CHICAGO, IL – The name of Jussie Smollett has caused controversy in 2019 like few other names this year. The “Empire” star, 37, shocked and angered people across the nation after allegedly perpetrating a faked hate crime; after charges were filed for filing a false police report and subsequently dropped, calls came forth for the FBI to step in and investigate. To date, however, the scope and range of the supposed FBI investigation has yet to yield any information, and the fallout of the Smollett situation – which has taken many twists and turns – will likely last into 2020 and beyond.
On January 29, 2019, reports circulated in the media that Smollett had been the victim of a hate crime in Chicago; after having run out to a Subway sandwich shop early in the morning to get a bite to eat, Smollett claimed, according to USA Today, that two white men wearing ski masks saying “This is MAGA country,” referencing President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” attacked him. The two alleged suspects proceeded to beat Smollett, call him racial and homophobic slurs – Smollett is both black and gay – tie a noose around his neck, and pour bleach on him.
Smollett claimed to have fought the assailants off and made his way to a hospital for treatment. Later that day, the incident was reported to the authorities, and quickly spread like wildfire across the media, gaining Smollett – who surmised that the attack was a result of criticism of the Trump administration and possibly tied to a threatening letter he had previous received – a huge amount of support. The incident, as reported, had all of the hallmarks of a vile and evil attack motivated by pure racism, and many in the nation were shocked that such a thing could happen. However, people were equally shocked when, on February 20, Smollett was arrested and indicted by Chicago authorities for allegedly paying two black men to stage the incident and for filing a false police report. Even the threatening letter he claimed to have previously received was purported to be a fake.
The ramifications for Smollet were swift and severe- despite maintaining his innocence, the actor was branded a liar and charlatan, and he was quickly written off of his television show by producers after a firestorm of negative coverage.
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But as quickly as things escalated, they just as quickly took yet another bizarre turn; on March 26, the charges were dropped in lieu of Smollett performing a mere 16 hours of community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond. The relative slap on the wrist was coupled with the conduct of Chicago prosecutors, which was described as “highly unusual” by the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association, who also stated that “the State’s Attorney and her representatives have fundamentally misled the public on the law and circumstances surrounding the dismissal.” To date, the circumstances of the care remain shrouded in mystery.
This development baffled and angered many, including President Donald Trump, who demanded that the FBI look into the matter. The FBI investigation was later revealed to be officially underway, although precious little has been publicly revealed since then about what – if anything – the FBI or any other law enforcement agency is doing, exactly.
As for the ongoing Smollet saga, it continues to take unusual twists and turns; Smollet is currently the target of several Chicago city and county lawsuits seeking to recover the monies spent by police – to the tune of $130,000 – while investigating the actor’s allegedly fraudulent claims. Smollet, in turn, filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago in November, claiming that he was the victim of “mass public ridicule and harm” and should not be held to pay the reimbursement the city is seeking. And to top it off, the two men that Smollet allegedly hired to stage the January 29 attack have filed a defamation lawsuit against Smollett’s legal team. But ultimately, despite the three-ring circus that this incident has turned into, has Smollet paid a price for his alleged hoax? Sure, he was written off of “Empire,” but the program’s forerunner is already making statements to the press about the possibility of bringing his character back for the series finale. And, despite the evidence against him, Smollet still has a rabid base of supporters who maintain his innocence, and his name is certainly more recognizable now than it ever was before.
Attempts to contact the Chicago branch of the FBI by The Published Reporter have thus far been unsuccessful; while requests have been put in with their public information office, no updates on their progress in the investigation – or if an investigation actually exists – have been forthcoming. We will update this article if that changes.