Jussie Smollett addressed his doubters on Good Morning America on Thursday, explaining what it was like to be the victim of a hate crime outside of a Subway shop at 2 a.m.
“I’m pissed off,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts in his first interview. “It’s the attackers, but it is also the attack.”
Smollett, who is openly gay, has faced increasing skepticism about the details of the Jan. 29 attack, but he maintains his story is accurate. He says that a few hours after landing back in Chicago late at night, he went searching for food, first to a Walgreens he thought was open all night, and then to a Subway, where he had a sandwich and salad.
On his way home, while he was on a phone call with his manager, he says they yelled “Empire” as he crossed the street and then repeated the call with homophobic and racial slurs.
Then one of the men punched him. “So I punched his ass back,” the Empire star said. After tussling on ice, the two attackers ran off, leaving Smollett to discover that they had hung a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him in what was clearly a racial attack.
“I could only go off of their words. I mean, who says ‘F----- Empire n-----, this is MAGA country, n-----, ties a noose around your neck, and pours bleach on you? And this is just a friendly fight?”
Smollett has been called to defend his story after questions emerged about the timing of the events as he described them and suggestions that he was really out to try to pick someone up.
“It’s unbelievable to me that anything of this has come to this,” he said. “That every single thing that I have done, every single thing that I have cooperated with, somehow has gotten twisted into being some bull that it’s not.”
After the attack, which his manager heard via his cellphone, Smollett went home and called 911, leaving his clothes the way they were and the noose around his neck. “I was looking at myself, just like checking myself out. I saw the bruise on my neck, you know, like the little—the rope burn around my neck,” he told GMA. “So when the police came I kept the clothes on, I kept the rope on me... I mean, it wasn’t, like, wrapped around. But, yeah, it was around because I wanted them to see.”
He said in those moments while he waited for the police to show up, he even doubted what was happening. “At first, I thought if told the truth, that would be it because it’s the truth,” he said. “Then it was like, ooh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth. You don’t even want to see that this is the truth.”
He described the assailants to police as best he could given their heavy winter gear. Authorities have been able to find surveillance video that backs up his claims, but no one has yet been arrested.
“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 said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f----, they called me a n----. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
He decided to start talking about the attack to try to clear up the lies. “I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate. 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,” he said. “And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”