Jussie Smollett Attempts to Persuade the Court That 'There Was No Hoax'

The former actor took the stand in his trial on Monday, accused of arranging a hate crime fake.

Former Empire star Jussie Smollett testified at his own trial on Monday, taking a leaf from Kyle Rittenhouse's playbook—though with a very different ending presumably in store. Authorities accuse the actor of employing two pals to assault him and make it appear as though it was an anti-black, anti-gay hate crime; he faces six charges of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing fake police reports.

"There was no hoax," Smollett said on the stand Monday.

It's unclear if a jury would believe that. The prosecution called it a day last week after presenting mountains of evidence suggesting Smollett was the mastermind behind the crime. A video was displayed in court that supposedly showed Smollett and his would-be assailants—Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, two Nigerian brothers who worked as extras on Empire—rehearsing the fictitious hate crime and canvassing the neighborhood where it would take place.

Smollett had paid the Osundairos to beat him up, even paying for the rope he wanted them to put around his neck like a noose, according to the Osundairos. The brothers stated that they felt they owed Smollett money because they had previously obtained cocaine for him. They said they had no idea Smollett planned to talk to the cops; they assumed he only wanted media attention and sympathy so he could profit from the show.

On Monday, Smollett disputed the charges, saying that he feared for his life when he was attacked in the middle of the night on the streets of Chicago. He stated he went out—and the brothers knew where he was—to get eggs for his diet, which they had told him to do.

He also stated that he and Abimbola Osundairo had previously attended a bathhouse and participated in sexual activities. (This is something that Osundairo denies.) According to the defense, the brothers are likely homophobic (Smollett is homosexual) and tried to intimidate Smollett into hiring them as bodyguards.

As I wrote back in February 2019, the Smollett incident is a vital reminder that some hate crimes are hoaxes; it would behoove the media to tread lightly with respect to sensational claims that only feel true because they confirm certain biases. On college campuses, where what passes for hate crimes are termed "bias incidents," and are often investigated by university officials, most go unsolved. But among those that do get solved, the vast majority are either deliberate hoaxes or misunderstandings: Somebody left some wires or shoelaces hanging from a tree or a doorknob, and an alarmed person reported it.

Thousands of true hate crimes are perpetrated every year, but the most visible incidents—such as those that perfectly match to preconceptions about racist Trump supporters—should be treated with skepticism.

Smollett may face up to three years in jail if convicted. For a nonviolent offender who offers no threat to society, that's a substantial term. What matters is that the court exposes his deception, not that he gets imprisoned for years.

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