It is still technically possible that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett really was the victim of a hate crime. We cannot at this point conclusively prove the negative, and maybe we never will. But we can use our faculties of reason and common sense and, based on the available evidence, arrive at the most plausible conclusion: it’s a hoax, and a pretty absurd one at that.
Before we look at the facts of the case, let’s review the claim. Smollett says he was walking back from Subway at 2 AM on a frigid Chicago night when he was suddenly attacked by two racist assailants. He says they assaulted him, poured a mysterious chemical on him, tied a rope around his neck, and shouted “this is MAGA country,” along with various anti-black and anti-gay slurs. Smollett claims that he fought off his attackers and made it home, Subway sandwich still in hand and rope still around his neck. Eventually he called the police and went to the hospital. The selfie he took in the hospital reveals a slight scratch on his face and not much else in the way of bodily injury.
Police are obviously skeptical of Smollett’s tale, but they have not yet officially called it a hoax. I believe the rest of us can have much more certainty than the police are willing to show. Here’s why:
1. The story is absurd on its face. It would be hard to believe no matter where it was supposed to have happened — but Chicago? Not just Chicago but one of the most liberal neighborhoods in Chicago. You may as well claim that MAGA terrorists assaulted you at a vegan convention in Portland. If there are roving bands of homicidal Trump-loving bigots prowling the streets, I doubt you’ll find them in Chicago, which most decidedly is not “MAGA country.”
And what were these violent bigots doing out in sub-zero temperatures with a noose and a bottle of bleach (which, by the way, would have frozen within minutes)? And if this is supposed to be a “random” attack, how did they know that Smollett was gay? Or was it targeted? Were they searching the streets and risking hypothermia in order to find and attack a relatively unknown supporting actor from a show they’ve almost certainly never watched?
Even if we allow for the possibility that the attackers exist, and we overlook all of the questions about how and why they were out in the middle of the night in Chicago pouring bleach on a black man, that still leaves us with the odd fact that Smollett wore the noose around his neck on his way back home. He had the presence of mind to retrieve his tuna sandwich, which was fortunately unharmed in the scuffle, yet, in a state of shock, he kept wearing the noose like a necktie? This couldn’t have been an effort to preserve evidence because, for one, he has been reluctant to produce evidence, and two, he was hesitant to call the police in the first place. You only set out to preserve evidence if you are absolutely sure from the get go that you will be contacting police — and you would contact them immediately.
2. Video footage does not support the claims. Police have been able to piece together Smollett’s entire jaunt to Subway, minus a 60-second gap that no security camera reached. There is no attack depicted in the available video. There is no footage of the assailants, either, aside from two guys who appear to be homeless and don’t fit the description Smollett provided.
Smollett says the attack happened in that 60-second span. That seems like an awfully short (not to mention suspiciously convenient) window for a desperate fight with two psychotic skinheads. The police say it’s indeed possible that the described assault began and concluded within one minute. Possible, sure. It’s also possible that Jack really did climb a magical bean stalk into the clouds. But possibilities and plausibilities are two different things.
3. Smollett has not been eager to help the investigation. He claims he was on the phone with his manager when the attack occurred, but for two weeks he refused to hand his phone over to investigators so they could corroborate the timeline. Finally, after two weeks, he did supply law enforcement with heavily redacted, and therefore useless, phone records. This is the kind of stonewalling you expect from the accused, not the victim.
4. Smollett is not behaving like the victim of a vicious beating. Just a couple of days after suffering, he claims, bruised ribs and other injuries, he was on the stage in West Hollywood singing, dancing, and showing no sign of physical impairment. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of bruising their ribs knows that it is hard to move or breathe with that sort of injury, let alone perform a musical number.
5. His own neighbors don’t believe him. If his neighbors had come out and confirmed that these kinds of things happen in their community, that would go a long way towards vindicating Smollett. But they say the opposite. Agin Muhammad, who lives in the same building as the supposed victim, put it frankly to the New York Post: “I don’t believe it, not around here … Half the people are gay and the other half are black.”
Does any of this prove that Smollett wasn’t really attacked? No, but then it is notoriously difficult and often impossible to prove that something didn’t happen. We can’t even disprove alien abduction stories or Bigfoot sightings. We can only use our heads, evaluate the evidence, and decide what is most likely. Sure, it’s possible that Smollett’s story happened the way he said. But in this case, the most likely thing is clear: Jussie Smollett is lying.