Jussie Smollett gave his first detailed account of what he says was a hate crime against him, and the aftermath, in an interview with “Good Morning America” that aired Thursday.
“I will never be the man that this did not happen to,” Smollett told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “I am forever changed. I don’t subscribe to the idea everything happens for a reason, but I do subscribe to the idea that we have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful out of the things that happen to us, good and bad.”
Smollett told authorities he was attacked early January 29 by two men who were “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs.” He said one attacker put a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him.
Smollett told Roberts he landed in Chicago that day, was picked up by his creative director and got back to his apartment only to realize he had no food in the house.
The 36-year-old “Empire” star said he left his apartment to go to Walgreens, thinking it was open 24 hours, but ended up at Subway to get a salad.
He said he texted his manager, Brandon Moore, who he believed to be in Australia with another client, and left a message for Moore to call him.
Smollett said Moore called him back immediately.
“While he was on the phone I heard, I was crossing the intersection, I heard ‘Empire!,’ Smollett told Roberts. “I don’t answer to ‘Empire.’ My name ain’t ‘Empire.’”
The actor said he didn’t respond and kept walking only to hear someone to hear someone yell a racial slur.
“So I turned around and said ‘What the f**k did you just say to me’ and I see the attacker masked,” Smollett said, appearing to get emotional. “He said ‘This MAGA country n****r’ and he punched me in the face so I punched his a** back.”
Smollett said they started tussling and ended up near some stairs, as a second person kicked him in his back.
The alleged attackers ran off and Smollett said he looked down and saw that his phone had fallen out of his pocket.
His manager was still on the line and Smollett said he told Moore he had been jumped.
Glancing down, Smollett said he saw a rope.
“I noticed the rope around my neck and I started screaming ‘There’s a f***ing rope around my neck,” he said.
Smollett said he gave a body description of his alleged attackers as best as he could because he doesn’t have details such as eye color.
He told Roberts he’s seen the photo police released of the persons of interest.
“For me, when that was released I was like ‘Ok, we are getting somewhere,’” Smollett said. “For me, I don’t have any doubt in my mind that’s them.”
He also explained why he hesitated to report the attack.
“There’s a level of pride there,” Smollett said. “We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak and I’m not weak. I am not weak and we as a people are not weak.”
Smollett said it took police about 30 minutes to respond.
During that time, the star said, he checked himself, saw his bruises and smelled bleach, so he left his clothes on as well as the rope around his neck.
Smollett said he asked the responding officers to turn off their body cams and come into his apartment because he didn’t want his neighbors witnessing the scene.
He said he went with officers outside to walk them through what happened and noticed a nearby camera only to find out later that it was pointed in the opposite direction of where he says his alleged attack happened.
Smollett expressed frustration at not being believed.
“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 a lot much more,” Smollett said. “And that says a lot about the place where we are as a country right now.”
The actor said he refused to turn over his phone to police because he has private videos, messages, music and phone numbers that he wanted to protect.
Smollett refuted some of what has been reported, including that he told police his alleged attackers were wearing MAGA hats.
“I never said that,” he said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f****t, they called me a n****r. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on some racist sundae.”
Smollett said he assumes he was targeted because of his vocal criticism against Donald Trump and his administration, telling Roberts, “I come really hard against 45.”
Smollett said he was aware of Trump saying “It doesn’t get worse as far as I’m concerned” when asked about the alleged attack.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Smollett said. “You know, I appreciate him not brushing over it.”
Smollett, who identifies as gay and plays a gay character on the series, said he respects victims of hate crimes too much to lie about what happened.
He was at times emotional during the interview and said he hopes a message comes from what happened to him.
“I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community, young black children to know how strong that they are,” he said. “To know the power that they hold in their little pinkie.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis responded to the interview in a statement provided to CNN.
“Jussie Smollett was victimized first in a hate-motivated and violent attack in Chicago and has since been doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media industry and broader culture,” the statement said. “Jussie is rising above hate, racism, homophobia, and doubt surrounding the attack and instead using his voice and talent to fight back against the rising rates of violence against Black and LGBTQ people, as well as those who live at the intersection of those identities.”