We still don’t know exactly what happened in the Jussie Smollett case that has dominated the news cycle for the past week. What we do know is that after the Empire star revealed he was allegedly the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime, conflicting reports started to emerge suggesting that Smollett may have been involved in orchestrating the incident. Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, the two brothers who were originally considered suspects, both knew Smollett in advance of the attack and told Chicago police that they were hired by Smollett. After the Chicago PD announced they were “shifting the trajectory” of their investigation, Smollett said in a statement that he is “angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with” and that anyone claiming he played a role in his own attack “is lying.”
While it’s too soon to render a verdict on what exactly went down, if the case does prove to be a hoax, the ramifications are hard to overstate. As we’ve seen in the extremely rare cases involving false rape allegations, they serve as ammo for people looking to undermine the credibility of genuine victims (like clockwork, Donald Trump Jr. is already tweeting about Smollett’s story, in which his attackers were originally described as two men shouting, “This is MAGA country”). But what would motivate someone to pretend to be the victim of a hate crime? We called up Dr. Marc Feldman, who is not involved in the case but is an expert on factitious disorder and Munchausen syndrome by proxy, to learn more about “factitious victimization” — a disorder that causes people to feign victimhood for psychological reasons — and how it could come into play in the Smollett case.
What did you think when you first heard this case might be a hoax?
Munchausen syndrome refers to the most extreme examples of “factitious disorder,” which is the official psychiatric term for people who feign illness or injury for intangible reasons. Ever since I encountered my first case of a woman who faked cancer for emotional reasons back in 1989, I’ve obviously been more sensitive to that possibility than most people ever would be. I try not to falsely accuse people and that’s why I am approaching this subject with a little timidity. But when it does arise I think it’s important that we identify it and help educate the public about it. READ MORE: https://www.thecut.com/2019/02/why-would-somebody-fake-a-hate-crime.html
It has been painful to watch the downfall of the actor Jussie Smollett.
By now, you are familiar with his story. In January he claimed to have been attacked by two Trump supporters on a cold night in Chicago. Smollett, who is gay and black, recounted that they shouted “This is MAGA country,” roughed him up, called him racial and homophobic slurs and put a noose around his neck.
But according to Chicago police, it was all a hoax. The actor practiced and staged the charade and paid two co-conspirators — Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo — to carry out the attack, authorities say, because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the show “Empire,” for which he has a starring role. In the immediate aftermath of Smollett’s claim, we wrote about the unique challenge of being black and gay, and how that identity can make one feel especially vulnerable. “Jussie is us. That could’ve been any of us,” said a friend of my colleague Pierre-Antoine Louis.
A few of you wrote in to say that Smollett’s story sounded fishy from the very beginning and that it was too soon to jump to conclusions. That, as we have learned, was absolutely right. But it is also true that hate crimes have been on the rise for three years, and that three out of five hate crimes in 2017 were motivated by race.
Once the news broke that the reported attack may have been orchestrated by Smollett, Pierre said he felt “embarrassed” and was worried that people would question his own experience. But he added: “Just because there’s one false report doesn’t mean that the issues we face daily aren’t real.”
False reports of hate crimes are extremely rare — less than 1 percent of those reported, according to some studies — but they tend to draw attention, making it easier for people to denounce them as identity politics run amok, or simply what happens when we treat victimhood as currency.
Smollett was arrested on a felony charge Thursday, and his legal team has denied the claims made by the police. “He wants nothing more than to clear his name,” said Jack Prior, one of Smollett’s lawyers.
Eddie T. Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, was visibly upset during a news conference about Smollett. He said the actor had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate crimes for which people were actually suffering.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said.
I do too.
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report.
Chicago police announced late Wednesday that felony criminal charges against Smollett have been approved by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
“Detectives will make contact with [Smollett’s] legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” said Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi Wednesday evening on Twitter.
Smollett’s attorneys stated that they plan to “mount an aggressive defense.”
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” said Smollet’s attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson in a statement to The Times. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
The charges follow an earlier announcement that Smollett was “officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation … for filing a false police report” and that detectives were presenting evidence to a Cook County grand jury.
Police initially had been investigating the Jan. 29 attack as a possible hate crime. The incident allegedly involved two people approaching the 36-year-old actor and musician while yelling racist and homophobic slurs. Smollett is gay and plays gay musician Jamal Lyon on “Empire.”
But on Saturday, Guglielmi said the trajectory of the investigation had “shifted” due to information received from two brothers who were arrested and released without charges last week. He did not elaborate on what that meant.
The brothers were identified as persons of interest in the investigation after being seen in surveillance footage around the area where the alleged attack took place.
One of the brothers was revealed to be a personal trainer Smollett had hired to ready him for a music video. The pair reportedly claimed that Smollett had hired them to carry out the attack. Smollett’s attorneys have previously disputed that claim and said the actor is “angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with.”
On Tuesday, Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the case “out of an abundance of caution” in order to “address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.”
According to reports, Foxx had spoken to one of Smollett’s relatives after the alleged attack was reported and “acted as a go-between with Chicago police.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Fox issued a statement of support confirming Smollett would remain a part of “Empire” despite reports that the actor’s scenes in upcoming episodes were being slashed due to the uncertainties surrounding the case, including claims that the attack was a hoax.
The investigation into the assault on Empire actor Jussie Smollett took another twist on Saturday night. Chicago police apparently now believe Smollett paid two men to stage the attack, according to CNN. Reached for comment about the report, a Chicago police spokesman would only confirm that “the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” He added that police have “reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
On Friday, news broke that two brothers were arrested in connection with the attack, one of whom worked on Empire. Chicago’s ABC7 had reported on Thursday that police believed Smollett staged his attack because he was being written off the show, but police later denied they were treating Smollett as a suspect, and 20th Century Fox denied that Smollett was being written off.
According to Deadline, the two men were released at 9 p.m. on Friday after being held for 48 hours. A law enforcement source also told the publication that “the new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident.”