“When the letter didn’t get enough attention, he concocted the staged attack.”
As leaks increasingly suggest that Jussie Smollett staged a racist-themed attack against himself, his possible motive has been a big unanswered question.
A Monday report by CBS Chicago offers a partial answer. Chicago police suspect that Smollett, a 36-year-old actor on Fox’s “Empire,” was upset that a racist letter sent to him on the set of the show failed to get a “bigger reaction,” the local TV station reported, citing multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation. Smollett then paid two Nigerian brothers to attack him a week later, police reportedly suspect.
“When the letter didn’t get enough attention, he concocted the staged attack,” a source told CBS 2. Other sources reportedly corroborated that information.
WATCH: CNN Backpedals: ‘I Was Frankly Surprised’ How Many Believed Smollett’
If the goal was to get attention, the attack worked, triggering credulous and outraged responses from the media, liberals, and leading Democrats, which have become embarrassing in light of recent revelations.
Previous reports had suggested that Smollett orchestrated the incident to try to avoid being written off “Empire,” but Fox and Smollett’s representatives both denied that he was at risk of being cut from the cast.
Smollett received the letter, which contained white powder, on Jan. 22 at Chicago’s Cinespace Studios, where “Empire” is filmed, prompting a Hazmat response. Chicago police said the white substance was later determined to be aspirin.
The text appeared to be pasted together from characters cut from magazines and contained racial and homophobic threats toward Smollett. A magazine and a book of stamps are among the pieces of evidence seized from the brothers’ home last week during a search conducted by Chicago police, CBS 2 reported.
Smollett described the letter Thursday during an emotional appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“On the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing toward it,” he told host Robin Roberts.
“MAGA” was written in red letters in place of a return address, he also said.
WATCH: Smollet’s Racial Claim On GMA Looks To Be Wrong
Smollett also offered his version of the attack. He said that two men jumped him outside his Chicago apartment in the early hours of Jan. 29. They pegged him as a gay and black actor from “Empire,” he said, and used racial and homophobic slurs against him – at one point shouting “This is ‘MAGA’ country!”
After the attack, Smollett noticed a rope around his neck and bleach stains on his clothes, he said.
The actor claimed to be persecuted not just by his attackers, but by American culture more broadly. He said he was “pissed off” about both experiences and blamed Donald Trump for his plight, even though, as host Robin Roberts pointed out, the president had condemned the attack.
“I come really really hard against 45. I come really really hard against his administration. I don’t hold my tongue. I can only go off of their words,” he said, referring to the “MAGA” slogan and slurs he said his attackers shouted.
Police, who were not offering further comment on Monday, have moved from investigating the attack as a potential hate crime to trying to establish whether Smollett fabricated the whole affair, reports said. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi acknowledged Saturday that newly discovered information has “shifted the trajectory” of the probe, ABC reported.
According to reports, Smollett knew the brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, from “Empire,” where they worked as extras. He offered them $4,000 to help him fake the attack, sources have said, and the three men even rehearsed the event in the days before Smollett reported it. The brothers have been questioned by police and are now reportedly being monitored as persons of interest.
In a joint statement to CBS Chicago Monday, the brothers said: “We are not racist. We are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
“In due course all the facts will reveal themselves and at the end of the day my clients are honest and credible,” the brothers’ attorney Gloria Schmidt added.
WATCH: NYT:”If Smollett Faked His Hate Crime, ‘He’s an Insane Person, He’s a Psychopath’
Meanwhile, Smollett has continued to play the victim. The actor is “angered and devastated” and has been “further victimized” by reports that the men told police that he enlisted them to attack him, his attorneys said in a statement released late Saturday night. They outright denied the claims against their client.
“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” began Smollett attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson. “He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
The lawyers went on to express disbelief at the notion that Smollett could have been so betrayed by the brothers, with whom he worked on “Empire.”
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”
A grand jury will hear the case next week, TMZ reported, though the celebrity news site did not elaborate on who is facing charges or for what they might be.