"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett said he believes the "potential persons of interest" seen in a dark, grainy surveillance image released by Chicago police are the individuals who he said victimized him in a racist, homophobic attack late last month.
Smollett made the assertion in an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, who asked the actor and singer if the two individuals in the image — who police said shows them between 1:30 to 1:45 a.m. in the vicinity of the alleged 2 a.m. Jan. 29 incident — are his attackers.
"I do," the 36-year-old actor replied.
"What is it about their size or ... why do you feel that they could possibly be?" Roberts asked, pressing for more information.
Smollet smiled, shifted in his seat, and said, "'Cuz I, I was there."
"I mean, for me, when [the photo] was released, I was like, 'OK, we're getting somewhere,' you know what I'm sayin'?" he added to Roberts. "So, yeah, I don't have any doubt in my mind that that's them. Never did."
What else did Smollett say?
Smollett also told Roberts he's "pissed off" at assertions his claims are a hoax:
It's like, you know at first it was a thing of like, "Listen, if I tell the truth, then that's it, 'cuz it's the truth." Then it became a thing of like, "Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you not believe that? It's the truth." And then it became a thing of like, "Ohhh, it's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth."
"I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate," he added to Roberts, according to ABC News. "And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now."
He also disputed a claim that he said his alleged attackers "were wearing MAGA hats" — the iconic red caps with President Donald Trump's 2016 "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan: "I never said that."
"For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing," Smollett added, ABC New said. "I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a f***ot, they called me a [N-word]. There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae."
While at least one outlet — Forbes — reported the alleged attackers wore MAGA hats — numerous outlets ran with a TMZ report saying the Smollett was beaten up by two white men wearing ski masks who asked, "Aren't you that f***ot 'Empire' n*****?" before pouring bleach on him, putting a noose around his neck, and yelling, "This is MAGA country!"— a reference to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
Chicago police told TheBlaze there was "no mention of MAGA" in initial reports, but when detectives followed up with Smollett later on the day of the attack, he recalled the attackers making those comments, and detectives completed a supplemental report.
Police didn't specify the race of the alleged suspects but did call it a "possible racially charged assault and battery" and that they are "treating it as a possible hate crime."
Smollet, who's openly gay, also said he was angered by claims the incident was "a date gone bad, which I so resent ... I'm not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That's ridiculous. And it's offensive. Yes, there's Grinder, yes, there's Jack'd, yes there's all of these things, which I have not been on in years. I can admit that I was on it back in the day. I was single. You know what I'm sayin'? But I haven't been on that in years."
More details about alleged attack
Smollet said he was on the phone with his manager, Brandon Moore, after leaving a leaving a Subway restaurant.
"While he was on the phone I heard, as I was crossing the intersection I heard, 'Empire!,' Smollett told Roberts. "I don't answer to 'Empire.' My name ain't 'Empire.'"
Smollett said he kept walking without a response and then heard an apparent racial slur.
"So I turned around and I said, 'What the [blank] did you just say to me?' and I see the attacker masked," Smollett continued. "And he said, 'This is MAGA country [blank],' and he punches me in the face, so I punched his ass back." He added that the fight continued near some stairs when a second person joined in and began kicking him in the back.
"Then it just stopped, and they ran off, and I saw where they ran," Smollet added.
He also told Roberts that Moore was still on the phone when he picked it, telling his manager he was "jumped."
"Then I looked down and I see that there's a rope around my neck ... and I started screaming, and I said, 'There's a [blank] rope around my neck," Smollett added to Roberts.
Chicago police said the "limited and heavily redacted" phone records Smollett turned over detectives "do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation" as cops continue looking into Smollett's claims, WBBM-TV reported.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the New York Post that "we offered to take the phone to download the data, and he expressed he couldn't be without his phone for several hours."
Other curious details:
- Police told ABC News Smollett was seen on camera walking into an apartment with a rope around his neck and "wearing it like a necktie" before calling cops from inside the building. CBS News said "when police got to his apartment, they said a noose was still around Smollett's neck."
- Rob Elgas of WLS-TV in Chicago reported that "when Smollett contacted police at 2:42AM, he was still wearing the rope around his neck. The alleged encounter occurred at 2AM. Police have the rope and it will be analyzed."
- According to another tweet from Elgas, "Smollett requested responding Chicago police officers turn off their body cameras as they arrived to take his report. A spokesman says this is not uncommon when officers enter a private residence."
- Elgas added that Chicago police have a security image of Smollett alone inside a Subway sandwich shop near the location of the reported crime, and that cops also obtained additional video placing him at the scene of the crime.
- But sources told CBS News they've seen security video of Smollett outdoors early Tuesday morning and "nothing of an assault."
- The weather in Chicago at midnight Jan. 29 — two hours before the alleged attack — showed a low temperature of 1 degree with 14-mph winds.
Guglielmi told The Associated Press that detectives have looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video from businesses and hotels in the heavily monitored area and are expanding the search to include footage from public buses and buildings beyond the scene's immediate vicinity in the hopes of spotting the individuals who match Smollett's description..
The AP added that Chicago has one of the nation's most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses, and in train tunnels — and that police said such cameras have helped them make thousands of arrests.
Smollett's neighbor doesn't believe the story
A neighbor of Smollett cast doubt on his story.
"I don't believe it happened the way he said it did," Agin Muhammad, who lives in the same apartment complex as the actor, told the Post. "I've been in this neighborhood five years. I don't believe it, not around here. … Half the people are gay and the other half are black."
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters that if police suspect Smollett's story is a hoax, he will be held accountable.
Threatening letter, empty hot sauce bottle
A threatening letter and drawing to Smollett was sent to the Fox television studio in Chicago on Jan. 22, police told ABC News, and it contained a powdery substance that investigators believe was likely crushed-up Tylenol.
The Post said last week it traced Smollett's likely route to the underpass from a 24-hour Subway sandwich shop where he bought a tuna sandwich and a salad, and that near the foot of a stairwell to the Loews, the paper found an empty hot sauce bottle that was partially filled with a clear liquid that smelled like bleach.
Guglielmi told the Post that after police seized the bottle it was turned over to the FBI for analysis; the FBI declined to comment.
Chicago police said if they discover Smollett made a false police report, he would face consequences.