On Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, Chicago’s CBS 2 revealed a possible motive amid ongoing speculation that the Empire star, who plays Jamal Lyon on the hit FOX series, may have orchestrated the incident after receiving a racist, homophobic letter at the network’s Cinespace Studios late last month.
According to a source cited by the news outlet, “When the letter didn’t get enough attention, he concocted the staged attack.” The insider went on to claim that Smollett was reportedly dismayed after the letter didn’t receive a “bigger reaction.”
The letter in question, which was received on Jan. 22, 2019, reportedly included a drawing of a gun pointed at a stick figure hanging from a tree, as well as a white powdery substance, which turned out to be crushed up aspirin. In addition to President Donald Trump’s “MAGA” slogan written on the envelope, the contents of the message itself included letters cut out from a magazine, which read, “You will die black f*g.”
According to Page Six, the FBI has since taken over the investigation into the letter from the Chicago Police Department.
As Nicki Swift previously reported, Smollett, 36, was allegedly attacked by two men in Chicago, Ill. in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019. The men in question reportedly used racist and homophobic hate speech while physically assaulting the TV star, pouring a chemical believed to be bleach on him, and placing a noose around his neck. While leaving the scene, they allegedly said, “This is MAGA country.” After Smollett sought medical treatment at Northwestern Memorial, authorities in the Windy City reportedly began its investigation into the incident as a possible hate crime.
For his part, Smollett broke his silence on the matter in a statement to Essence on Feb. 1. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK. My body is strong but my soul is stronger,” he wrote in part at the time. After thanking his supporters for their “outpouring of love and support,” Smollett noted that he’d been “100% factual and consistent” while working with the police.
Sharing his belief that “justice will be served” following the “horrific incident,” he concluded, “Most importantly, during times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know. And that can’t be kicked out of me.”
Two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, were later taken into police custody on Feb. 13 as potential suspects in the case, according to CBS Chicago. However, new evidence uncovered during their interrogations led authorities to switch gears amid the investigation over the weekend — prompting reports of a hoax and subsequent backlash online.
According to the news outlet, the Osundairo brothers, who have since been released without charges, reportedly told the Chicago PD that Smollett paid them $3,500 to help stage the assault. They also reportedly claimed that the three rehearsed together prior to the incident (via TMZ). Furthermore, upon the brothers’ return from a recent trip to Nigeria, they were allegedly “promised an additional $500” from Smollett, according to CBS 2.
“We are not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump,” Ola and Abel Osundairo released in a joint statement to CBS Chicago on Monday, Feb. 18. “We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
Smollett denied these claims in a statement released to CNN through his lawyers on Saturday, Feb. 16. “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” his attorneys’ statement read in part. “He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
It should be noted that, at the time of this writing, the Chicago PD has yet to publicly confirm nor deny this ongoing speculation of a staged attack amid its ongoing investigation.
In related news, Smollett’s role on an upcoming episode of Empire has reportedly been cut down significantly amid these rumors, as reported by TMZ. According to production sources cited by the gossip rag on Tuesday, Feb. 19, a number of the actor’s scenes in an episode that’s currently being filmed, as well as the “big musical number” he was meant to shoot, have allegedly been written out of the script altogether. However, Smollett will reportedly return to set later this week to film a handful of ensemble scenes sans rehearsal.