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Thu, March 21

Column | Jussie Smollett has plenty of company

Laura Hollis

Laura Hollis

The information that has been emerging about what really happened to Jussie Smollett on Jan. 29 at 2 a.m. in downtown Chicago has blown a hole in his original story wide enough to drive a tank through.

Chicago police were diligent in their investigation. Although, as noted by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Smollett was originally believed and treated as a crime victim, the evidence that has subsequently emerged makes it appear that he first mailed himself a threatening letter with white powder (which turned out to be a simple over-the-counter painkiller – acetaminophen). Smollett then apparently paid two brothers, Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, to stage an attack against him that he could later claim was racist and homophobic, an attack that would give the threatening letter more credence and that Smollett would be able to blame on Trump supporters.

Even as the public was discovering the truth, Smollett continued to maintain his innocence. “I swear to God,” he reportedly said to his castmates on the set of “Empire,” “I did not do this.”

But it appears that he did do it. Why?

One explanation that has been offered is that he felt he was not being paid enough. Another possibility is Smollett is suffering from an untreated drug problem, a claim he is said to have made to the Chicago police. This not only sounds like a possible defense to the crimes with which Smollett has been charged; it also smacks of Hollywood publicists and image massagers working furiously behind the scenes. We’ve all seen the template: a little bit of mea culpa (but only insofar as admitting to substance abuse is concerned), just enough time out of the public eye for the lights to shine on someone else, a few well-placed magazine and talk show interviews after the perfunctory stint in rehab, and voila! Smollett emerges a new man, poised to generate the public forgiveness that usually follows celebrities’ fall from grace. We’re all only human, after all, there but for the grace of God, and so on ...

Additionally, social media is now abuzz with speculation about Smollett’s mental and emotional health. He wouldn’t come up with such a scheme, the argument goes, unless he’s mentally ill or emotionally unstable. Indeed, The Hollywood Reporter published a sympathetic article on Feb. 27 that looks back at Smollett’s career since childhood. A combination of interviews with persons close to Smollett and recent quotes from Smollett himself raises the question of whether the pressures of fame may have prompted him to concoct such a scheme.

Whether or not Jussie Smollett was, in fact, driven by emotional instability to perpetuate a “hoax crime,” he certainly has plenty of company. Another Hollywood Reporter article published the same day explores Hollywood’s history of faked “hate crimes.” The author takes pains to note at the beginning of the piece, “Very few hate crimes are fake.” But a significant number of the high-profile cases seem to be. (The Duke lacrosse rape case is a notable example.) Wilfred Reilly, author of the upcoming book “Hate Crime Hoax,” points to the same FBI data as The Hollywood Reporter: Approximately 7,000 hate crimes were reported in the United States in 2017, and only 8 to 10 percent are faked. But, Reilly notes, several hundred highly visible “hate crimes” have turned out to be fake over the years.

Reilly explains that in many cases, hate crime hoaxers are motivated to call attention to a cause they feel is important and insufficiently addressed. It doesn’t appear that this was Smollett’s motivation. But for whatever else one can say about Jussie Smollett, he must have known his story would be believed. He counted on it being believable, because it fits the worldview of so many in the entertainment industry and the media. He counted on the glaring, gaping holes in his story being overlooked (Chicago is no bastion of Trump support; no one says “MAGA country”; nobody cares that he is black or gay; no one goes out looking for victims at 2 a.m. when it’s minus 10 degrees outside; no one would have even known who he was, bundled up in that weather) because we have a class of self-important elites that overlooks inconvenient reality every single day to pitch its narrative that Trump voters are a class of sexist, racist, homophobic, deplorable bigots 63 million strong. And the elites preach this narrative from their perches with their six- and seven- (and eight-) figure incomes, their Ivy League sinecures and their walled estates.

Mental illness? Could be. Drug problem? Perhaps. Or maybe Jussie Smollett just thought he’d get away with doing his version of what our press, our entertainment industry, half of our politicians and a huge chunk of our educational establishment do every single day.

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