I was one of many people who found Jussie Smollett’s story a little off from the beginning. Two white men in ski masks are out in 10-degree weather in the middle of the night, equipped with a bottle of bleach or something like it and a rope that they fashioned into a mock noose. These thugs, who shouted Trump slogans as well as racist and homophobic slurs, seemed to know who Smollett was on sight, meaning they were aficionados of the splashy black soap opera Empire, on which Smollett is a main character. Somehow they were aware that Smollett, prominent but hardly on the A-list as celebrities go, was gay.
Yes, my skepticism made me feel a little guilty. We are justly sensitized to violence against people for being black and for being gay in the wake of incidents I need not name. We are also just past watching legions of people who should have known better refuse to credit Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Maybe fear and trauma distorted Smollett’s memory somewhat? Maybe the media were getting some of the details wrong? Wait and see, I and others thought.
According to CNN, which got the information from two law-enforcement sources—and other news organizations as well—Chicago police believe two Nigerians arrested for their role in the attack were paid by Smollett to stage it. Relevant equipment was allegedly found in their apartment.
Smollett’s lawyers have issued a statement insisting these reports are false. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” they wrote. But Chicago police have declared a significant shift in “the trajectory of the investigation.”
Until this twist, smart people were claiming that the attack on Smollett was the story of Donald Trump’s America writ small—that it revealed the terrible plight of minority groups today. But the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic. Future historians and anthropologists will find this aspect of early-21st-century America peculiar, intriguing, and sad.
Read more at The Atlantic.