Smollett has claimed that two men looped a rope around his neck and hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him on Jan. 29. “They called me a f-----t, they called me a n----r,” Smollett said a "Good Morning America" interview on Feb. 14. “There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on some racist sundae.”
Questions about the veracity of Smollett’s account have been growing in recent days, however. Sources told the news station that at least one of the brothers bought the rope at Smollett’s request. Smollett also paid for the rope at Crafty Beaver Hardware Store, located in the Ravenswood neighborhood, the weekend prior to the incident, sources reportedly claimed.
The brothers, who appeared as extras on "Empire," were allegedly paid $3,500 to participate in the attack, and then promised they would receive an additional $500 after returning from a trip to Nigeria, the sources claimed. They traveled to Africa shortly after the attack, per the report.
The brothers, who were arrested on suspicion of their role in the alleged attack earlier this week, after they came back from Nigeria, were released Friday.
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement “We can 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. We’ve reached out to the 'Empire' cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Smollet’s lawyers have said that he felt “victimized” by reports suggesting that the attack was staged.
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement Saturday about the latest claims: “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. 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. One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. 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."
(Michael Monico, Smollett's defense lawyer, said "sorry but no comment" in an email when contacted by The Daily Beast.)
Authorities’ recent skepticism of Smollet’s account marks a dramatic shift from their prior position, in which they disputed reports that the attack was a hoax.