It’s been two weeks since police say Empire actor Jussie Smollett was involved in an alleged hate crime in Chicago. For the first time since news broke of the attack, Smollett sat down with ABC’s Robin Roberts on Good Morning America this week to speak out on what happened, and the response he’s received since the incident.
“It’s like, you know, at first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, ’cause it’s the truth,’” he said, referencing the small but vocal population that has claimed his account is fabricated. “Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you — how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.’ And then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth.'”
The actor offered his account of what happened that Tuesday evening in Chicago. He said that after going to a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. he was approached by two masked figures, who he says called him “f—-t Empire n—-r,” and began beating him before tying a rope around his neck, pouring a substance believed to be bleach on him, and fleeing the scene. Photos have since been released of two potential suspects, who Smollett identified as his attackers on GMA.
Since the attack, some have taken to questioning Smollett’s story, pointing to the fact that he initially refused to give his phone to police and that the redacted records he did give were later called “insufficient” by the Chicago Police Department.
During the interview, Smollett addressed those concerns, saying he resented the idea that he would fabricate a crime to make a political point. “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,” he said, referring to reports that the assailants made a reference to Pres. Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—-t, they called me a n—-r. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
The actor also pointed out that, based on the responses he’s seen to his attack, the race of the attackers matters. “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,” he said. “And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”
As for his difficulty handing over his phone, Smollett said that he was concerned about potential violations of his privacy. “I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmates’ numbers, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s gonna be, to hand over my phone. And honestly, by then, inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there.”
In the end, the actor acknowledged that he wasn’t speaking out only for himself. He told Roberts that he wanted people to see the “truth” of hate, especially young people. “Everybody has their own idea,” he said. “Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community, young black children, to know how strong that they are.”
Check out a clip from Jussie Smollett’s interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America below: