UPDATE, Wednesday 9:30 a.m.: Chicago Police told TheBlaze on Wednesday morning there was "no mention of MAGA" in initial reports. But when detectives followed up with Jussie Smollett later on Tuesday, he recalled the offenders making those comments, and the detectives completed a supplemental report.
Rob Elgas of WLS-TV in Chicago tweeted that after investigators heard the "MAGA country" claim in the news they called Smollett again, after which he added that information.
Original story below
Numerous media outlets on Tuesday reported that "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett was attacked in Chicago by men who yelled, "This is MAGA country!" — a reference to the iconic red "Make America Great Again" hat from President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
But Chicago Police on Tuesday afternoon told TheBlaze they have no information regarding the alleged attackers' descriptions nor on what they said. Officer Michelle Tannehill added to TheBlaze that detectives are still investigating, gathering video, and speaking to witnesses.
Police released a statement saying they "received a report of a possible racially-charged assault and battery involving a cast member of the television show Empire. Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime."
Smollett was walking on Tuesday when two unknown offenders approached him and started yelling "racial and homophobic slurs," USA Today reported, citing police. The pair used their hands to batter the victim and poured an unknown chemical substance on him, the paper added, noting one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim's neck. Smollett then transported himself to Northwestern Hospital, USA Today added, citing police, adding that the actor is in good condition.
Media outlets pounce
But TMZ ran with a story Tuesday that said a whole lot more:
Sources directly connected to Jussie tell TMZ, the actor arrived in Chicago from New York late Monday, and at around 2 AM he was hungry and went to a Subway. We're told when shortly after he walked out on his way home, someone yelled, "Aren't you that f***ot 'Empire' n*****?"
The 2 men — both white and wearing ski masks — viciously attacked Jussie as he fought back, but they beat him badly and fractured a rib. They put a rope around his neck, poured bleach on him and as they left they yelled, "This is MAGA country."
Numerous outlets picked up TMZ's additional details:
- Vanity Fair cited TMZ's report, noting that "sources directly linked to Smollett say the actor was exiting a Subway sandwich shop at 2 A.M. when two white men accosted him, using anti-gay and racist slurs before putting his head in a noose, pouring bleach on him, and reportedly screaming, 'This is MAGA country.'"
- Slate also cited TMZ's report, saying "the attackers used homophobic and racial slurs as they attacked Smollett, and yelled 'This is MAGA country!'"
- People said "TMZ reports that his attackers allegedly yelled, 'This is MAGA country.' PEOPLE has not been able to independently confirm this."
- The Root's Grapevine noted TMZ's report, saying "two white men in ski masks reportedly approached the 35-year-old actor ... yelled out racial and homophobic slurs ("Aren't you that f***ot Empire n*****?"), then began to attack him with an unknown chemical substance" and that "one of the men wrapped a rope around Smollett's neck, as if forming a noose. They then yelled, 'This is MAGA country!'"
- LogoTV tweeted that Smollett "was attacked by two masked men who put his neck in a noose, yelled racial & homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and yelled "This is #MAGA country!"
You get the idea.
TheBlaze on Tuesday didn't immediately hear back from Chicago Police regarding who reported the incident as possibly racist in nature.
USA Today offered the following background on Smollett:
Smollett, who plays gay character Jamal Lyon on "Empire," joined the hit Fox show in 2015. He also starred in the 2017 film "Marshall."
During an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in March 2015, Smollett came out as gay himself. He expanded upon his sexuality in an interview with Out Magazine in 2016.
"I am a gay man with an extremely open heart ... If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man," he told the magazine at the time. "If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I'm going to love that woman."
Messages of support for Smollett hit social media after news of the attack.
This story has been updated to reflect new information from Chicago Police; the sub-headline, which previously read, "Police said they have no information on what the alleged attackers said," was also changed.