'Empire' star told police his attackers yelled 'MAGA country' during assault
Last Tuesday, Jussie Smollett was the victim of a brutal attack in downtown Chicago, at about 2 a.m. local time. Two unidentified men wearing masks shouted racist and homophobic slurs at the actor, who plays an openly gay character on Fox's hit drama series Empire. The suspects physically assaulted Smollett, poured an chemical substance on him, possibly bleach, and wrapped a rope around his neck, before fleeing the scene.
Chicago police described the attack as "possible racially-charged assault and battery" and are investigating the attack as a possible hate crime. In a follow-up interview with police, Smollett said that his attackers yelled "MAGA country" during the assault, a reference to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign slogan "Make America Great Again." (It is not clear when, exactly, Trump and his supporters think America was great.)
"In the initial reports there was no mention of MAGA," explained Chicago police, in a statement provided to PEOPLE. "When detectives [followed] up with him later in the day, he recalled the offenders making those comments and detectives completed a supplemental report... Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline. The victim is fully cooperating with investigators."
TMZ first reported that the suspects yelled "MAGA country" during the attack. The media outlet also shared images of a threatening letter sent to Smollett prior to the assault. In the creepy piece of hate mail, cut-out letters spell "You will die black f**" and "MAGA" is scrawled in red on the envelope. The FBI are currently investigating this letter and its possible connection to the attack in Chicago.
Last November, the FBI announced that hate crimes in the United States increased by 17% between 2016 and 2017. 60 percent of those hate crimes are based on race, ethnicity or ancestr, while 15.8 percent are based on sexual orientation. In addition, the Anti-Violence Project reported that hate violence against LGBTQ people have risen in severity, with 46 percent of victims sustaining an injury in 2017, compared to 31 percent in 2016.
Smollett was treated at Northwestern University Hospital and reported to be in "good condition." As a result of his injuries, he missed shooting on the Empire set, but plans to return to the production soon. Several celebrities sent Smollet messages of support on social media, Taraji B. Henson, who plays his mother on the popular show.
On Instagram, Henson wrote, "I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn’t and we all feel his pain right now. @jussiesmollett is pure love to the bone AND THAT IS WHY SO MANY ARE FEELING HIS PAIN BECAUSE IT IS OUR PAIN!! I tell you one thing HATE WILL NOT WIN!!!! My baby is resilient and love still lives in him. The devil and his minions are very busy right now but one thing is for sure and two things are for certain #GODIS and that is all I know."
Hopefully they catch the two suspects soon.