(Disclaimer: I always respect due process rights so I will stipulate up front that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is still telling castmates that he “swears to God” he didn’t fabricate the attack on him, and his attorneys insist that Chicago authorities trampled on his presumption of innocence by portraying him as definitely guilty in their press conference. Duly noted.
Thursday’s press conference by Chicago police about the alleged racist, homophobic attack on Smollett was remarkable not only for what was said, but for what wasn’t said.
The stated part that made news was that authorities not only flatly declared that Smollett conspired with his alleged attackers to stage a hoax assault, but that he was also behind the threatening letter sent to him earlier that was dusted with crushed aspirin, apparently to look like anthrax or some similar dangerous substance.
They claim that Smollett did it as a publicity stunt because he was dissatisfied with his TV salary, and when the letter didn’t get enough publicity, he concocted the assault hoax, paying the brothers $3500 to play along. If true, sending a hoax terror threat through the mail could add federal charges that will make it far worse for him than the 4th-degree felony charge Chicago leveled.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was also remarkably blunt in blasting Smollett, saying, “Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?” He said Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
What went unsaid was also remarkable. For instance, the absence of any cover-your-rear weasel words, like “allegedly.” Smollett’s lawyers were furious about this, but the Chicago police must think they’ve got an ironclad case because they didn’t even bother to pretend there was any question that the letter and the assault were hoaxes and Smollett was behind both.
Also going unsaid: the obvious political motivation and the real hate crime aimed at Trump supporters. Chicago authorities claimed Smollett’s motivation was boosting his profile and paycheck, and that his victim was Chicago’s image. But he’s been known for years as a rabidly partisan Trump-hater, and it’s no coincidence that the cover story was that he was attacked by racist, homophobic Trump supporters who yelled, “This is MAGA country!” Just claiming he’d been mugged would’ve been more plausible, but he had to assert the favorite false derogatory stereotype of the left’s political opponents. Never mind that it slandered 63 million Trump voters, deepened racial divisions and might have sparked violent retaliation against innocent people.
President Trump hit the nail on the head when he tweeted, “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
Ben Shapiro had perhaps the best response. Celebrities, liberal politicians and media figures accepted Smollett’s bizarre claim at face value because it reinforced their false notions about the other side. Shapiro noted that playing into that prejudice can reap big rewards, and if it turns out to be a hoax, there’s little price to pay (for anyone but Smollett.) Some who rushed to condemn are simply deleting their tweets and waiting to join the next Twitter-bred mob. Others are even blaming Trump for “creating the atmosphere” that made them believe and spread a false claim. And those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, over and over.
As Shapiro observes, “…We should all wait next time we hear a story too good to be true. But we won't. Nobody knows who the next Jussie Smollett will be. But within a few weeks, we'll surely know.”