The Jussie Smollett "hate crime" saga appears to be reaching its pitiful denouement. Chicago Police are now requesting a follow-up interview with the Empire actor, following the confession of Smollett's alleged accomplices. A pair of Nigerian brothers, at least one of whom has known ties to the so-called "victim" and his television show, have reportedly told authorities that Smollett paid them to stage an attack. Officials confronted the pair with evidence of their purchase of rope and red baseball caps, prompting them to point the finger back at Smollett, claiming that he even requested a dry run-style "rehearsal" of the phony assault. Smollett's camp released an indignant statement insisting that he's still a victim, stating that he had no idea his attackers were known to him. Shortly thereafter, Smollett parted ways with his lawyer and obtained a new legal team.
When this allegation first burst into national headlines, my initial reaction was concerned skepticism. The idea of a young, black, gay man being targeted on account of his identity was, obviously, extremely disturbing. But there were pieces of the story that seemed far-fetched, right out of the gate. The ostensible "MAGA country" taunting felt a little too on the nose. And how would these supposed roving, violent racists have recognized someone who was bundled up in the frigid cold, in the wee hours of the morning? As more details emerged (he was still wearing the rope when police arrived, quite some time later? And he strolled into his building still carrying his sandwich after the alleged assault?) the likelihood that Smollett was telling the unvarnished truth decreased significantly. And now, thanks to some strong police work, it is now crystal clear that his story was utter garbage all along. The new revelations make certain statements he made just last week on ABC's Good Morning America look positively sociopathic:
Robin Roberts: “Why do you think you were targeted?”— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) February 17, 2019
Smollett: “I come really really hard against 45. I come really really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.” pic.twitter.com/jdfcroO1lL
While certain outcomes of this ugly episode still remain to be seen (will Smollett confess, or possibly be charged?), social media has descended into a full-blown conflagration of recriminations. Many of those who hungrily lapped up Smollett's original tale are either ignoring the fresh updates entirely, slinking away with stealth deletions (e.g., the Speaker of the House), shifting blame, very belatedly urging caution, engaging in self-serving revisionism, or even expressing outright disappointment that this hate crime didn't happen:
Opinion: I doubted Jussie Smollett. It breaks my heart that I might be right. https://t.co/Y35G8pNXbm— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 17, 2019
One of the reasons accusations like this gain such currency in certain circles is because far too many people want to believe the worst about many of their fellow citizens. If you're convinced that Trump's America is a dangerous place for 'marginalized' populations, the Smollett claim confirmed your priors to a tee. As such, the response from people who were, by extension, deliberately smeared by this fiction is not tantamount to "seizing" or "pouncing." It's a form of self-preservation. Trump supporters are fully justified in pointing out that this disgusting slander has fallen apart at the seams, while also shaming those who uncritically grabbed hold of the story in order to bludgeon their political opponents. That was the relevant 'seizing' and 'pouncing' during this whole imbroglio. Two things can be true at once: First, racism is still a terrible and disgraceful -- albeit hopefully diminished -- problem in our society. These bigotries sometimes manifest in violence. Hate-motivated crimes really do happen. It's appalling and inexcusable. Second, in a twisted culture that prizes victimhood, 'hate' hoaxes (or crimes falsely attributed to certain groups) are more prevalent than one would ever hope. This thread documented a few dozen of the Trump-era examples:
Right after Donald Trump’s election, the SPLC really stoked panic. A pro-gay Episcopal church in Indiana was vandalized w/“Heil Trump,” a swastika, & an anti-gay slur. Turns out it was the gay organ player who did it. He was only charged w/a misdemeanor. https://t.co/QxeOoBHohC— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) February 17, 2019
In Sep. 2018 a black woman in Long Island said Trump supporters confronted her & told her “she didn’t belong here.” Her car tire was slashed the next day & a hateful note was left behind saying “go home.”— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) February 17, 2019
Adwoa Lewis made up the whole story. https://t.co/njVBvdjpoM pic.twitter.com/XEJh6NYxut
The list is depressingly long -- from lazy fabrications to ludicrously complex lies. In our polarized times, false claims of "hate" incidents are especially insidious and harmful. They waste valuable police resources. They undermine true victims. They spread mistrust. They sow racially-charged resentments. Those who perpetrate such hoaxes must be shamed by society and sanctioned by law. It's a sickness that contributes to our collective sickness, and it must be dealt with forcefully. And those journalists and activists who fuel the problem, some even going so far as to try to punish responsible practices, must face some of the resulting wrath, as well. I'll leave you with this:
J. Smollett case had plenty of red flags, but media was too attached to storyline (& victimhood) to see/admit them. Once again, journos dedicated more to proving *themselves* virtuous than to reporting facts botch the story. It’s tiresome & won’t change.— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) February 17, 2019
UPDATE - Here are a few more interesting details about where this case might be heading. On Benson & Harf last night, Fox News correspondent Matt Finn reported that his Chicago Police sources say that in a matter of days, CPD may seek to compel the follow-up interview that Smollett seems deperate to avoid as his manipulative falsehoods come undone.