UPDATED with Empire production information: Donald Trump was talking trade and another looming government shutdown today in the White House, but an alleged hate-crime attack on one of the stars of Empire on the streets of one of America’s greatest cities this week also was on the agenda.
“That I can tell you is horrible,” the former Celebrity Apprentice host said Thursday when asked about the racist and homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett that seemingly occurred early Tuesday morning. “It doesn’t get worse,” the president added.
The blunt remarks by Trump come hours after police in the currently frozen Windy City released video surveillance images of what they call “people of interest” in the January 29 barrage on Smollett from two as yet-unidentified individuals.
Having just returned to the city where the Fox drama is shot, Smollett was on the street near his Chicago apartment at around 2 AM when two men began bellowing derogatory slurs toward him. The duo then attacked the actor, hitting him over and over and pouring an unknown chemical substance over him. They reportedly also put a rope around Smollett’s neck before fleeing the scene.
After reporting the incident to police and conducting an initial interview with them, Smollett drove himself to Northwestern Hospital. He returned to his home under increased security later Tuesday and was said to be in good condition, police said.
Chicago police announced on Tuesday that they are treating the matter as a “possible hate crime.”
Smollett’s music manager Brandon Z. Moore is among those who say that the attackers were screaming “this is MAGA country” at the actor who plays the openly gay Jamel Lyon on the Taraji P. Henson- and Terrence Howard-led Empire. “Make America Great Again” is, of course, Trump’s defining rallying cry and remains his go-to phrase on the stump or in the Oval Office. The president did not address the use of that term by the attackers, and that has not been confirmed by Chicago police.
Although trauma counselors were on-hand for Empire cast, crew and producers on Tuesday after the assault on Smollett became known, the show went on hiatus soon afterward. That break is not due to Smollett’s situation but because of the harsh cold of the polar vortex that hit Chicago and much of the Midwest this week. The weather is still bone-chillingly cold in the Windy City, but Empire and fellow locally shot Fox series Proven Innocent are both back in production today, I hear.
Depending on his recovery and weather conditions, Smollett could be back filming Empire by early next week. The performer is still scheduled to play a concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday.