Relatives of Jussie Smollett said Thursday that a reported attack earlier in the week on the “Empire” actor was an act of “domestic terrorism.
“Our beloved son and brother, Jussie, was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack,” reads the family’s statement, issued Thursday afternoon. “We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime.”
President Donald Trump also weighed in Thursday, calling the assault “horrible” in response to a question at an Oval Office event.
Chicago police are still conducting a hate crime investigation and on Wednesday evening released the first surveillance images of two persons of interest captured on camera around the time and in the area of the brutal attack.
Police say Smollett, who is black and gay, was walking back to his Streeterville home about 2 a.m. after a stop at a Subway restaurant when two men walked up to him, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, poured what is suspected to be bleach on him and put a rope around his neck.
Smollett told police the assailants were two men wearing ski-masks and all black clothing. In a follow-up interview, he told detectives the men yelled “this is MAGA country” after they beat him, a police spokesman said.
Smollett and his manager both told officers they were on the phone when the attack started, police said. His manager reportedly overheard much of the hateful statements.
“Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.” Smollett’s family said in the statement. “Jussie is a warrior whose light cannot be dimmed. … Oftentimes ending fatally, these are inhumane acts of domestic terrorism and they should be treated as such.”
The family’s statement also blamed heated rhetoric around the country and said similar hate crimes will continue “until we hold each other accountable.
“Hateful words lead to hateful actions,” the statement said. “Radical love is the only solution, but passivity will be our downfall. We, as a family, will continue to work for love, equity and justice until it reigns supreme in our nation and all over the world.”
Earlier Thursday, Trump took questions from pool reporters on a variety of topics in an Oval Office event. Reporter April Ryan of American Urban Radio asked Trump about Smollett.
“That I can tell you was horrible,” Trump responded. “It doesn’t get worse as far as I’m concerned.”
President Trump on @JussieSmollett: “That I can tell you was horrible. I’ve seen it, uh last night. I think that’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse as far as I’m concerned.” https://t.co/oB29Bjspqi pic.twitter.com/r3qNQYmwK8— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) January 31, 2019
The FBI is separately looking into a letter threatening the actor sent a week ago to the offices of the television show. The letter was laced with a white, powdery substance, Chicago police said. The FBI declined to comment on the case.
Others who have joined the chorus of condemnation include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Vice President Joe Biden. The Human Rights Campaign also has posted about the incident on its website.