Update, with video Jussie Smollett believes he was targeted in a racist, homophobic street attack last month because of his harsh public criticism of President Donald Trump, the Empire actor told Robin Roberts on GMA today.
Asked by Roberts why he believes he was targeted, Smollett said, “I come really, really hard against 45. I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
Watch a segment of the interview below.
In his first extensive interview since the Jan. 29 incident outside a Subway restaurant in Chicago, Smollett addressed his initial decision to withhold his cellphone from police scrutiny. Smollett told ABC News’ Roberts that the police said their tech expert would need “three or four hours” to examine the phone.
“I‘m sorry but I’m not going to do that,” Smollett said, describing his reaction. “Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my cast mate’s number, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos.”
Earlier this week Smollett submitted phone records from within the hour of the 2 a.m. attack, but, according to Roberts, Chicago police said the records were “limited and heavily redacted.”
Asked about the doubts and rumors that have sprung up on social media in the two weeks since the attack, Smollett said, “If I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot more.”
Following today’s GMA, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis released a statement saying that Smollett has been “doubly victimized” by the doubt and speculation in the media “and broader culture.”
The 36-year-old gay actor/musician contacted police in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 to report that he’d been attacked around 2 a.m. outside a Chicago Subway restaurant by two men who beat him, yelled racial and homophobic slurs and placed a rope around his neck before running off.
Smollett told Roberts that he never described the two attackers as wearing MAGA hats, despite early reports, but that they did say “This is MAGA country” as they ran off.
“I didn’t need to add anything like that,” Smollett said about the hats. “They called me a f*ggot. They called me a n*gger. There’s no which way you cut it, I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on a racist sundae.”
Asked why he hesitated a half hour after the attack to phone police, Smollett said, “There’s a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man you’re somehow considered to be weak, and I’m not weak, and we as a people are not weak.” Smollett said he changed his mind after smelling the bleach that the attackers had thrown on him.
Smollett said he receives social media threats “all the time,” adding, “I’m a public figure, I’m very outspoken.” A letter sent to a Fox station in Chicago before the incident specifically threatened Smollett, with a stick figure hanging from a tree, a gun pointing at the figure and the word “MAGA” included.
“Did I make that up, too?” Smollett said on GMA.
Though a security camera on the street is set up in the vicinity of the Subway restaurant, it was pointed in a different direction than the alleged attack. Smollett said he hopes video surfaces not only so that the attackers are found (and so that the word “alleged” can be dropped from descriptions), but so young LGBTQ people and black children can see that Smollett fought back, “to know how strong they are.”
“I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought back,” he said, adding, “They ran off, I didn’t.”
Additional segments of the interview will air later tonight on ABC’s Nightline.
Smollett also dismissed rumors that the attack resulted from “a date gone bad,” a charge the actors said he resented, in part because he has not used dating apps for years, since when he was single. “I’m not going to go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad” for a date, he said. “That’s ridiculous, and it’s offensive.”
Smollett was on the phone with manager Brandon Z. Moore when the the men approached saying “f*cking Empire n*gger.” Smollett said he responded, “What the f*ck did you just say to me?” just before one of the two men, wearing a ski mask, struck his face, saying “”This MAGA country” and using the racial epithet. The actor said he punched back and, following a brief tussle, the men ran off.
Smollett noticed that his phone had fallen to the ground but that Moore was still on the line. “I started screaming, ‘There’s a f*cking rope around my neck.'” The actor told Roberts that he sustained bruises and injuries to his clavicle in the attack, as well as a rope burn around his neck (he kept the rope dangling from his neck for police to see, he said).
Asked by Roberts for a reaction to President Donald Trump’s on-camera response to the incident (Trump called it “I think it’s really horrible,” Trump said. “It doesn’t get worse.”), the actor said, “I don’t know what to say to that. I appreciate him not brushing over it.”