretty important that the police corroborate this by checking the records. The actor did end up turning some of the phone records over, though not all of them. It only raised further suspicions…
Smollett was determined to prove that he was telling the truth about what happened, so he appeared on “Good Morning America.” He explained that lying about things as serious as hate crimes does a disservice to our culture as a whole. He resented that people were whispering that it was simply a “date gone wrong.”
People of Interest
Hours after the interview, Chicago police announced that their detectives were currently interviewing the two “persons of interest” who they’d seen on the surveillance video. This lent credence to Smollett’s defensive GMA interview. The men were brothers in their 20s, one of whom had worked as an extra on “Empire” with Smollett…
While they interviewed them, a police spokesperson came out to assure the public that the local media reports that said the attack against Smollett was a hoax were thus far unconfirmed. Likewise, Smollett’s producers at Empire disputed media reports that the actor’s character was being written off the show.
Chicago police had arrested the two brothers at the airport after they had flown in from Nigeria. The men remained in custody for a full twelve hours but were not charged with a crime. Many media outlets found this to be suspicious. Indeed, if the two men had been involved in the attack, surely twelve hours of questioning would have determined that…
When the police released the brothers half-a-day later and told everyone that they were no longer considered suspects, even more, doubt was heaped upon Smollett’s story. Twelve hours later, police release the brothers, saying they no longer were considered suspects. The police had more investigative work to do yet but said that new evidence had come to light.
What the police ended up discovering during the course of the twelve-hour interview was that Smollett had allegedly paid the two brothers to stage an attack. The rope, which Smollett had originally said was tied into a noose and wrapped around his neck, became the key piece of evidence in proving the fabricated aspects of the case…
While detectives worked to track down where the rope had been sold, Smollett came out publicly to express his anger over the fact that people still believe the attack never took place. “Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack….”
In the end, the Chicago PD ascertained the truth. The rumors were true. Jussie Smollett had indeed orchestrated the whole scheme by faking a hate crime attack against himself. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about the attack and placed under arrest. But why had he done it in the first place?
It is believed that Smollett ultimately faked not only the attack but the threatening “MAGA” letter he had received because he had been “dissatisfied with his salary” on the show Empire. This was not just a problem for Smollett but for Chicago as a whole, who expended men and energy hunting down criminals who didn’t actually exist.
In a bit of dramatic irony, Empire’s executive producers, after hearing about the ruse and reasons why, announced that Smollett will not appear in the final episodes of the show’s fifth season. You can see the tale of Smollett’s supposed ideal unfold in the videos below…