On 29 January, Empire actor Jussie Smollett captured the world's attention. Smollett alleged that around 2am in Chicago, he was called racial and homophobic slurs and beaten by Trump supporters who yelled “This is MAGA country." What made the attack appear even more gruesome was the allegation that he was covered in bleach and a rope was tied around his neck. The details were horrific, sparking national outrage days before the start of Black History Month.
But, as the details began to unfold, it became clear that Smollett may have faked the attack. News and police reports since have suggested that he hired two Nigerian actors to stage it. Smollett has since been arrested and charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report to the Chicago Police Department. It’s been suggested that he could have staged the attack because he was dissatisfied with this salary on Empire.
Superintendent of the CPD Eddie Johnson expressed his dismay over the alleged false police report, not only as a law enforcement officer but as a black man in America, at a press conference this morning. Given their history, and more recently how Laquan McDonald’s case was handled, it’s understandable why some folks are slow to take the CPD at their word — but the evidence appears to be overwhelming. Smollett's lawyers have said that they will launch an "aggressive" defence.
If Smollett is convicted and he did indeed stage this attack, it does a disservice to the decades of work done by civil rights and LGBTQ advocates to allow Jussie Smollett his current position of opportunity. He will have also done a disservice to all of those who are real victims of hate crimes. Smollett will have taken advantage of the sympathy and belief of victims that exists among liberals for his attempted personal gain, and for that, he is a disgrace.
Does this diminish the stories of real victims? No. Does this somehow void the culture of hatred and racial violence President Trump has cultivated in America since he launched his campaign with a promise to build a wall to keep out Mexican "rapists" and ban Muslims? No. Nevertheless, the right persists in doing what they do best: taking one event and generalizing.
After the evidence mounted against Smollett's claim, conservatives, including Donald Trump Jr., began to rejoice. They mocked Democrats and members of the media for believing the false allegation in the first place. Some tried to paint the entire charade as a coordinated liberal hoax.
There's an easy explanation for why so many people believed Smollett. Not because it was a liberal hoax. It was so widely accepted at face value because, in the hateful environment President Trump has cultivated, it was entirely believable.
Last year, the FBI announced that hate crimes rose 17 per cent in 2017 — the third consecutive year hate crimes have risen. Just yesterday, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) published their "Year In Hate" analysis tracking hate groups around the US. They found hate groups surged by 30 per cent over the last four years. That makes 2018 the fourth consecutive year of hate group growth.
According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, only 0.2 per cent of the 21,000 hate crimes they tracked between 2016 and 2018 were fake reports. The data proves Jussie Smollett's claim does little to detract from the very real threat bigotry poses in America. If one needs further proof, look no further than yesterday's headlines.
While the news of Smollett's charges spread on Twitter, a stunning development occurred that should have refocused the national discourse. In a court filing, prosecutors alleged that US Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson was arrested Friday for stockpiling weapons and plotting an attack on Democrats and prominent journalists. Hasson was accused of having ties to white supremacists and espousing neo-Nazi views. The court filing labeled him as a domestic terrorist and the opening line began to detail the startling plot: "The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country."
We heard no mention of this on President Trump's Twitter feed, but this morning, we did get this statement: ".@JussieSmollett - what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA”.
To that I say: why is the president of the United States tweeting about one potential fake report of a hate crime before tweeting about the fact a domestic neo-Nazi terrorist plot was averted?
To that I say: what about the millions of people in marginalized communities he has insulted with his own racist and dangerous fear-mongering?
To that I say: what about President Trump's dangerous attacks on the media even after one of his supporters mailed pipe bombs to CNN, and prominent Democrats, another one of his supporters assaulted a BBC cameraman at a Trump rally, and after he's defended Saudi Arabia for their murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi?
As a black man and journalist, I can tell you, I am far more concerned about the surges in radical right-wing terrorism under a president who continues to use radicalizing rhetoric even after his critics are targeted again and again. Until people on the right stop advocating policies that perpetuate systemic racism, increase anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and widen wealth inequality, the president should spare us of calls to sympathize with the "MAGA" people who felt insulted by Jussie Smollett's alleged hoax.
Ahmed Baba is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Rantt Media
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