The Chicago Police Department confirmed to HuffPost it had received a report Tuesday morning that a cast member on the Fox drama was the victim of a “possible racially-charged assault and battery.” Smollett was admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital after the attack but has already been released. Police said he is in “good condition.”
The FBI has taken over the investigation amid reports that Smollett received a threatening letter sometime before the attack, according to ABC News.
Police reported that two unknown men began “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs” before physically attacking the actor. During the attack, the two men “poured an unknown chemical substance” on him and one of the attackers wrapped a rope around his neck.
TMZ, citing unnamed sources “directly connected to Jussie,” reported that the men yelled, “Aren’t you that faggot ‘Empire’ nigger?” The outlet also reported that the unknown chemical substance was bleach and that, after the attack, the men told Smollett, “This is MAGA country,” referring to President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” Chicago police told HuffPost Tuesday morning. “Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline.”
The actor came out as gay during an interview on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in 2015.
“It was a bigger deal to everyone than it was for me. But at the same time I do understand why it is something to talk about,” Smollett said at the time, adding, “I was ready to talk about it. She told me, ‘You don’t have to.’ I will be forever grateful to Ellen for the kindness she showed me. And that made me want to talk about it.”
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said that the company is “deeply saddened and outraged” by the attack.
“We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice,” the company wrote in a statement. “The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own.”
People, including actress Zendaya and the Rev. Al Sharpton, reacted to the terrible news on Twitter.
Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, noted that the violence against Smollett was part of a pattern: “This shocking attack on our friend and tremendous advocate Jussie Smollett is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. There is an alarming epidemic of hate violence in our country that disproportionately targets Black people, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities ― and particularly those living at the intersections of multiple identities.”
This article has been updated to include more information about the attack on Smollett, Fox’s statement and Griffin’s comment.
Philip Lewis and Nick Visser contributed reporting.