UPDATE: Chicago police said on Feb. 16 that their investigation into Jussie Smollett’s reported attack “shifted” after they received information from two individuals they questioned. Citing anonymous law enforcement sources, CNN reported that police believe the actor may have paid two men to orchestrate the attack. Read more here.
“It’s the attackers but it’s also the attacks,” Smollett told ABC’s Robin Roberts in a Thursday interview, his first since the Jan. 29 assault in Chicago.
“At first it was a thing of like, ‘Listen if at first I tell the truth then that’s it ‘cause it’s the truth.’ Then it became a thing of like ‘Oh how can you doubt that? How do you not believe that? It’s the truth,’” he continued, referring to questions surrounding his story. “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.’”
Smollett, a gay black man who plays Jamal Lyon on Fox’s “Empire,” told Chicago police he was getting food when he was attacked by two masked men who were “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs.” He told police the assailants beat him up, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him.
During Thursday’s interview, Smollett said the attack began after one of the men yelled “Empire” at him while he was on the phone with his manager. Smollett said the incident escalated when he didn’t respond.
“I didn’t answer, I kept walking. And then I heard ‘faggot Empire nigger,’” Smollett said. “So, I turned around and said, ‘What the fuck did you just say to me?’ I see the attacker, masked, and he said, ‘This MAGA county nigger’ and he punched me in the face.”
Smollett said a second man began kicking him in the back after the first man assaulted him. He said his manager was on the phone the entire time.
Smollett also addressed questions that arose after the initial reports, including why he waited to call the police and handed over a heavily-redacted version of his phone records.
“There’s a level of pride there,” Smollett said. “We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered, somehow, to be weak and I’m not weak. I am not weak. And we as a people are not weak.”
He said he didn’t hand over all his phone records immediately because he was worried about privacy.
“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,” he said.
Smollett said he hopes he can create some good from such a horrible experience.
“I will never be the man that this did not happen to. I am forever changed,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad.”
The FBI joined the police investigation after it was revealed that Smollett received a threatening letter prior to the attack.