Jussie Smollett saw a tidal wave of support and well-wishes after he told police last month that he was the victim of a racist, homophobic attack on a frigid night in Streeterville.
In the weeks since, however, that backing he received has given way to doubt and hand wringing. Police are now exploring whether or not the “Empire” actor orchestrated the attack and paid two men, once considered suspects, to carry it out.
Smollett told police that the two attackers yelled, “This is MAGA country” as they put a thin rope around his neck and poured a substance — possibly bleach — on him.
The actor denied allegations that the incident was staged in an interview on “Good Morning America” with anchor Robin Roberts, and said the attacks on his credibility have been hard to take. He called accusations that he was lying “ridiculous.”
Democratic politicians from across the country seized on the alleged invocation of President Donald Trump’s signature phrase — an acronym for “Make America Great Again.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., whose district covers the South Side, wrote a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray the day after the attack was reported, asking the bureau to open a hate crime investigation.
“This is a hate crime plain and simple and I will not stand by while evil acts are inflicted on any citizen, especially not in my hometown,” Rush said at the time.
Three weeks later, Rush’s tone had softened considerably.
“Congressman Rush is aware of the recent reports citing law enforcement sources,” Rush’s spokesman, Ryan Johnson, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “While it is clear that this case is still developing he continues to believe that any allegation of a crime warrants a thorough investigation, regardless of the outcome. Mr. Rush will have no further comment until the investigation has concluded and the facts are definitive.”
The day the attack was reported to police, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. tweeted that the alleged incident “was an attempted modern day lynching.”
Earlier this week, Harris — a former federal prosecutor — said she still was concerned about Smollett’s claims, but stressed that the investigation was still ongoing.
“I think that the facts are still unfolding and I’m very concerned about, obviously, the initial allegation that he about what might have happened,” Harris was quoted as saying.
Like Harris, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called the incident “an attempted modern-day lynching.”
Asked about the case’s developments earlier this week, Booker told reporters: “I’m going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources.”
The day after the reported attack, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted, “The racist, homophobic attack on @JussieSmollett is an affront to our humanity. No one should be attacked for who they are or whom they love. I pray that Jussie has a speedy recovery & that justice is served. May we all commit to ending this hate once & for all.”
However, the tweet was deleted from Pelosi’s account on Monday.
In a statement to People, a representative for Pelosi explained: “Given the turn in the investigation, we decided to no longer amplify the original accusation.”